[Think Aloud] – #18 – “Wednesdays Are Leg Days” Said No One Ever in Fiction

Think Aloud explores book-related discussions encompassing reading, writing, blogging, and perhaps newsworthy content. The focus is to push the boundaries, stretch the mind, and encourage dialogue within this community. Let’s all think out loud.

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Table Topic:
Wednesdays Are Leg Days
Said No One Ever in Fiction

Abstract:

Sports and physical activity enthusiasts seem to enjoy pages of tomfoolery while seemingly never having to break a sweat to condition their bodies. It’s like muscle atrophy isn’t even a thing…


Thoughts:

Yeah, I see you with those big guns and infinite-pack-of-abs on that cover. That’s cool…I guess. Must have been real hard work keepin’ in shape all those years, right? You’re incredibly lucky that muscle atrophy doesn’t seem to exist in fiction.

Don’t worry though—I’m not here to hark on a reader’s potential cover-lust for body-builder extraordinaire or the fact that the swoon index is heavily influenced by sex factors attributed by Sir Adonis or Miss Beauty. I’m here to discuss how in the few sports-ish novels I’ve come across (including but not limited to the typecast leads in New Adult), exercising seems to be a myth and yet every suitor alive has an enviable body.

Let’s backtrack.

I am not concerned with the pre-story development of characters—male or female—who have exercised or metabolized their way to where they are. You reap what you sow. It’s the idea that through the months or years that span a novel, there is rarely any indication (if at all) that they’re exercising to maintain (or gain) muscle definition despite typically being involved in competitive sports-centric environments. Well…except for perhaps extracurricular “socializing”, but that doesn’t really count. Unless you’re amplifying the calories burned from all that difficult walking around due to the conflict of miscommunication (and there are usually lots of that). But I digress.

To be fair, their sporting endeavours could be the source of their physical training—so we don’t need any indication of how much they lifted or how far they ran. While this might eliminate a sample of the gruff and buff, two considerations remain true: 1—competitive sporting encourages conditioning; 2—those who aren’t active in sports walk around as if they’re mythological Gods and Goddesses in the flesh. The grey area still permeates regardless of using sports for sports sake.

Now I don’t have that much of a grasp on the mechanics of body-building and dieting (and everything in-between) so I can’t say much about how quick muscles deteriorate but I cannot fully believe that the [apparently unattainable] sex icon on page-1 remains in the same form as the epilogue version of themselves.

You can make the case that they have leg days on Wednesday and cardio on Fridays between the pages—we’d never really know of their mundane life—but I’d like to think that there are occasions where said character could say something along the lines of “yeah, I’ll come meet you after my run”. Only it seldom happens; especially in sports-oriented novels, so we’d never know how or when they’re keeping in shape. By the same logic, you could also make the case that they devour pounds of burgers and fries; where every day is a cheat day with zero meal prep or protein drinks. Or they’re a wizard. You simply wouldn’t know.

I get that we don’t want to read pages of plotless, vain, and self-indulgent writing about how much these characters glisten with sweat or feel the stretch in their muscles. It’s boring and doesn’t add value to conflicts unless their motivations reach a distant goal that requires them to want to increase their physical capabilities (e.g. some championship title). But even if sports aren’t central to the plot, the fact that they’re incredibly shredded fundamentally suggests that their physical appearance is telling its own story and ought to be supported in validating where it’s been and where it’s going.

All things being equal, it’s simply a strike against realistic writing if they’re portrayed as one thing while their actions speak another. I’m not even asking for much either. Just a nod to that routine lifestyle would suffice. At this point, you’re well within reason to quote Emma Stone’s photoshop comment a la Ryan Gosling:

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And that’s that.

*mic drops*


Afterthoughts:

Dear Brain, thank you for this rant. I will reward you with a visual extravagance courtesy of Canada Day fireworks. (Happy igloo, maple taffy, and poutine day to those Canadians reading this!)

Some things for you to think about:

1) How often do you come across characters who indicate their need to exercise to keep their physical presence in tip-top shape? If not, do you think they should?

