And So Is Everyone Else
Today is the first day of summer, and I know that some women are torn between two conflicting ideas when it comes to the “beach body” idea.
- An internal, powerful roar of: “I already have a beach body!”
- … Followed by the self-doubt and shame of: “Wait… do I have a beach body?”
I relate. Despite being quite fit, I still look at myself and experience disquieting worry that my body isn’t good enough to be seen in a bikini.
This is because, as women, we get a lot of mixed messages.
In fact, we get pressure from both sides.
On the one hand, we have women’s magazines, movies, and media papering the walls of our minds with imagery of perfect, sinuous, tanned bodies that simply invite negative comparison, regardless of your own level of fitness/leanness.
On the other hand, we are learning to question these aesthetic mores and step into powerful ownership of our own bodies and how we want to treat them (and what we are entitled to in terms of treatment from others). But… the shadow side of this positive change is that it’s easy to start slinging mud in the other direction, directing hate and criticism toward anyone who wants to lose weight or otherwise change their bodies.
What ultimately happens is that we often internalize this conflict, and we’re left feeling uncertain about how we should feel about our bodies, and our desires to improve health through exercise and nutrition.
It’s necessary that we retire this either-or thinking to be truly content, because when we take sides, everyone loses.
So now, on the first day of summer, I just want to throw this idea out there:
You’re allowed to look however you want.
As a fitness professional who works with real women every day, I hold the following six truths as part of my core philosophy…
Healthy, fit women come in all shapes and sizes.
Yes, healthy and unhealthy. Genetically, we have blueprints that decide for us how tall we’re going to be, how broad our shoulders will be, and how wide our hips will be. Even how our muscles are shaped is based on a genetic blueprint. Yes, we can exert influence on our body shapes by implementing exercise and nutrition strategies, but we’re not going to transform into another person, ever!
Women are entitled to look however they want and own it.
Let’s not shame other women, for being too big or too small. If a woman wants to be totally ripped and show off her muscles, that’s cool. If a woman enjoys and revels in her plus-size body, that’s okay. If a woman wants to be petite and not have visible muscles, that’s fine too! And… if a woman wants to gain or lose weight, that’s all right, too!
Women don’t have to “fix” their “imperfections”… but they can if they want to.
You know what’s fine? Stretch marks. Body hair. Cellulite. You know what’s also fine? Waxing. Wearing more clothes. Cosmetic treatments. Let’s not make moral standards about what women can – or shouldn’t – do or not do when it comes to these personal decisions.
Women don’t have to meet certain body “benchmarks” in order to wear certain clothes.
Want to wear a bikini? Wear a bikini. You don’t have to have the “right” body type to wear a crop top, short shorts, or any other garment. But you also equally have the right to wear a cover-up or pants or a flowing shirt if that makes you feel more comfortable and happy in your body.
Women have different journeys and “happy places” with weight and body shape.
Someone’s relationship with their own weight and body image is an extremely personal journey, and you never know where you’re encountering someone on that path. Making peace with not only your body but with your own attitudes is something that can take years.
Fit women – and yes, even lean women – have loose skin, rolls, and flab.
Even the fittest of the fit and the leanest of the lean have bodies that age, do weird things in certain positions, and respond to gravity. Remember: professional photoshoots leave these images out, but real life has no cutting room floor!
So what role does the “Fitness Industry” play?
Let’s take those six core beliefs for granted now, and take it a step further.
When it comes to actual health, what responsibility does the fitness industry have? It’s certainly not to pressure women into needing or wanting to fit a specific aesthetic ideal.
Here’s how I look at it: as a certified personal trainer with women’s fitness and fitness nutrition specializations, it is my duty to spread the following three ideas…
Everyone benefits from being active.
Wherever your BMI sits on the spectrum, you benefit from getting your body moving, getting stronger, getting outside, getting in the gym, and getting your heart rate up. You will be tougher, faster, healthier, and happier!
Everyone benefits from eating more nutritiously.
You will feel and perform better (and ultimately end up with a better relationship with food) if you eat more fiber and more protein, period. Plus, order and intentionality is almost always a good thing, and tends to improve other areas of life, too.
Everyone benefits from eating more mindfully.
Disciplining yourself to meet your needs appropriately and build better self-soothing skills makes you a mentally and emotionally stronger person. Many of my clients find that they don’t need to diet – it is often simply enough to stop using food as a replacement for companionship, sensuality, entertainment, hobbies, and fun. Mindfulness is another one of those things that tends to spill over into other areas of life, too!
By the way, I hope you noticed that, at the top of this section, I put “Fitness Industry” in quotes.
I see this monolithic “Fitness Industry” frequently take the blame for our culture’s body image problems all the time on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.
But I would argue instead that the mixed messages are not from the fitness industry, but emerge when the beauty industry and the fitness industry become conflated.
When those boundaries between beauty and fitness aren’t clear, what develops is that mystifying and meaningless concept: “wellness.”
Good personal trainers don’t tell you what you should weigh or what you should look like. They help you reach your goals, and help to shape the process with their expertise and insight. They are your guide to deciding if a goal is achievable or healthy, and if it is, how to get there reasonably quickly and efficiently.
So, this summer, look however you want, and let others do the same. But if you want to work on your actual fitness and health, drop me a line and I’d love to chat.
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