I don’t feel at peace in my own skin.
Sometimes I’m hyper-focused on my (perceived) flaws and can’t seem to snap myself out of it.
I can’t be fully present in the moment because I’m worried about whether my stomach is sticking out or if my cellulite is showing.
I wish I exercised more frequently or made more balanced food choices, but I haven’t been able to stick with a healthy routine.
It sure does to me.
At one point in my life, I identified with these thoughts at least several times a day.
At first, my pursuit of a healthy life was not, in fact, grounded in healthy desires. I had many body-focused demons to overcome before I could engage in a sustainably active and balanced lifestyle. And unfortunately, I’m not the only one.
I’m just going to come out and say it: There is a bit of a dark side to the fitness industry. Many fitness professionals and enthusiasts put forth a message that is focused on physical appearance and aesthetics above all. They try to capitalize on the vulnerability of women by inferring (or outright telling them) they need to be fixed. This concept is reinforced by “fitspo” images of barely dressed women flaunting the “ideal” body type, by fitness instructors chanting that students should “think about how your butt is going to look,” and by truisms reciting that changing your body is just a matter of willpower.
One of the fitness truisms I’ve come across many times is: “Think about why you started.” The problem is most people are starting from the wrong place—a place fueled by self-loathing and focused on shallow results.
Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing inherently bad about appreciating the physical results of hard, healthy work. The problem arises when this is the primary motivator behind a love of fitness. The incentives are skewed, increasing the danger of unhealthy and disordered habits forming.
Given my own demons, I went through brief periods of pursuing fitness or altering my diet that were driven by vanity. In a past life, I tried working out because I wanted to “look good” (as defined by mainstream society). I dieted. I experienced disordered eating and a VERY negative body image. I compared myself to others. I internalized the “ideal” flouted by the media.
I was miserable.
And, in the end, I gave up. Every time. The pursuit of fitness motivated solely by physical appearance is largely unsustainable. It is a shallow motivator. It does not get to the core of why we do what we do.
Now, I want to run a little farther or faster than I did last time.
I want to pick up something heavier than I could manage before, or hold a pose that I once couldn’t sustain without shaking.
I want to feel boundless energy and the ability to conquer new things.
Today, I am driven to exercise by the appreciable benefits an active lifestyle brings to various facets of my life. For example, being active gives me more energy, helps me focus, and empowers me to achieve goals I never thought were within my reach. Before, I felt like I was going through life tired all the time. Now, I am energized by challenge and growth.
Sure, I also want to feel confident in a bathing suit. But that confidence comes from within.
I became a wellness coach and personal trainer largely because I believe in an approach to exercise and eating that starts from a place of wholeness, not a place of inadequacy. I believe we should seek healthy habits because we believe we are worthy of living our best lives, not because we already feel we are less than enough. We shouldn’t be looking at our bodies as objects that need to be fixed, but rather as wonderful vehicles capable of doing great things.
It’s time to move beyond vanity-motivated fitness. It’s time to focus on wellness instead of our waistlines. And it’s time to be motivated by support, not shame.
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