Body Image and Fitness Go Together
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Being that it's body image awareness week, I've been reading a lot of articles lately about this subject. I think it's wonderful that we're being exposed to the idea that we should celebrate our bodies, in all the myriad shapes, sizes, and colours that we come in. Body shaming is a very real thing, and this gorgeous vlogger Loey Lane puts this way better than I ever could.
When I think about what Body Image is, it comes down to that fundamental question: "Am I comfortable in my own skin?" It has nothing to do with weight, or size, or colour - it's whether there's a match between your mental view of yourself and how you actually are. We should all celebrate how lucky we are to have a body - no matter what it looks like.
We often take our bodies for granted. We abuse them, then we expect them to somehow keep up with this constant abuse without fail. There was a time, years ago, when I injured myself badly enough to not only put me in the hospital, but to land me with two knee operations and a stint in a wheelchair. Even though I was in that chair for only a few days, it was like I was exposed to a totally new world. I had a sudden realization of what it was like to have a body that wouldn't do what I wanted, and what I needed it to do. Things that were as simple as putting on clothing or going to the bathroom became nigh impossible tasks. I was lucky enough to heal from my injury, and though I'm not without pain, I am walking on two legs and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't thank my lucky stars.
Which brings me to my point in writing this article. Although I am ecstatic to see the media starting to show different body types and celebrate our differences, I don't think body image and fitness are mutually exclusive.
Let me explain.
I am someone myself who has struggled with my weight - being someone that my doctors tell me I'm obese, I know what it's like to be constantly trying my hardest to stay fit. But I feel as though by focusing on body image, and body image only, that it sometimes gives us a "free pass" to say well, I'm proud of my body, therefore I don't have to take care of it anymore.
Our bodies are incredible machines. Down to the cellular level, we are built to withstand an incredible amount of abuse - from the food we eat, to the exercise (or lack thereof) that we do, the environments within our bodies are constantly adjusting to try to keep up and stay balanced. Some of us are built as endomorphs - we naturally and easily build up fat, and it doesn't take a lot of food to keep us going. Others of us are ectomorphs, who can (I say with envy) eat just about whatever they want and not gain weight. Then there are the elusive mesomorphs, who easily build muscle mass. The grass is always greener on the other side - no matter your body type, you always wish you had a little of what other people do.
In the case of endomorphs like me, we struggle with being overweight. I exercise more than just about anyone that I know, and I eat cleaner, healthier food than anyone I know, and I'm still obese. My doctor always tells me I should lose more weight.
I have read many articles written by people like me who end up getting frustrated with their doctors - probably because let's be honest, if we've heard it once we've heard it a thousand times, right? But does that make the doctor wrong?
Trust me when I say this - that the doctor only has our best interests at heart. When they warn us that being overweight is going to lead to many health problems down the road, they're not trying to hurt our feelings or to body shame us. To the contrary, they are trying to help. The statistics are there - it's clear. Being chronically obese leads to many health issues including but not limited to:
In my case, I actually do have arthritis - related to the aforementioned injury I sustained. Years later, my injury has resulted in arthritis in my knee which, when it flares up, can be debilitating. What's the best solution for this? Lose weight.
Even putting diseases aside, when it comes to stress on the joints, this is just pure physics - the more weight you're carrying around, the more pressure you're putting on the vulnerable joints in your body that are doing all the work carrying you around. No matter how fit you are, the heavier you are the more stress on your joints - period.
We need to stop treating the word "obese" like it's a bad thing, and we need to stop talking about how we should change the definition of obese now that so many of us are obese. Changing the facts won't help us talk about the real issues which are critical for our health and the ballooning costs of health care due to diseases related to obesity.
So let's get real. We can be proud of our bodies, in all their shapes and sizes, but this isn't an exit ramp for making healthy lifestyle choices. No matter how hard it is, how much we have to fight, we need to keep on fighting that fight to keep ourselves healthy and fit. And we're not doing it to solve the issue of body image, we're doing it so that we can have a better quality of life. But, I also think working out can help with body image and self-esteem. Here are a few reasons why:
Working out produces endorphins - "happy" enzymes that make you feel good
Exercising can help you gain "control" over your body, and with control comes confidence
Sports can be a great way to engage with other people, make friends and be social
I've seen some great videos recently celebrating people with different bodies that are doing great things with exercise. I was so inspired by this girl, who is obese but she's enjoying the exercise that she gets from pole dancing, and the community of people she's been able to connect with doing this exercise
I was so ecstatic to see this guy enjoying doing ballet. When I was doing a lot of swing dancing, some of my absolute favourite guys to dance with had wildly different body types - trust me it doesn't matter your size if you've got the right moves!
In my case, my exercise of choice these days is kickboxing. Although I've always been into martial arts, I had to stop doing karate due to my knee pain, and I found that kickboxing is much more forgiving. I practice Muay Thai, going and working out by myself on the punching bag at lunch and sometimes hitting the odd class in the evenings when I can.
I can't tell you how many people have come up to compliment me on my workout. At my gym, I'm one of the only ones that uses that punching bag - so I stand out. And as a girl, I suppose they're a bit surprised to see how hard I can hit. I've had people come up and tell me that I'm doing a great workout, that I deserve everything I'm getting out of it. This week, though, I was astounded when a girl came up to me and told me that she loved my body shape. What? I asked her if she had any idea how much I weighed. She told me her weight, and she's actually a couple of inches taller than me and weighs 40 pounds less than me. When I told her I weighed in at 200-odd pounds, she couldn't believe it. To her, she couldn't see my size, all she saw was the confidence and energy that radiated from me into that punching bag. She also loved my curves. Sure, I carry my weight well - but even though I do have a lot of muscle, I have a lot of fat too! My body fat percentage last time I checked was around 33% - and if there's one thing I want to change about myself, it's that - I don't care about the number on the scale but I'd like to shed some of that fat off and focus on strength and endurance. If I could get my body fat down to 23% I'd be happy as a clam.
So we've all got something to work on. My point is that we should focus on healthy lifestyle, and finding whatever the magic recipe is for each of us. There's an exercise out there for everyone, you just have to find what you love and stick with it. It's also infinitely easier to maintain a good workout routine when you're also eating well - eating heavy foods, or too much food, can weigh the body down and make you lethargic, which makes it even that much harder to get up and work out.
I fully believe that we have body inertia. There's this threshold below which when you stay at rest, your body wants to stay at rest - it's a huge struggle every time to convince yourself to get up and do something active. But there's some point, after a lot of perseverance, where you're on the other side of this threshold and suddenly a body in motion wants to stay in motion - your body will start asking you to get up and do something.
That's what we should all strive for. Let's be happy and grateful for our bodies. They are a gift that lets us interact with this tactile world. But let's also be respectful to our bodies, and treat them with care. After all, we've got one life to live - staying healthy is the best way to live it.