I’ve shared several posts lately about loving our bodies because I think it is an important issue that a lot of us struggle with. I especially enjoyed Jen Comas Keck’s post about positive self-talk, which you can read here, and Molly Galbraith’s post about loving your body, which you can read here. However, my good friend and client, Darren, pointed out to me that all the people in the posts I shared have really stellar bodies. He argues that of course these people love their bodies. “I want more folks with a body like mine lifting the weights I lift to be inspirational,” he says. “I want normal people.” Now, I don’t know how many people consider me the poster child for normalcy, but if by normal we mean my body is far from perfect then I think I’m qualified to speak. So, here are my thoughts as a normal person who is struggling every day to learn to love my body.
First of all, what does it mean to love your body? I think it’s easy to get caught in the trap of equating loving your body with being 100 percent happy with how your body looks and performs. I would love my body if my stomach were flatter, my biceps were bigger, I could lift heavier, right? But if that’s the definition, then none of us could ever truly achieve it, could we? One of things that struck me about the posts by Jen and Molly is that most people – even those folks whose bodies Darren describes as “unreasonable for me to even consider as a goal” – struggle with body image issues to some degree. We all have something about our bodies we don’t like, and that is what we tend to focus on. Let’s cut ourselves a little slack. Most of us would say we love our partner, our children, or other family and friends, even though they aren’t perfect. Why don’t we give our bodies the same consideration? For me, loving my body means acknowledging and celebrating the good things about it at the same time as I challenge myself to constantly improve. It also means having realistic expectations of myself and striving to nip my tendency toward self-criticism in the bud.
As an example, I will share my workout from Sunday morning. My plan was to join Darren for a trail run as part of our preparation for next month’s Warrior Dash. We met at the trail, warmed up a bit, and ran up the first hill…and I almost had an asthma attack. I had to walk the rest of the trail. My initial reaction was to be disappointed in myself and to apologize to Darren for derailing his workout. But then I caught myself. In the preceding week, I had done five really challenging workouts, including hitting some pretty impressive PRs and slogging through a grueling conditioning workout that lasted about three times as long as I normally ask my body to work. Maybe, just maybe, getting up at 6:30 in the morning on what is normally my rest day to do a trail run in 60-70 percent humidity was placing an unrealistic expectation on my body and I should give myself a break. Does that mean I won’t try the trail run again on another day? Of course not. It means I can accept that Sunday was not the day to do it and move on.
The other thing I’ve been thinking about quite a bit is Darren’s contention that Jen, Molly, and the others featured in their posts obviously love their bodies because their bodies are beautiful. What if we are looking at this backward? What if their bodies are beautiful, at least in part, because they have learned to love them? Before you dismiss that as a bunch of new age hoo-hah, stick with me for a minute. Looking in the mirror and saying mean things to my midsection hasn’t gotten me visible abs, and obsessing about my inability to do a pullup hasn’t gotten my chin over the bar. I’m not saying that positive self-talk and visualization will get me to my goals without putting in the physical work, but what if I added them to the physical work I am doing? I don’t know the answer, but I figure it can’t hurt and it might help. So here is my challenge to myself and to whoever wants to join me: let’s take the next 30 days and strive to replace those negative thoughts about our bodies with positive ones. Instead of looking in the mirror and thinking, “I hate my fat stomach,” I’m going to say, “Hey, stomach, you’re looking better every day,” or maybe I’ll just say, “Hey, self, you are looking damn good today.” Instead of focusing on how far I am from my pullup goal I will focus on how far I have come.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What does loving your body mean to you, and what do you think of my 30 day challenge? Who’s with me?