In 2021, Hollywood megastar Will Smith set out to become fitter and healthier than ever before – but, what began as a straightforward weight loss and fitness journey turned into something far more personal…

On 1 January 2021, Will Smith was in the worst shape of his life. He had gained fat to play Richard Williams in King Richard, the upcoming film about Serena and Venus Williams’ father. He then put even more on during the pandemic (unintentional this time).

To get back in shape, Will Smith decided to embark on a weight loss journey, aiming to lose 20 pounds (9kg) in 20 weeks.

The Best Shape of My Life is the six-part YouTube series documenting Will Smith’s 20-week weight-loss journey. But we should say this now (spoiler alert), he never finishes it. Instead Smith quits in week 15.

“He quit?” you may ask. “He’s Will Smith, surely he never quits?”

But that’s The Best Shape of My Life’s main message. Even men who seem to have it all are, in fact, just like us.

Above: Smith did arguably get in the best shape of his life for 2007 film I Am Legend

Media provides a platform for us to present edited versions of ourselves to the world. Through it we see celebrities as their always-dangerous on-screen characters who never ‘err’ in speech or stumble in the corridor, only vulnerable when it adds to their mystique in some way.

In Smith’s own words: “What you’ve come to understand as ‘Will Smith’ – the alien-annihilating MC, bigger-than-life movie star – is largely construction, a carefully crafted and honed character designed to protect myself, to hide myself from the world, to hide the coward.”

What We Learned From Will Smith and His Weight Loss Journey

The documentary goes all-in on this aspect. It shows Smith at his worst.

We see him fatter than he’s ever been. We see him fail when he misses his 25-minute 5k run target. We see him angry on the athletics track when one of his team prepares the wrong equipment.

His daughter Willow says, “I don’t think anybody’s ever been this real.”

It’s ugly. But it’s also human, and therefore beautiful. Through it we saw ourselves – men with ambitions and failures.

Since the boom of social media, everyone appears to support the theory that these ‘edited’ versions of ourselves are bad. That would suggest Smith’s transparency in the documentary is a good thing. But it made us wonder: is complete transparency a good thing? Are we in danger of over-sharing?

Transparency verses over-sharing

On the one hand, Smith’s open approach to The Best Shape of My Life allowed viewers to relate with him. On the other, it weakened a character many looked up to for being strong.

Smith’s vulnerable scenes from the documentary will never encourage us to mimic his bad traits. We can all see them for what they are: inevitable, but bad. At the same time, we find it useful to have virtuous public figures we can aspire to be like. Their crafted images may set an impossible standard, but it’s an inspirational guide nonetheless.

Napoleon Bonaparte may never have achieved success without Julius Caesar to aspire to. And Julius Caesar may never have conquered Rome without Alexander the Great to aspire to. Alexander? Well he had Achilles. All were seen as almost untouchable, God-like figures.

But today’s world is very different from Napoleon’s, and certainly Alexander’s. We struggle not with inter-tribal conflict. Mental health, rather, appears to present the greatest challenge for today’s man.

Perhaps transparent, fallible public figures are the best tool to combat the modern challenges of anxiety and finding a good work/life balance.

Or perhaps the documentary was meant to be neither good nor bad. Perhaps it was only meant to be the truth and we can take from it what we like.

“Persist in the face of anything”

Left imprinted on our minds days after watching is the lesson Smith’s father teaches him as a child:

Build a wall. And keep building until it’s finished. But forget about the wall. Focus on laying the brick in front of you perfectly.

Smith’s father hit his mother. He was abusive – a ‘bad man’, some might call him. Yet he still taught Smith valuable lessons. Those lessons contributed to his success.

“He taught me to persist in the face of anything,” Smith said. “Always get up and lay another brick.”

We all have faults. And that’s OK. Public figures like Smith do, too. But focusing on their most attractive facets – perseverance, will, determination – will help us best emulate their successes.

Watch Will Smith’s weight loss documentary, Best Shape Of My Life, below:

Words: Charlie Metcalfe


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