What We Can Learn From Derek Zoolander’s Identity Crisis

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Who says you cant learn life lessons from Frat Pack movies? My favorite scene in one of my favorite movies, Zoolander, is when the loveable idiot male model Derek Zoolander looks at his own reflection in a puddle and asks “who am I?” His reflection responds simply, “I don’t know.” He is questioning his identity because he’s an aging male model who has built his life out of being “really really ridiculously good looking,” and the new guy in town, Hansel, is just “so hot right now.” He is no longer the Male Model of the Year and he doesn’t know who he is if he’s not número uno anymore.

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The whole movie is just ridiculous and hilarious, but its message about identity resonates with a lot of us. Along the way, the experiences and challenges in our daily lives shape who we are. Our identities are fluid, they can change depending on finding new friends, a new job, a new hobby or just picking up new habits…and we may not even realize it at first. How would you respond to the simple question, “who am I?” Surprisingly, how you choose to answer this question can be vital to your health. Check out this excerpt from a recap of a TEDMED conference last year covered in this Time article:

“One of the best ways to change health behavior, it turns out, is to change a person’s self-identity. When a smoker begins to view herself as a nonsmoker or a teen sees binge-drinking as something “people like me” don’t do, behavior change is typically more lasting than if the person’s sense of identity is not invoked. Research on everything from exercise, eating behavior and sexuality to political action and drug use suggests that having one’s identity wrapped up in a particular behavior is a crucial motivating factor to sustaining it. Once you see yourself as a runner, not running becomes far harder to do, for example.”

I have mentioned before that I am a runner, and I’ve explained how I developed this as part of my identity when I suggested “create your own identity” as step two in my seven steps to being awesome. Reading this article reaffirmed my belief in just how important this is. Change how you view yourself, and you can change who you are. It’s pretty hard to make positive changes when your identity is wrapped up in a negative self image. Even if you have a positive self image, it may not always help your health. We can fall into routines where we do things so much that they become part of our identity, but it may not be authentic. You may find yourself spending a lot of time doing things you don’t like, or that don’t fulfill you, or that have a negative impact on your health. You may accidentally become someone you don’t want to be (such as the subpar version of Courtney from the great carb strike of 2012.

The good news is, you can adjust your outlook and your identity and make it whatever you want to be. Zoolander realized that he truly wanted to save the Prime Minister of Malaysia, even though he was thought of a simple-minded fool and was hypnotized and trained to be an assassin. So, he decided not to be an assassin and saved the poor guy’s life, effectively reshaping his identity through action. If he can make that kind of identity change even after being hypnotized, what’s stopping you? Then, he wanted to teach children to learn how to read since it was something he had struggled to learn, so he opened up “The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.” He decided what he wanted and acted. If you haven’t seen it and think it sounds preposterous, thats because it is. Yeah, I know, it’s a movie. Not even technically a good one (says who!!?). But who’s to say you can’t find life lessons everywhere? You can find wise advice inside of a fortune cookie, why not in a funny movie (which happened to earn over $60 million at the box office so obviously it resonated with some people!)

Wanting it is more than half the battle; it’s all in how you view yourself and the actions you decide to make. When I wanted to become a runner, I started acting like one. I couldn’t get out there and run like a track star, but I bought some sweet kicks and snazzy workout clothes and I made myself look like one. Try it. Play dress up. Pretend. It’ll become authentic over time, if it’s what you really want and you stick with it and believe in yourself and work really, really hard. Sometimes you’ve gotta fake it til you make it, but if you put in the time and effort needed, you’ll make it. And in the meantime, you can learn other valuable life lessons from Ben Stiller and his buddies in a bunch of other amazing movies which I’m sure I’ll be referencing in due time.

So, who are you? It’s time to act! Try on different hats and experiment with different activities. If you have come to find yourself with habits that you don’t like or aren’t healthy, and you’ve become someone you dont want to be, change it. Actively shape your identity to become who you truly are. Don’t idly sit by and wonder who you are. Don’t wait. Your actions will define you. Repeat that quote from the top of the post. Let it sink in, because it’s so true. That Thomas Jefferson sure knew what was up. Who knew he and Derek Zoolander had so much in common?

I’ll be back with a race recap over the weekend…my first 10k is Saturday! Thank goodness my identity as a runner is strong, because this is going to be quite the challenge! Can’t wait to let you know how it goes!

Courtney Wienslaw

My blog chronicles my 90-pound weight loss transformation and encourages people to live a healthy, happy, fit, and balanced lifestyle.

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