2) Consider this in the reigns of physical appearance and exercising: What’s your take on the representation of sports within the genre, particularly of the New Adult “sports” genre? Does it mainly pander to the objectification of the individual? What’s the floor/ceiling on actual sporting content before it detracts from the typical romantic undertones of the novel?

3) What’s your tolerance toward reading plotless writing that provides a glimpse of work-out regiments and/or dieting?

4) What’s your opinion on characters who exercise in fiction as it ties to encouraging and motivating readers to do the same?

5) If there is a book that features sporting activities and it’s well-represented, please give it a shout out. I’d love to find new sports books (and in particular, if it’s about Hockey, then it’s a sure winner)

Cheers,
Joey

connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter  |  anotherafterthought // goodreads

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Post Inspiration:

This post is half-inspired by Brandie @ Brandie’s a Book Junkie continual task of finding a New Adult book I’d enjoy reading, my feelings regarding the representation of the male archetype therein, and the Blog Olympics event prompt regarding the representation of sports in fiction. This Think Aloud post is a companion rant to the discussions about sports here.

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32 thoughts on “[Think Aloud] – #18 – “Wednesdays Are Leg Days” Said No One Ever in Fiction”

  1. THIS IS THE BEST EVER. I mean, when I don’t know how you can top a previous rant, you go and do it, and I’m dying right now.
    Before recent events in my life, I could have cared less about how a guy/girl got their fitness on. But now that it’s a lot more prominent in my daily life, it does make me think how these so called athletes and ‘fit’ women in every book STAY fit when they never talk about it in the book. I very rarely ever come across any type of exercise or even encouragement of any physical activity in a book. There is only ONE series that comes to mind where I specifically remember both protags work out regularly, in fact the heroine goes to some kick boxing class or something. And it’s one of my favorite series (Crossfire) by Sylvia Day, which is more erotica than NA and you’d probably hate it. BUT, it sticks out in my mind because I never see it in books, as you so eloquently pointed out!

    I don’t want to read a bunch of unnecessary fluff about a workout routine/weight lifting, etc in a book, but if you’re a runner, how’s about going for a run once in awhile and making me believe you’re what you say you are? How can you be so damn fit and perfect, but you’re stuffing your face with a greasy burger? (that happens A LOT in books)

    “Unless you’re amplifying the calories burned from all that difficult walking around due to the conflict of miscommunication (and there are usually lots of that).” <—– FAVORITE LINE. This made me LOL. Because it's so damn true.

    How you gonna top this one? How? This was an exceptional rant. Thank you for making my day!

    Like

    1. I think a lot of my beef comes with so many romance-contemporaries claiming realism in their portrayal…but it only really considers how fleshed out the relationship is and not as individual characters (or something like that). But yes, all the foods they eat in these books is from some diner or greasy spoon restaurant and they do so without a care in the world!

      This rant was largely spawned by NA-lit and I’m sure there are still many more things I haven’t discovered in this reading age-group that begs to be dissected.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The sports genre ought to be considered pretty loosely with any kind of physically-attractive character development (or simply body image). I really think this description just adds a nuanced realism to your standard archetype of a beautiful guy/girl that makes them feel more real…even if it’s one sentence to validate it. Like, I can count the number of fast-food joints and alcohol chugged more than I can say that these beauties exercise. It’s weird.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Outside of The Tao series by Wesley Chu and Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrew I cant remember characters talking about exercise and for them it was so they could kick ass not so they could look good. Love the rant.

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    1. Haha, thanks!

      Exercising to kick ass is a great example of conditioning that goes over and beyond physical appearance. You see characters who win championships (which is sort of equivalent to kicking ass) that go from basically nothing to gold in a matter of chapters. Not saying it’s impossible but perhaps improbable!

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  3. Lol. You were right, your post is hilarious! It totally made me laugh. But it also is on point. What bugs me is that even in novels supposedly about sports, the training aspects and sometimes weirdly even competitions get glossed over. Adding athletes becomes merely a plot-device to make these characters more desirable to move along the romance, which aggravates me so much whenever I read books like that.

