Just before Christmas, we received a surprise new addition to our family. My husband’s brother, out of the blue, sent us a Nintendo Wii. (Yes, my game-playing friends, we now have a Wii. I don’t think I’ve ever played any sort of electronic game that wasn’t on a Commodore 64, but now we have a Wii.) Wisely foreseeing that he would need to create some positive associations between me and the Wii, my husband then ordered Wii Fit Plus, promising that he would log some time on it as well.
A little over a month into the Wii’s tenure in our household, its presence has been largely beneficial. Stephen has been clocking 30 minutes a day, almost every day. He sums up the Wii Fit’s appeal thus: “It hooked me with numbers, and then I actually got interested in the exercise.” At first, he says, he was interested in racking up high scores for activities from sideways leg lifts to triangle pose. Now, however, he’s more interested in correct form, even if it results in a lower score. Best of all, he’s exercising without any nagging from me: the Wii Fit provides all the nagging we could ask for (and, in my opinion, more).
But what about the Wii Fit’s benefits for someone who has been exercising regularly, week in and week out, for over twelve years, and who, in fact, feels deep and irrational guilt if she skips a workout? In short, is the Wii Fit a good thing for a perfectionist?
At first, I feared not. While I fared well on my first “Body Test,” which measures BMI and balance, I recognized that my inordinate pride in my Wii Fit Age meant that I would feel just as inordinately distressed when my Wii Fit Age didn’t meet my expectations. This happened as soon as the daily body test began to measure my hand-eye coordination. As previously mentioned, I don’t play video games. I don’t play sports. I’ve never been tempted to view hand-eye coordination as part of the core of my identity. I also can’t interpret visual schema. You know those little drawings telling you which way to feed the paper into the printer? I can’t make heads or tails of them, but it doesn’t bother me. Unfortunately, the Wii Fit’s “balance” tests and activities call for both of these skills. This discovery—and the resulting “unbalanced” scores—led to a good week of ranting along the lines of “I do Irish dance, for goodness’ sake! I’m both balanced and fit!” and “Wii Fit designed stupid little activities and called them ‘fitness’ to make gamer slobs feel good about themselves!” No, the Wii Fit did not immediately result in an increase in Christian charity. However, if the Wii Fit has done one thing for me, it has revealed to me how much I do view fitness as a measure of my worth. At an intellectual level, of course, I know that it’s not, but the emotional level is a very different matter.
To some degree, my initial wrath over the balance activities seems to have passed. My husband is generally in the same room with me while I use the Wii Fit, and his constant reminding that “it doesn’t mean anything” is perhaps beginning to sink in.
But then I developed a bit of an obsession with beating a new nemesis: I call him Disapproving Boxer Man. No matter how hard or how precisely I punch in Rhythm Boxing, Disapproving Boxer Man always frowns, crosses his arms, and says, “I know you can do better than that. Let’s hit the gym again tomorrow.” The harder I try, the lower my score goes. There’s no pleasing Disapproving Boxer Man. However, I’ve been trying something new outside of my time with the Wii. Whenever the script runs in my head, as it often does, berating me for not giving a perfect lecture or for not brushing the cat’s teeth as often as I should or for being—gasp!—a fallen, fallible human being, I’ve been trying to picture Disapproving Boxing Man saying it. And then I want to punch him. But that’s better than believing the self-critical lines, or believing that they come from God. Disapproving Boxing Man may not be training me to box any better, but he may have the potential to train me in tuning out the persistent voice of self-beration.
As part of the “You Are Not the Center of My Life” setting, the Wii Fit would not force one to set a weight goal. While the weight goal is an important option for those who are trying to lose (or, I suppose, gain) some, the numbers focus isn’t helpful for all. I set my weight goal to stay the same, but, as a result, one day when I had just eaten and was wearing heavier clothes than usual, the Wii Fit jabbered about how I’d gained weight and tried to make me go through and analyze what I’d done “wrong” recently. It was all rather insulting, and I can’t imagine it’s helpful for those who have a major struggle with body image. Another friend, who happens to be pregnant, also lamented that the Wii Fit doesn’t have an option to acknowledge a belly that is burgeoning with baby and not burrito. If the Wii Fit allowed for other, non-weight-focused goals—or even no goal at all—I’d be a much happier user.
It’s odd, but, over time, the Wii Fit is perhaps training me not to view physical fitness as an integral aspect of my identity. As the season of Lent approaches, I’m not planning to make any Lenten resolutions—out of fear that I would keep them—but I will continue to let my Wii Fit remind me, in its aggravating little way, that I am dust, and to dust I shall return.