On Body Type

On Body Type – August 2015

Jules Hirsch a physician/researcher passed away last Friday. His work reinforced the notion that we all have our own set points in regard to body weight. People are biologically predisposed to be thin, average or heavy. For the majority of us on the extremes of the continuum, it has nothing to do with being anorexic, or lazy. Our individual set point is determined by our DNA. While Dr. Hirsch’s work has been accepted by the scientific community, It never made it to the front page of Men’s health or Cosmopolitan.

William Herbert Sheldon, Jr., was a researcher whose work was a pop psychology phenomena the 1950s but whose work has been just about universally discredited. He believed, there were three core personality types based on physical makeup. 1) Ectomorphic: characterized as linear, thin, usually tall, fragile, lightly muscled, flat chested and delicate; described as cerebrotonic inclined to desire isolation, solitude and concealment; and being tense, anxious, restrained in posture and movement, introverted and secretive 2) Mesomorphic: characterized as hard, rugged, rectangular, athletically built with well developed muscles, thick skin and good posture; described as somatotonic inclined towards physical adventure and risk taking; and being vigorous, courageous, direct and dominant. 3) Endomorphic: characterized as round, usually short and soft with under-developed muscles and having difficulty losing weight; described as viscerotonic enjoying food, people and affection; having slow reactions; and being disposed to complacency. (Wikipedia).

While Sheldon’s work has been discredited,his stereotypic profiling based on body type has endured. Popular culture continues to glamorize the mesomorph.

Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Sheldon would agree that people are born with a predisposition towards a specific body type. And discipline and hard work will not transform a person with a thin or heavyset build into a mesomorph.

To some degree, you would think this is common sense. However, the awareness that our body type simply “is”. Does not seem to be that common. The potential transformation of the 90 pound weakling into Charles Atlas prevails. As does the notion that heavyweight people are somehow character flawed. All one has to do is look at nature and the animal world to see how ludicrous this is. Animals and plants have been bred for physical characteristics for years. Physical characteristics are passed down through DNA in a multitude of varieties valued for different tastes and tasks. Most educated people are aware that we are part of nature. Why in heaven’s name would we be excluded from this aspect of biological diversity.

No matter what our biologic predisposition is, it’s okay. It’s in our best interest to remain fit mentally and physically. However, being fit and being thin or being fit and being heavy is different from being fit and a mesomorph. We certainly can fine tune ourselves, but please let’s stop promoting that a frog can turn into a prince. Let’s recognize that the majority of princes did absolutely nothing to acquire their status and let’s start promoting that frogs are cool.

So good bye Dr. Hirsch , thank you for your humane treatment of your clients and your valuable contributions towards the acceptance of different body types.