Background image via Nike
When I look at pictures of myself from a year ago, I see a very different person. Sure, I’ve replaced 10-15 pounds of fat with lean muscle, but that’s not really what I mean. I see a girl who didn’t make living a healthy lifestyle a priority, so she regularly had unhealthy thoughts. It’s no secret that women of all ages have become hyper-focused on what their bodies look like. If asked, they could easily point out a handful of what they consider their physical flaws. A year ago, I was one of those women. I looked in the mirror at the curvy legs that dancing had left me with and wished my legs were longer, leaner. While I would say I’ve always had a fair amount of body confidence, I looked for exercises that would magically thin out my legs, as though fitness was some kind of spot treatment. Newsflash, the abductor/adductor circuit machine isn’t the answer.
When I started blogging last August, I thought a lot about what my point of view on fitness was. I felt that it was important to know that before I joined the fitness conversation and started to share my opinions and experiences with others. To put it simply, I think that fitness should be about finding an activity that you enjoy doing and doing it regularly. Don’t like running? Take a dance class. Don’t like swimming? Try clipping in to a spin bike. Find an activity (or a few) that you look forward to doing almost every day, considering it the part of your day that’s dedicated to you. I also believe in balance, which I’ve talked about before. Living a healthy life isn’t just about exercise, it’s about finding health in other areas of your life, as well–mentally, emotionally, socially, etc. This means that I occasionally skip a workout if I think extra rest or an evening of reading a good book is what I need more. For me, it’s that simple: find an activity that you love and strive to maintain balance in life. But what does this have to do with body image?
I encourage you to fall enough in love with fitness that you stop obsessing about what your body looks like.
At some point in recent months, particularly since I started training for my half marathon, this happened for me. And this, like the spot-treatment approach to fitness, was not magic. I worked for this. Now when I look in the mirror, I see something different. I see a body that got me through double rides at SoulCycle, endless burpees at Fhitting Room, Arms & Abs at Barry’s Bootcamp, and countless other workouts. Rather than seeing my body as a sum of parts to be scrutinized, I see it as an amazing unit that has pushed past early alarms, icy sidewalks, sore muscles, and mental fatigue to become what it is today. I focus on what my body can do, rather than how it looks. My changed mindset, as well as my physical accomplishments, make me incredibly proud. This is not to say that I don’t have days when I feel self conscious, but I now look at myself through a different lens. A kinder, more realistic lens.
Yesterday, I planned to run 8 miles for the second Sunday in a row. Running 8 miles is a very respectable accomplishment. However, as I made my way down the West Side Highway Running Path, I noticed how great it felt to be running outside in new shoes with the perfect playlist. At the halfway point, I sensed that I had an extra mile in me and planned for 9 miles. It wasn’t an easy extra mile, but I crushed it. My legs, the ones that are now toned with even more muscle, carried me the distance of 56 laps around a high school track. I ran over 47,500 feet and watched at least 10 Manhattan neighborhoods fly by me. That’s a physical accomplishment to be proud of.
So, this is my challenge for you this Monday. Work toward this healthy state of mind. Set a big physical goal that scares you. Crush one small part of that goal every day. There will be a day, maybe many months or years from now, when you’ll stop and realize that your perspective on your body has changed. At this point, your body will have started to transform into the type of body you hoped to see in the mirror, but it won’t satisfy you as much as you thought it would. Instead, you’ll feel grateful for your health and amazed by your strength. You’ll become hyper-focused on doing something even greater, something the old you never could.