Last night my daughter asked me the one question that I always refuse to answer when a friend or client asks me: am I fat? I replied do you think you’re fat? She pushed further asking me to choose between whether she was skinny or fat. I responded that I wouldn’t pick either, as those adjectives are negative labels cast about by a society obsessed with perfect bodies – something that doesn’t exist.
In my conversation with my daughter, I took it a step further and pointed out that there are a myriad of body descriptions (labels) in-between skinny and fat, and none of those might fit her body type either. But even still I was not going to be cornered into labeling my child. I said if you feel fat, we can talk about that and I can always instruct you in ways to change your body composition to be healthier. But if you’re just worried that compared to the next girl you’re “fat” then I’m not going to engage in that kind of labeling and neither should you. Remember, every BODY is different!
The idea of placing a descriptive label on a “body” lends itself towards negative views and feelings on the part of both the describer and the describee. Unless you’re giving an eye witness account to a crime where physical descriptions are necessary, I feel that we over-use these negative body labels all the time and this wide-spread habit is an assault on our self-esteem.
If I were to tell you fascinating a story about one woman’s journey, would it matter if she was skinny or fat? I suppose if it was about her climbing a mountain it might come into play about what kind of shape she’s in. But if I’m telling you about a woman confronting a governmental or societal obstacle or battling cancer, it doesn’t matter in the least what her physical shape is. Yet we always seem to embellish our stories with these details.
If I describe a woman as stocky and solid, you will most likely imagine someone akin to an Olympic gymnast or swimmer. But if she’s just an average girl, that description might make you think she was short with a thick torso, which society has labeled as less attractive. If I describe a woman as lean and ripped, most would imagine a track and field star or fitness model. As Society has deemed that body type as one to be coveted, are the rest of us then sub-par?
This matters to boys and men too as society’s labels have suggested that if they’re not “strong and buff” they can’t get the girl of their dreams. I find all these labels to be detrimental on the whole because it’s diminishing the importance of our character, habits, and manners thereby making how we look – or what shape/size our bodies are – the more important factor.
So I ask you now to note how many stories or incidents you tell throughout your week where you interject something about a person’s skin color, size, shape, age – and then assess if those descriptions (or adjectives) were necessary to the story. Also note how many times your children describe people or other children with labels that they either envy or disdain. Perhaps with more awareness we can move away from these labels and get down to the more important facts and issues of life.
In 2015 I published an article about gym-intimidation (Gymtimidation) and for those of you who find gyms intimidating I recommend reading (or re-reading) the post (click on the highlighted title). But today I wanted to discuss this issue a bit further as I find it to be one of the top stumbling blocks for women in particular who are committed to getting in shape now that the new year is upon us, yet cannot overcome their nervous reluctance towards joining a gym.
If you feel self-conscious in gym attire, awkward because you have no clue how to use the machines, and/or embarrassed by your lack of strength or stamina – you are far from alone! But as I stated in the previous post, whether it’s a girls-only gym or a “we’re all in this fat together” gym like Planet Fitness those feelings still surface and hold you back.
The real issue is your perception of your body vs. your desire to change it. If your motivation is strong enough, and you are willing to direct and maintain your focus on to that singular goal of slow and steady changes, you can drive those self-sabotaging thoughts from your brain.
To keep your focus on track and productive, start by accepting the shape you’re in today – not just your external shape — but your strength, stamina and coordination. Next pick two body parts to focus on, ideally your strongest or easiest to change (i.e., thighs or arms). Then wear clothes that you feel comfortable in, both for the comfort of exercising and sweating, and that you do not feel awkward visually in (i.e., t-shirt and shorts). Lastly, commit to three times a week, 30-minutes of slow but challenging resistance training of those chosen muscles (arms or legs), and slow but challenging cardio (walking at an incline, riding the stationary bike).
Once you see some changes to your body, you will find your motivation renewed to keep pushing towards your goals. Now there are two “no-no’s” I wish to impart to you, that will keep you from self-doubt and discouragement:
1. Do NOT compare yourself or your body to anyone else! Everyone, and I mean everyone, has different variables that come into play, and no two bodies (and brains) are alike. Focus only on your upward growth and improvement and be patient and loving with your body.