    Then again, maybe it bothers me even more so because I’m an athlete myself and I’m sure more than half my friends are too. When I was living in the dorms during uni, it was pretty normal, as you said, for someone to quip, “Yeah, I’ll come meet you after my run.” Sometimes you’d even see guys who weren’t athletes to make an effort to run with a girl they were interested in, I’m sure their conversations while running couldn’t have been any more mundane than a conversation over coffee.

    I remember reading this book by the Monica Seles and I thought, Hey! Sports academy setting, tennis and more! and was all excited, only to cringe my way through the book because of the heavy emphasis on romance with an evident lack of sports. It could’ve been set in a normal expensive boarding school and nothing much would’ve had to be changed to make the plot fit. But it’s not just her book. I’ve read too many books that have disappointed me like that.

    Personally, I’d love to read a book revolving around a team sport that doesn’t neglect the actual sport. Field hockey in particular is at the top of my list but really, any team sport goes. I think the ones that I’ve read that came closest to remembering that the characters were also athletes tended to be about figure skating. Maybe because those books are more abundant, so there’s a been a better chance of finding good ones.

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    1. Yeah I can sort of understand glossing over athletics if it’s not part of the story’s conflict but when it is (and in most cases, it is)–what the heck?

      I can be forgiving to those sci-fi/fantasy books where they’re constantly fight-or-flight-ing because they do get their conditioning through those means. It may not be explicit but at least it’s more than what I can say for the sports genre mainly concerned with cheap alcohol, fast food, and romance.

      You were basically baited into reading a boarding school book. Don’t worry, I’m sure I would have been too.

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  4. *golf claps* You have entertained me, today. I love your rant, and it’s so true. Believe it or not, I’ve actually had this wonder of “how did they get to look like they are described” cross my mind…once…in a fleeting thought but never as a rant or something that bothered me much. I’ve read a few books that might have included one sentence about an actual activity that might lead to how they maintain their fitness, but never how those six or eight-pack abs are achieved that are described so lustfully in some of the books.

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    1. Right?! I’m not saying that fantasy is a bad thing either. It’s just when you continually perpetuate all these (usually) unrealistic expectations in fiction then tell people in real life that you should love yourself for you. There’s a bit of a disconnection in the message (at least for me).

      Not to mention that when you do exercise and meal prep and everything in between, it’s no longer a chore but a habit that’s ingrained into the daily activities of the character. And the only thing we see in the book? Miscommunication and more drama. Ahhhhh.

      Like

  5. Haha, just dying at your title. I think about little things like this from time to time, but honsetly I don’t want to read about the humdrum every day things in a book unless there is a specific point to be made of it. This totally reminds me of the Sookie Stackhouse series and how every little thing is described, from her picking out her clothes and filling the ketchup. That was torurous and I was sarcastically thinking to myself Oh, but when does she pee? And then like chapters later there was a scene that described she had gone to use the bathroom.

    I think these things are better left out. Maybe a line that says “i work out whenever I’m not with you” or something. Maybe make it sexy “I work out all the time when I’m not with you because thinking of you makes my blood start pumping.” (That is not sexy but you get my point, hopefully)

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  6. Honestly, this was…I really enjoyed this. REALLY on point.

    1. Not often. Definitely, for a more realistic viewpoint.

    2. Thank you for putting the quotations around sports for NA. I don’t call that a sports novel. I call it romance. Abs on the cover being marketed like a piece of meat so women might buy? Sounds like objectification to me. I think it’s completely disrespectful to those that actually participate in the sport. They are hardworking people. Not just slabs of meat for some readers to drool over. The fact that they’re objectified just so people will buy it makes me gag.

    3. I would say my tolerance would be in the middle. Obviously, I don’t want to read something that goes like
    “Johnny goes to Prospect Park Gym. Johnny bench pressed 250 pounds today. Then he bench pressed 300. He’s playing a real serious game at Madison Square in a week.” Make it interesting; but it is necessary. Otherwise, *why label it a sports novel*? The misclassification annoys me more than it should. Oh, well.

