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Vanity of Vanities: Do We Place Too Much Importance On Our Appearance?

Jul 02, 2016 by

“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher...All is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2

If we are fitness enthusiasts, we tend to care about our bodies. Maybe too much at times. Yet the care of our soul is far more important.

I think it is good, every so often, to contemplate vanity. Its counterpart, pride, is said to be the root of all of our sins, and is one of the seven deadly sins. We can fall prey to this sin when we place too much importance on our appearance.

Let’s face it: one of the main reasons most of us exercise is because of the way it makes us look. Sure, there are plenty of other good reasons: health and over-all well-being, mental and emotional well-being, and so on. We all know that exercise keeps us strong and healthy throughout our life.

But the bottom line is that for many of us the main motivator for working out is our physical appearance. The definition of vanity is “excessive pride in one’s appearance." It's clinging to things without solidity and permanence, such as physical beauty.

It was explained to me once that to fight against a particular sin, it is best to work on its opposite virtue. The virtue that opposes vanity (or pride) is humility. How do we fit humility into the fitness picture?

Personally, I have found that one way is to try to be very honest with myself. Checking myself occasionally with a few questions helps me to get to the heart of things:

Do I think about my body and the way I look often?

Do I put more emphasis on my looks than on other things?

Does my exercise interfere with the life of my family?

There are probably many other questions that could help us get to the heart of the matter. If I am being truly honest, there are times when I can answer yes to at least one of those questions. So then what? It usually comes down to a change in priorities, and being aware of something is often the first step in changing it.

To borrow some words from Deacon Patrick Moynihan, “Our bodies may be temples, but they are not for our worship. We need to steer away from the body cult mentality which tempts us to sacrifice good health for a supposedly healthy look."

If we think about the things that are not passing in this life—how we live and how we love—it can be easier to put fitness in balance with those things. It is essential for us to be physically healthy, and in fact we can give glory to God by doing so. However, when it becomes excessive in terms of the time spent doing it or time spent thinking about how we look, then perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate things.

If we consider those things in our lives which are solid, substantial, satisfying, and last for ever, we can more easily see that the honors of this world (even if they contribute to our health) are empty things; last a very short time; and are nothing in comparison to the honor that comes from God.

So to the extent that we put honor and meaning into fitness as an end in itself, we need to be very careful. However, to use these things (fitness and health concerns) to the service of a greater thing (serving God, doing good in this world, being a better spouse or parent) is to use them as a means to an end, which I believe is different.

The line between the two can be ambiguous if we don’t challenge ourselves to be honest. That is where the questions for myself come in.

What questions would you ask yourself?

What are your thoughts on living a balanced life when it comes to physical fitness?

This article was originally published on 9 Kid Fitness, and has been adapted for GetFed © The Catholic Company 2016