2. Do NOT focus on your mid-section (stomach). For those of you fighting to reduce body fat, especially from your tummy, this will be the last area to lose the fat – especially on women! Continue pushing yourself weekly, and follow my other posts where I discuss how to avoid plateauing, etc. and making certain that you’re eating enough. It took time for that fat to store up, and it takes time, hard work, and patience to lose it.
Lastly I cannot stress enough that if that gym-intimidation still has a grip on you, consider purchasing at least 3 training sessions with a trainer whom you a good connection with (don’t let the gym just assign you one), and then allow them to ease you into understanding the equipment and how to push your body.
As always, I’m here to offer advice and/or a customized training program should you desire it. (workouts247.com) Now go work out and be proud that you’re making a positive change!
ENOUGH ALL READY! Enough of the constant barrage of ads, articles, blogs, retouched photos, Dr. Oz peddling Green Tree Extract, workout videos promising 6 minute abs – all pushing women to feel bad about our bodies if they do not match up to the 20th century ideal that we all must have flat fat-free stomachs.
I’m not trying to be hypocritical — I offer workout routines focused on abs, I counsel clients on how to reduce their abdomen fat, and I’ve even written in this blog about performing the perfect crunch. BUT what I’m addressing today is that a washboard stomach is NOT necessary to have a healthy life, causes women to feel less good about themselves, and most importantly, is shifting focus away from serious health issues like diabetes in obese children, and heart disease from too much body fat, etc.
Why are we so obsessed with flat stomachs and when did this obsession set in? In the 70’s my beautiful mother used to lament that she wished zaftig bodies were still in vogue, as in eras gone by she would have been considered beautiful for her rounder figure. Victorian paintings, roman statues, even pin-ups of the 50s glorified the rounder, softer, more voluptuous female physique. But not anymore.
I tried to research it on the internet, when exactly did our ideal of body beauty change? Was it wafer-thin model Twiggy in the 60’s? Was it Madonna prancing around in a bra in the 80’s? The answer is not quite clear, but regardless, the pressure is on – we MUST banish muffin tops, have no dimpling, eat no carbs and stay in a constant crunch all day to be beautiful. And for what? So we can be more attractive to men and land that sensitive thoughtful considerate prince who ultimately cares more about our insides? (I’m sensing an oxymoron there.) Or so that we can wear clothes that only a tall thin 16-year-old girl looks good in.
Then there’s the rest of our figure. Breasts must be perky yet at least 36C (at which size it’s almost impossible to be perky unless implants) and hips curvy but not fat. Is it any wonder we women feel consistently inadequate, especially as we pass 40.
So what can we do about this? What can we change? The answer is: only our perspective – one woman at a time. First we must accept that very few of us can have what our “world” considers female body beauty. Second we must focus our beauty ideals inward – our true essence is what radiates beauty.
For me the ideal female body is one of confidence and grace. Good posture, welcoming eye contact, a warm smile, and a firm handshake or hug. There are those rare individuals who think they’re beautiful no matter how large or round they are. Because of their extreme confidence everyone around them sees their beauty as well. I wish more women had their perspective.
Keep in mind that I am still, and forever will be, an advocate of lower levels of body fat via healthy nutrition and exercise. But that is about keeping your body going strong for decades – living to 90 and beyond! It’s all about how the body functions, and lower body fat IS healthy. But you can have healthy insides and still not be a stick figure.
Even working in the fitness industry along side body builders with 9% body fat seeing their deliciously muscular bodies in the mirror beside me can be a hard pill to swallow sometimes, until I remember that maintaining too low a body fat level is seriously detrimental to your health, and once again, my perspective is all about being healthy, while still enjoying life (and chocolate…and wine…and days off from the gym). Heck, I’m 52 and stronger than I was at 20 with the same endurance I had at 30. What more could I ask for?
So ladies the next time you find yourself feeling inferior, inadequate, or unattractive because you aren’t a size 4 any you do not have 6-pack abs, just remember that it’s about your health. If you are not currently eating right and exercising – start! But do it for the goal of a long life, not society’s ideal of what makes a body beautiful.