    4. I have no problem with this at all. Our society as a whole is becoming too lackadaisical. Motivating people towards productivity is NEVER a bad thing.

    5. My mind may be a bit fuzzy, but I believe Winger by Andrew Smith was pretty accurate. Rugby.

    Please don’t stop writing great rants. I didn’t think anything could get better than the Slow Walkers one, but clearly I was wrong. *rereads*

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    1. I’m unsure if people realize there’s a difference between “a book about sports” versus “a book that has sports in it”. Semantics, really, but they’re two vastly different things.

      So I don’t know if sport-oriented YA/NA is “mis-classified” any more than it is simply just lacking substance of a traditional book “about” sports.

      I watched yesterday’s Rugby 7’s at the PanAm games and it was pretty intriguing. I always knew of contact rugby in school but I’ve never really seen a match played. It was like an intense game of football meets wrestling without the punching. All I know is Canada won so the rest just went over my head.

      Anyhow, the representation of athleticism needs to get its shit together. That is all.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t read New Adult, but this is actually kinda common in YA, too. Although in most YA books, the guys either had a “rough” life, or they’re angels, vampires, werewolves, or some other supernatural oddity, so maybe it’s in their genes to be ripped like that? Or maybe their powers grant them the ability to exercise more often than the regular guy…

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  8. Oh my goodness. Almost all the time I RARELY find books that hint at a lifestyle of a character that reflects their bodily appearance. I don’t particularly like novels that focus around sporting, it kind of makes me feel bored just thinking about it, but I do believe that a persons physical make up should be justified. Even a sentence is all you need! This was a great topic to read about! 😁

    Like

    1. Glad to hear you share the same sentiments as I do, Josie! When you exercise or partake in any activity for that matter (take blogging for example) it develops itself from a random thing you do once in a while to habit and a lifestyle that pretty much is in line with something that ought to show up once or twice in a narration when you’re essentially living life!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. So true! Sometimes there is a buff hero who works construction, but that isn’t really a sports-themed book. Once in a while I’ve come across female characters who work out. They also never shop for groceries, but have fresh ingredients for fabulous meals, never get their hair cut, do laundry, or use the loo. They do shower, often that becomes sexy.

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    1. I can understand the buff construction worker. At least there’s something there to validate the appearance. Most characters I’ve come across aren’t lazy per se but they definitely don’t do much except find themselves in a continual loop of drama and making memories with friends (and yet somehow maintain a tip-top shape).

      Haha, I can’t even begin to imagine how many stories have a lack of sustenance in their storytelling. How do these characters live?!

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  10. I don’t read New Adult, so I’m not sure how all this works in that genre, but for the YA books I’ve read, it’s not something I see often now that you mention it. The only two would be Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally, and then Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. I really appreciated the latter, in particular, because it especially talks about maintaining a healthy diet when everyone around you is eating junk like pizza and pasta!

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    1. I hear you! It’s already bad enough that most novels lack the point of eating/hydration (which is blasphemous to me because food is everything…) but when they do get grub it’s usually one of the stereotyped cafeteria/diner meal. I’ll give credit where it’s due but c’mon kids, surely there’s something more rewarding than burgers and fries and pizza and pasta (when it’s rarely close to the authentic kind).

      I’ve heard solid things from Saint Anything thus far and I’ll have to add it to the back burner for consideration, thanks!

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  11. I was actually just thinking about this the other day at the hot springs (pool) while I was observing “real” body types on display – no washboard abs to be seen, even though there were hundreds of people there. Why? Because things like washboard abs take a lot of WORK to develop and keep! Even most sporty guys don’t have them – it’s not like just running around with a ball gets you washboard abs.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. HAHA! Glad you were able to experience this rant in real time in vacation! But you’re right, the whole physical conditioning of the body gets glossed over for romance/drama and it does nothing to promote the athletics behind any sport it’s supposed to be marketed under.

      Like

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