In Western culture, for whatever reason, Fitness and Fatness are seen as opposing forces. They’re two mutually exclusive categories that file everyone into one of two camps: The Fit or The Fat. For those of you who read my blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a huge proponent of body positivity and, as a yoga instructor, I fall under the category of “fitness professional.” You also may be aware that I’m neither particularly big nor particularly small. I take up exactly as much space as I take up–same as everyone else. So these two “irreconcilable” categories are a bit of a sore spot for me and one which I think needs to be addressed.
First, let me say that I am not immune. In fact, when Daniel first moved into the health & fitness profession, I found myself very insecure. I felt bad because I was “too fat,” not very strong, and truly believed that I somehow diminished his credibility as a personal trainer by not looking like a fitness model. This was really frustrating for me because I, too, was on my own fitness journey–I graduated high school as someone who didn’t do any activity, and by the end of my freshman year of college I was racking up hours upon hours a week killing the cardio machines at the gym. I thought that I “liked” working out (#realtalk I actually hated cardio, I just didn’t want to believe it), and would consistently be frustrated by the fact that I didn’t “look” like I was fit. This played into my insecurities, resulting in me scrutinizing others for the sake of making myself feel better. Ultimately this created a negative feedback loop because I then believed other people to be scrutinizing me (Obviously if I notice how fat other people’s thighs are, they definitely notice my thunderous gams!).
I met my own introduction into the “professional” world of fitness with that same insecurity, and found myself afraid that I would be less respected as a yoga instructor if I didn’t look like a long, lean, stretchy yoga girl.
I was so, so wrong.
…here’s the absolute truth: You can neither tell how healthy someone is nor how much a person is worth by their pant size.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not a fan at all of the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. I think if you’re expecting something of others, then you should expect the same for yourself. I think this is why you see a lot of fitness industry workers throwing shade toward their less active counterparts–they know that what it takes to get to their level isn’t for everyone, but they also know that it’s not as difficult to get started as people like to claim.
But here’s the absolute truth: You can neither tell how healthy someone is nor how much a person is worth by their pant size.
We all start somewhere. For some, it takes bad numbers from the doctor, or a joint replacement, or lack of energy, or waking up and not recognizing ourselves in the mirror. Whatever starts you on your journey, don’t let “lack of results” stop you. I feel like the reason most people “fall off the bandwagon” is because they think that somehow not looking “fit” means their progress is for nothing.
Obviously, it’s my personal belief that everyone should find some sort of exercise that they love, but I believe this because our bodies are made to be in motion and because I have never felt better emotionally, physically, or mentally than I do now that my day to day life is centered around activity–I don’t believe this because if-you-don’t-you-will-be-fat-and-if-you’re-fat-you-must-then-be-gross.
Have you ever stopped to consider that you might like your body at this size, or are you too busy focusing on the end goal that you can’t see yourself as beautiful until you get there?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with fat. We all have it. Our bodies need at least a little bit to survive. And truly I’m so tired of people hating on their bodies because they have big butts or big legs or big bellies or because the number on the scale is “too high” or not moving at all. I’m sad to hear people tell me that they’ve “lost 15 lbs but I still have about 20 left to go” without stopping to evaluate how they feel at this point. Why do you have 20 more to go? Have you ever considered that you might like your body at this size or are you just so busy focusing on the end goal that you can’t see yourself as beautiful until you get there?
Do me a favor and take a minute next time you get out of the shower to think about how you feel. You might be surprised to find that, after you strip down all your media-bred preconceived notions of what’s beautiful and worthy, you actually like, or even love, some of your soft spots.
For me, respecting my body has come as I’ve found more and more things I’m interested in and taken my goals away from the scale. I’m proud of my body because I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone and into activities I really enjoy. I’ve seen that dedicated training can yield results that I never would have imagined. I went from a goal of “complete a triathlon” to winning 1st place medals. I teach a yoga class that has dedicated members who tell me how much better they feel afterward (or how sore they are for days.. ha!). I lifted heavy things because I love feeling strong and I’ve been able to weather through injury, frustration, and healing because I know how badly I want to get back to that point.
And honestly, if I never lost another pound in my life that would be absolutely fine because I like my body. I like that I’m strong (although I’d like to be stronger…). I like how my clothes fit. I’m not insecure about how I look because I know that I’m powerful underneath and I have so much more to offer the world than just how I look in a swimsuit.
This is why I encourage others to find activities that they love–not because I think anyone needs to lose weight or change who they are. In my opinion, my goal as a fitness professional is to teach everyone to value themselves and truly feel better in their own skin and not because if they come to yoga or the gym they will leave looking like a fitness model. If that’s your goal then sure, we can get you there. But I’m always going to ask you to consider your why. I think focusing on how fitness makes you feel is far, far more important than how it makes you look. I also think that, once we start giving ourselves a break and take some pressure off of the appearance focused goals, we start to treat others with a little more compassion. If we stop condemning ourselves and other people for our imperfections, we start to realize how wonderful and magnificent our bodies actually are. Millions of cells are working together to create organs and systems and life, in general. What’s not to love? And if we love it, we should care for it simply out of respect. Our bodies are our temples, right?
…focusing on how fitness makes you feel is far, far more important than how it makes you look.
Now that my husband is co-owner of a gym (aka I am co-owner of a gym because, you know, “what’s his is mine”), I was afraid my insecurity would pop back up. I worried that when I would say “Oh, well my husband owns a gym” to strangers, I’d wonder if they would immediately think “oh, but you don’t look like you own a gym?” This has not at all been the case. I deserve to be both fit and have fat. I am a strong, unique, and worthy person, no one knows my journey or my battles, and I should be able hold my head high because I deserve to feel good no matter what I look like.
So do you. So if you’re someone who’s afraid to get started because you’re embarrassed or you think that you’re “too far gone” to change, you’re wrong. If you constantly find yourself starting and stopping (and starting and stopping…) a fitness regimen because you get frustrated with the “limitations” of diet and exercise or because you’re not losing the weight you want, try taking the pressure off the scale. Fitness isn’t about where you are or how much you weigh. Fitness isn’t about fat. Fitness is about caring for and loving yourself and your body, no matter your size, and finding out where you can grow from here.
As a feel good exercise, here are pictures of beautiful people showing off their beautiful bodies. Notice that everyone is different, but no one necessarily “better” than another. I can’t speak to the fitness level of any of these people, and that’s the point. It’s not my place to speak to that. I post these pictures as a reminder that we are wondrous in all of our shapes and sizes and deserve to care for and love ourselves and our bodies.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. ” – Arthur Ashe
Image credit: ESPN/Amanda Bingson (cover image), Christmas Abbott (top left) Loey Lane (top middle/right), Dressmann (center), Modcloth (middle left), Thinx/Sawyer (middle right), Aerie (bottom left), and Andreja Pejic (bottom right)