Just in the last few weeks alone I heard the following sentences come from my lovely, strong, gorgeous clients’ mouths:
- I’m too old to wear these shorts
- My legs are horrible.
- My arms are fat.
- This is the first time in 15 years, I’ve felt confident enough to wear this top
- I went home from my night out because I could feel my fat hanging over my jeans when I sat down.
Body hang-ups have become the norm. It is sadly unusual for someone to stand there and say, ‘I love my body’. It’s so unusual in fact, that when we hear those words, we almost assume the person must be trying to make everyone else feel insecure with their smugness.
This position we find ourselves in, isn’t something that has happened suddenly, out of nowhere, but has most definitely escalated over the last decade. When did it become normal to dislike yourself because you no longer look like you did when you were 21, or worse, like someone else did when they were 21?
My crew aren’t the only people who feel like this, who say sentences about themselves that sound like this. Most of us have at some time or another. I used to dislike my body too. I have scoliosis, you can see it. It hurts frequently. I used to wish I was less broad and less lanky. A lot. I also have an auto-immune skin condition that is pretty visible. Folks occasionally joke about my bad fake tan lines. It’s mostly not my fake tan, I have skills with the mit, it’s my skin thing, larger than life & lumpy, glowing red at everyone. I don’t mind though. I can see it too, living its best life all down my shins and round my ankles, yet I still wear the shorts.
One day, without me noticing, I stopped disliking my body, a little bit at a time, until I realised I had stopped comparing it to other people’s. I started to be proud of it. Because it’s mine, because I ask a lot of it and because life can be a bit tough for it sometimes but yet it keeps going. This doesn’t stop me from wanting gigantic muscley legs that could crush a watermelon…. But it does stop me from disliking the ones that I have, even if they’re not quite melon ready.
But what is it that got me to that point? It wasn’t losing weight, nor coming in on my calories every day, nor dressing a certain way, nor any other thing that we are sold by the diet and lifestyle industry. It was becoming stronger, understanding the science of movement and of weight manipulation, recognising that I was capable of almost anything I set my mind to and then realising that because of those things, the rest of it didn’t really matter.
This week at my classes, over 70% of my sweaty crew wore shorts. Some were nervous. They still wore those shorts despite any feeling of nerves or ‘not enoughness’. They sweated, they had a great time, they were cooler in the evening sun, nothing bad happened apart from the occasional wedgie. Next time we are lucky enough to see a slither of sun, they won’t be so nervous and the time after that even less so. No one who comes to my classes would judge someone else for the clothes that they wear nor the size or shape of their body. If they did, they would not be welcome. We are there together, to sweat, to have fun, to learn more about how to move better…. and how to become confident in the bodies that we have been so hard on over the years.
Exercise has a huge role to play in boosting appreciation for our own body. A new learnt step in dance fitness, a better movement pattern in a resistance class, a heavier weight in the gym. It is possible to be proud of what we can do rather than just what we look like.
I am not for a moment saying we should not be proud of our appearance, it’s natural to want to look nice. That’s the whole point of a hairbrush. But it’s not so natural so compare ourselves to other people. People who do not have the same genetics nor have lived through the same lives as us. It’s not so natural to take one body shape and champion it above all others. It’s not so natural to say to ourselves that people should only look a certain way, and if we don’t look like that then we simply aren’t good enough.
As we workout, in whatever way we have chosen, we begin to feel proud of ourselves. Sometimes because of the physical things that we accomplish but more frequently because of the mindset and the choices we had to make to get there.
Whether it’s walking in the door for the very first time or coming when we’ve had a bad/busy week, the mindset shift that it takes is something to be championed. When we finally recognise our body as an incredible machine that deserves to be fuelled well, rather than something that should be dieted into a shape we deem socially acceptable. When we can be proud of ourselves for doing something we couldn’t do before, rather than comparing ourselves to the performance of others.
On a side note, for me, the single best thing about my sessions is watching the rest of the crew clap for someone else (often quite literally). It can be an accomplishment that the person doesn’t see as one, because it’s not as heavy or not as high or not as ‘big a deal’ as someone else’s. But yet the rest of the class see it for what it is, a personal best, for that person, in whatever type of workout they have chosen. Someone walking into a class they’ve been nervous to try and had to pluck up the courage over several weeks. For lifting heavier than they’ve managed before. For getting a piece of footwork right in dance fitness. For simply showing up when they’ve been brave and admitted they’re having a tough time.
Once we start to appreciate what we are accomplishing, what our body is achieving, what our mind has managed to overcome, we will automatically start to like what we see in the mirror a tiny bit more. Once we start to listen to how other people speak about us positively, we will start to see glimmers of what they see. Once we start to see that every body is something to be proud of, we will gradually begin to judge ourselves less harshly and realise that the ‘ideal’ we have been sold and that we have accepted as true, is, to be quite honest, an absolute gigantic pile of bollocks.
You were not designed to look the same as someone else. Your body is awesome. Exactly as it is.
Be proud. Of yourself. Of what you have accomplished thus far and of what you will go on to do in the future, in whatever item of clothing that makes you feel like a complete badass.