A Beautiful Body or a Beautiful Mind?

I’ve been inundated with posts recently that are nothing other than superficial garbage.  This has led me to an evaluation of sorts: whether my adherence and reliance to the “intelligence and career persist, and beauty fades” mantra is biased and part of a grander sense of narcissism (to which I don’t deny) or if I’m adapting to a more conscious recognition of the idea recently through my writings on it by seeing empirical evidence of it more readily.

That… or I could just be adding dumb people to my Twitter and Facebook.

For my own sanity, I’ll assume that it isn’t merely a gross manifestation of my narcissism, and instead evaluate the merits of the argument at its core: to what level does beauty and socially-recognized “superficial” behavior deserve in the limited resources of our daily endeavors?  Look at it this way: given roughly 12-18 waking hours daily, we must decide how best to utilize those hours.  By choosing to do one thing, we incur an opportunity cost, or an inability to do another.  So given that rough spectrum, we divide it into a few different categories: pleasurable, career, and survival.  Sometimes these three might intermingle… career is a form of survival, and sometimes pleasurable pursuits can be part of your career (they should be, really).  However, generally speaking, we all can identify each of our daily activities and pretty clearly give it a primary categorization.  Eating, showering, and taking care of ourselves are essentially survival items.  Working out can be all three, and the delineation of this activity is quite malleable with regards to our three choices here.

For the purposes of this article, we shall assume that working out becomes a “pleasurable” activity for those on the beauty/superficial side of the equation, and more of a “survival” activity for those on the career/intelligence equation.  This isn’t to say that they don’t cross over. Not every person who leans towards beauty works out solely to look better – health is a legitimate consideration. Likewise, those who work out, but lean towards the career/intelligence quotient being heavier don’t always simply work out to reduce their resting heart rate and lower their cholesterol.  Superficial gains are more of an ancillary benefit for this crowd, as opposed to the primary benefit for the beauty crowd.

With all of these assertions being made, full of the first 10,000 disclaimers and caveats, I approach the question again.  Is it short-sighted and ill-advised to approach beauty for superficial reasons and at the expense of furthering one’s own intellectual and career pursuits?  In my mind, the stage where the maximum return on a beauty/body investment is during the time frame from 18 years old until about the mid-to-late 20s.  During this period, from a general social perspective, an amazing body will generally earn more recognition than a beautiful mind.  Bodies are easy to see, to appreciate, to lust after.  The mind is more abstract and requires effort and investment to even interpret its worth.  In a sense, appreciating brilliance is a much more demanding task from a social value perspective than appreciating beauty.  In that sense, the immediate returns from a beauty-first focus are much more quickly and readily seen.

The appeal is apparent.  Quick return, quick reaction, and simpler enjoyment of the pursuit.  A lot of times, a career or intelligence focus will go unappreciated, even if someone gives you the time and respect commensurate with the investment made.  In a lot of ways, a pursuit on artificial beauty makes a hell of a lot of sense during this time frame.  Life is simpler when you’re in good shape or considered beautiful.  People acquiesce to demands, favors are rampant, and poor behavior is forgiven.

Here is the problem, though, and the foundation for my entire brains before beauty/brawn mandate: the choices made with limited time resources from the ages of 18-28 cannot be fully recovered after that time frame.  I’ll explain in another way: focusing on your body and beauty for a decade will mean that when beauty begins to fade as an important social determiner of value (which does happen in the late 20s, people, just so you know), you will not be able to instantly catch up to your peers that have made different sets of choices during the same time frame.  You will be behind, and if the career/brain perspective of happiness in life grows in importance at older ages (which it does), you have a significant amount of time to make up for, while others are still progressing. You’ve started the race miles behind everyone else.

In the same way, those who choose brains/career over beauty/superficial pursuits will not have necessarily enjoyed the social benefits associated with those decisions, and might not be in as good shape physically from a beauty and health perspective as their counterparts.  So the question then should become, at the age of 28, when the transition roughly begins from a societal perspective over what is more important – who will have an easier time catching up?

This is where my theory is mostly conjecture, with shades of empiricism.  It is my belief that catching up from a health/beauty perspective is much easier with a focus on a career and intellectual pursuits than it is to do the opposite – and attempt to catch up in the career/intellectual realm.  In this manner, the opportunity costs for pursuing beauty were much greater than pursuing the opposite.  Again, caveat here: this is just an aggregate majority of your focus, not necessarily saying you can’t attempt to balance them, which I think is ultimately the healthiest proposition.

With the importance of career/intelligence in the 30 years old-plus section of life, and given the rather disproportionate amount of time that is spent alive in the later stages of life compared to the decade or decade and a half of relative “youth” – the question on which side to lean more heavily towards remains rather clear.

A beautiful body and vapid mind will serve you aggressively well for a solid decade, then fail you for the rest of your life.  A beautiful mind and a successful career will fuel your family, your happiness, and your life.  Seems like an easy choice to me.


2 thoughts on “A Beautiful Body or a Beautiful Mind?

  1. Ben, you are selling yourself short. Entire disciplines have been developed to do just what you recommend – build a sharp mind and strong body.

    Martial arts – the body is the best tool your mind has at its disposal, it is foolish to waste its power. The discipline of the practice not only results in a beautiful body but also a powerful mind essential in business and academics.

    As you stated earlier, everything you choose to do takes the place of something else. So best to choose an activity that can extend both ends of the spectrum ;-)

  2. Admittedly, I’ve only skimmed over this. But I see something you’ve forgotten.
    Regardless of whether you’re after beauty or health, working out increases the brains abilities to think/calculate/perceive new information. Even people who are only concerned with outer beauty have an advantage over those who don’t work out.
    Plus, a longer life (which comes from proper training) allows more time to study and learn and come up with new ideas and generally be more and more intelligent.
    So even spending time working out for looks will increase brain power considerably. It’s up to the person to decide if they want to use those new abilities.

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