Dolce Vita, Where Are You? An Italian Takedown Of The Cult Of Working Out
With the social value of sports having recently been officially acknowledged in the Italian constitution, writer Simonetta Sciandivasci reflects on the cult of excessive health, and rants about the impossibility of keeping up beauty trends masked as self-care.
Gyms open before coffee bars. Some never close. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Years ago, unions rose up in vain against the continuous, eternal openings of supermarkets, accusing the "Save Italy" decree of blurring, even nullifying, the distinction between weekdays and holidays, day and night, overtime and regular time. Many spoke of deregulation, oppressive liberalism, a "capitalist assault on sleep."
None of those voices ever even whispered a complaint against the non-stop hours of gyms. And now you are here, at 6 a.m., living through the consequences. As badly as you wish you could buy a cappuccino and a croissant, the only light you can see lit from the street is that of the hall of a fitness center. It looks like it was tastefully decorated by a minimalist sadist who is passionate about the Ming dynasty and Nazism.
Coffee bars closed and gyms open. The market has chosen: physical maintenance above all else.
The cult of the body
Sport comes first, which is now even in the Italian Constitution. On Sept. 20, the Chamber of Deputies approved a clause that recognizes the "educational and social value" of sports activities in Article 33.
Paralympic athlete Bebe Vio said in her speech to the Chamber: "I have often been asked how I manage to train and study at the same time: actually, I think we are very good at inventing excuses."
We've turned wellness into an illness.
And everyone says: true, we don't know how to use our time; we should wake up at 3 in the morning to be able to do everything and do it perfectly. So there they are, on the treadmill at 6:15 in the morning, already in caloric deficit, while you are starving. It's a nervous hunger, of course, but also cultural, because eating every day is a choice, not a need, and that's why intermittent fasting is so good for you.
How can we detoxify ourselves from the religion of the body if we live in neighborhoods where the only places that never turn off their lights are gyms? Filling magazines and runways with curvy models, filming XS-size influencers while they eat and say "yum," and XL-size influencers undressing: nothing has worked.
In fact, almost every body-positive advocate, actor or influencer offers you every day the miraculous effects of squats, along with their skincare routine (you've seen more blackheads on celebrities in their natural state than an army of Korean aestheticians), and the records set by their step counters, and their diets. "My nutritionist said" has replaced "My psychologist said."
In the 1990s, we used to stick photos of Naomi Campbell on the fridge to stick to our diets; now, we follow hundreds of influencers on Instagram. We've turned wellness into an illness: it's called orthorexia.
The "beach body" has become a daily state exam. The article that the New York Times (not Cosmopolitan, the New York Times) has offered you most often this year is titled "How to Become a Morning Exercise Person." You've read more vibrant and better-documented things about "healthy living" than you have about Crimea, French suburbs, energy transition or gender-based violence.
You don't want to be so harsh as to blame the cultural failure of body-positive practices to the fact that its activists, one after another, can be found on TikTok advising you to start your day with a sixteenth of a walnut, a fat-free yogurt, three Goji berries and liquid collagen, followed by wall yoga, pelvic gymnastics, facial gymnastics and meditation.
You need to be honest and admit that you are an active part of that failure. You must acknowledge that in the notebook where you try to keep up with politics, the only quote of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni that you wrote down is: "I start my diet every morning and finish it before lunch." You even drew a little heart next to it.
You have to admit that when you return home, reflecting on your right to have breakfast, believing that starting the day with carbohydrates and butter is a way of loving yourself, your algorithm welcomes you to exercise instead. And you, torn but proud, certain of your ability to synthesize virtue and pleasure, you obey the algorithm.
While eating a packaged croissant, you download the "Better Me" app, and your phone nestles it between your newspaper apps. You resort to a virtual weight loss and toning programs, fine, but you're still an intellectual.
A woman working out
All for yourself
After your 15/20 minutes of wall pilates, massage your thighs for 15 minutes with a scrub. Take care of your face. According to mytonicface.official, a face coach who appeared on your timeline at some point — whom you trust without knowing who they are, where they studied, or if they ever did — you should spend 15/20 minutes a day massaging your face.
Everything always takes 15/20 minutes: that's how long the French police take, on average, to decide whether to accept or reject an asylum seeker.
Do facial yoga. It says: the epidermis has no memory, so massage until the cream is completely absorbed. You can make the mask yourself! It's only 15/20 minutes, if you only have the patience to grate a lemon, open an aloe and/or cactus leaf and extract the gelatinous substance inside, then blend, add brown sugar and spread it on your cheeks.
Smile. You are making yourself beautiful and healthy for yourself.
Then, massage your lips with a hard-bristle brush for 15/20 minutes. Take a pen, put it in your mouth, and activate the "antagonistic elevator muscles of the depressors" by moving the pen from bottom to top for 15/20 minutes. Go out. While you're going to the office, puff up your cheeks, first the right and then the left, alternating for 15/20 minutes while you walk, don't worry about who might see. Smile.
Who knows how many, like you, become radicalized without ever asking Siri, Google, or ChatGPT: what is a ketogenic diet, how many pounds can I lose in a month, will I become immune to cancer if I eat twice a week and always between 4:50 and 5:20 in the morning, is it safe for no one to notice if when I'm sitting I contract and dilate my vaginal muscles to prevent uterine prolapse?
Smile. You are making yourself beautiful and healthy for yourself. Rejoice in how much more strenuous it has become to take care of yourself since you no longer do it for a man, for standards, for sacraments, or to avoid dying alone: now you do it for yourself, to live longer and better, to create, to honor the Constitution. You have put yourself on a regimen; you have returned to your beautiful youth. Well done.
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