We Are Not Victims of Our Bodies
You are not your body, and yet you are. You are your body on a “good” day and on a “bad” day. What many of us women don’t realize is that we get to define what constitutes good and bad. We are not victims of our bodies.
To be a victim of our body, as women, means to be a slave to the scale, how our jeans fit, how we look in the mirror, and how we looked compared to the women on TV and in magazines. Most of us vacillate wildly in how we feel about ourselves and our bodies, and we spend too much time feeling badly about ourselves physically. Even when we’re actually in fantastic shape and, by all outsider accounts, look amazing.
The Gym Can Get You in Good (Mental) Shape
Getting into the gym can be useful tool in busting out of the body doldrums and creating a more positive self-image. You might not have been “blessed” with the same genetics as the runway models, but I bet you were blessed with something far more useful in your own actual life.
Coach Megan Clements made this discovery when she found CrossFit. After many years of comparing herself to unattainable bodies, she realized her own body was capable of amazing things:
It was the start of me realizing my body is capable of some pretty awesome things. I’ve since found out it can squat and deadlift more than a lot of guys and kicks butt on the rower.The bum and thighs I spent countless hours trying to get rid of actually come in pretty handy. It might not come in the same packaging as the girls on the front of the magazines, but I’m pretty sure most of them don’t have a hope in hell of keeping up with me in a metabolic conditioning workout, let alone out-squatting me.
Megan also experienced that being around the CrossFit community and people who valued what her body could do, rather than how it looked made a difference:
Having grown up in a society where women are valued for how close they come to a conceived idea of beauty rather than what they can do, the whole thing was a little strange to say the least. But, here I was with a room full of people getting really excited about how strong I was, about what my body could do.
To learn more about how Megan came to appreciate her body, read her article "On Being Strong: How CrossFit Ended My War With My Body."
Creating a Gym Where Accomplishments Matter
As a coach, you may be wondering how to encourage such a powerful environment in your own gym. With so many clients coming into fitness establishments in pursuit of exterior goals, how do you foster an appreciation for the internal and surround it with community support?
Women’s fitness expert Molly Galbraith offered tips for coaches on how to foster better body image in their female clientele. She admitted that it’s a challenging prospect, though, given how conflicted the clients themselves are in their wants and needs. Explained Molly:
When you get to the core of what they are looking for, the overwhelming majority of people simply want to look better and feel better. They want their clothing to fit better, they want to feel confident in themselves and their bodies, and they want to do it in a sane, manageable way.
But one thing a lot of them don’t realize is that reaching a certain body fat, size, or weight goal, won’t make them happy. They need to love themselves and appreciate all of the glorious aspects of their body right now, even if they want to make some physical changes. Those are not mutually exclusive.
To accomplish this, Molly suggested that coaches do the following:
- Educate their clients
- Emphasize positive goals
- Facilitate healthy competition among members
For more details on how to accomplish these three steps, read Molly’s article "Tips for Cultivating a Positive Body Image for Your Female Clients."
Let Go of the (Wrong) Numbers
For many women, focusing on the numbers behind physical accomplishments, rather the numbers on the scale, helps them to develop a more productive perspective. I personally found this to be true when it came to weighing myself.
I like to lift heavy and I'm a body type built more for muscle building than fast running, if you know what I mean. So for a long time I struggled with the number on the scale. I looked fit and I felt good, but the scale said crazy things like "144."
Over time I decided to ditch the scale and focus instead on my performance and my energy levels. Not waking up in the morning and letting a little digital number judge how my day would go made a huge difference for me. Instead, I was empowered by what I could accomplish in the gym, and I trained, ate, and slept to feed that progress - not the scale.
To learn more about my revelations regarding the scale and how pretty much nobody knows what 125lbs versus 145lbs looks like anyway, read my article "144lbs: Why Female Athletes Should Toss the Scale and Get a New Perspective."
You’ll Never Be Perfect
In the end, the truth is no matter how much you tell yourself what “should” or “shouldn’t” matter, there will still be days when you hate your body. There will be days when you turn around in the mirror and catch a glimpse of something you don’t like that will never go away - like cellulite, for example.
And while the cellulite may never disappear, what is always changeable is your relationship to it. I know, you probably don’t even want to have a relationship with your cellulite, but hear me through. Or actually, hear nurse practitioner Vanessa Bennington through, as she's already done a fantastic job of explaining that yes, female athletes can have cellulite, too.
In fact, Vanessa was super brave and posted a photo of her very own cellulite in her call-to-action article The Dirty Little Secret of the Female Athlete: Cellulite:
Facts, research, and studies have shown us that cellulite isn’t a disease or problem of the obese. It’s normal. In fact, it is quite possible to be very lean, very fit, very athletic, and still have cellulite.
To that end, I present to you exhibit A. This is what I have deemed my body mullet: abs in the front, cellulite in the back. If you’re not laughing right now you must have missed out on the 80’s. Have someone explain “hockey hair” to you. No, I am not saying I am ripped. I’m not. I’ve certainly been leaner (still had the dimples though). But, I am fit. I eat a healthy diet. I am the strongest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I can see my abs. And I have cellulite.
Your Assignment This Weekend (and Beyond)
So there you have it. Women all over are having the same dilemma. Women in the gym, women wanting to get to the gym, and women you've never even met are thinking similar thoughts about themselves as you are. But what if we all thought positive thoughts? What if we all celebrated what makes us unique, what makes us strong, and what is simply part of our experience as women (and humans)?
With that in mind, here is your assignment for this weekend - and hopefully you'll practice this assignment far beyond that. Whether its cellulite or something else you are ashamed of, consider these choice words from Vanessa:
I encourage you to keep working out and keep eating well. Keep doing what makes you feel good and what you enjoy. But do it in shorts. Do it in bikini bottoms. Screw trying to hide the dimples. That’s like someone with freckles trying desperately to cover them all up with makeup or someone with a big nose trying to hide behind their hair.
Stop worrying that everyone will think you’re not fit. It’s time to show everyone what real, fit, athletic women look like. We are not the airbrushed “perfection” of fitness magazine myth. We are all different, unique, and we come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. And most of us are probably rocking a few dimples.
What would your weekend look like if you took this attitude with you everywhere? What would future generations of women experience? What would the world look like if we all did this?
Photos courtesy of CrossFit LA.