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.

However, if there were one thing I could change about the Wii Fit, it would be the addition of a “You Are Not the Center of My Life” setting. Because I get aerobic exercise several times a week outside the Wii Fit, I use it primarily for strength training and yoga. For these, it’s great, especially if you add your own weights. I’m able to enter in my “Fit Credits” for my other activities, but they don’t contribute to my “Wii Fit Hours.” Therefore, my husband has achieved the coveted bronze piggy bank of fitness, while I’m still on the starter pig (which is, perhaps, nickel?). Somehow I want the Wii to know that I have a full exercise life outside of it . . . but, of course, the fact that I care what it “thinks” means that it may indeed occupy an out-of-proportion importance in my mind.

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.


  1. That’s not me in the accompanying photo, in case anyone was wondering.

    Also, in the time since I wrote this, Lent has started . . . and I now have my very own bronze pig.

  2. Well said Carissa and a very engaging article!

    Should our fitness be a part of our identity on some level though? As a Christians our identity is in Christ. We have worth because God created us and redeemed us. Life and health are gifts from God and we should strive to be good stewards. Obviously we can take that thought too far and end up with unhealthy view of physical fitness or trying to find worth in our physical abilities, but I think there is a temptation to give zero thought to physical fitness or nutrition which is also dangerous. I guess I am just wondering where we draw the line.

    For instance–living in Alabama, I often wonder–do people realize that there are other foods in the world besides chicken strips, fries, and hamburgers? Consequently do they realize that such a diet is damaging to the body God gave them?

  3. Wait. You’re supposed to brush a cat’s teeth? I never in my life knew this. Fortunately all my cats died of leukemia or coyotes and not tooth decay. Otherwise, I’d feel terrible.

  4. @ The Dane: Yes, you’re supposed to brush a cat’s teeth now. And, because brushing a cat’s teeth is, in most cases, actually impossible, you’re supposed to bring your cat in for a professional dental cleaning (under anesthesia, because apparently not even the professionals can brush a conscious cat’s teeth) every couple of years. It’s all a bit silly (my childhood cat lived to be almost 22 without this newfangled tooth-brushing!), but I feel guilty if I don’t do it anyway–thus the reason it sprang to mind as an example.

    @ Drew: Obviously, there has to be some balance here (of the sort that the Wii Fit Balance Board can’t provide). Personally, though, I struggle way more with the temptation to judge others based on poor nutrition or lack of exercise than I do with the temptation not to take care of my body. As with anything in life, there’s a necessary middle ground between (1) cavalierly abusing a good gift from God, assuming that he’ll take care of it, no matter what we do to it, and (2) doubting the goodness of that gift in itself, feeling that we constantly need to improve upon it or keep it from falling apart. I definitely struggle more with the latter. We are embodied, and that’s an essential part of our identity as humans, but I want to make sure that I don’t ground my sense of worth in things that could so easily be lost through disability or old age.

  5. I loved your mention of disapproving boxer man. I get a “nice job!” and there is disapproving boxer man in the background looking at me like I haven’t been doing anything for the past three minutes. I also notice that my boxer, even if I do well, makes sort of a “DAMMIT!” deafeated body gesture. Although the disapproving boxing man is discouraging, I think the boxing game is my favorite.

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