When I look back on my formative years and the beauty standards of the time (the 90s), I remember being bombarded by images of stick-thin, statuesque supermodels.
Tall, thin, and waif-like was the look du jour, and I started dieting when I was around 12 to try and achieve it. (Even at a barely 5’4″, it never occurred to me that this was not a worthwhile pursuit!)
I remember going to the doctor and inquiring about a surgical procedure that would stretch my limbs so I could be taller, no joke!
This is around the time (age 12) that I decided that something was wrong with my body that needed to be fixed.
It didn’t help that as I got older, the standards of beauty kept shifting and changing and evolving. How’s a girl supposed to keep up?! It felt like a cruel joke that everyone was in on except me.
More recently, a more curvaceous body type supplanted the model-thin ideal, but just like I couldn’t have competed with Elle MacPherson if I’d wanted to, I won’t ever have the hourglass physique of someone like Kim Kardashian, either.
When our bodies don’t fit within the confines of society’s ideal, the specifics don’t matter. Whether that model physique is a rail-thin frame or “36-24-36,” there are no limits to which many will go to try and achieve it…
Which is why the conversation about self-love-at-any-size and the body positivity movement are so important.
We exist in an environment where only a few body types are considered acceptable at a given time:
- You can be thin, but not too thin.
- You can be curvy, but only as long as those curves are in the right places.
- You can be plus size, but you have to be proportional–and breathtakingly beautiful.
Can you see how this is a slippery slope?!
There are as many unique bodies as there are women in this world, so to have to contend with all these unwritten but nonetheless pervasive “rules” about how a body should or shouldn’t look is exhausting…and futile.
At least this is what the body positivity movement wants to convey to the masses. It’s impossible to fit such a circumscribed standard of beauty, and in many cases, not even the women whom we put on pedestals fully embrace their bodies.
It’s a battle we are doomed to lose, so the idea of loving yourself at the size you are, in spite of your “flaws,” is extremely appealing.
But what I’ve realized is that the body positivity movement still leaves something to be desired because, like the diet/weight loss/plastic surgery/beauty industry, it’s got an agenda.
The idea around body positivity is a good one: embrace your body, love your body, say positive things about your body, nurture your body because it’s the only one you’ll ever have.
“Backlash doesn’t usually take you back to neutral. It purposefully swings the pendulum a bit too far in the opposite direction in an effort to balance some long-standing injustice. Today’s body-acceptance movement is backlash.”
“With so much talk about the high moral character of any woman who rocks her body—flaws and all—one might easily start to think that striving to change any of those “imperfections” is some kind of sin.”
The body positivity movement implores us to love our bodies because hating them is a waste of time and energy. Sure, that’s true, but what’s under the surface there is the notion that loving our bodies just the way they are is the only worthwhile pursuit, that doing anything to try and change them means we are just part of the “body modification complex” that’s oppressing us.
As a coach, personal trainer, and a woman recovering from body image issues, I just can’t accept this either/or position.
In this same vein, I have a problem with how the body positivity movement surreptitiously criticizes and tries to de-legitimize thin women who have body image issues, as if you’re only allowed to feel insecure about your body if you’re fat.
We all have our own body hang-ups, which are nothing more than the result of being women, living in bodies, for years. We’ve all had unique experiences that inform how we relate to our bodies and have nothing to do with their size.
The Bo-Po movement tends to ignore this reality, creating a divide between women that doesn’t need to exist.
Speaking of this divide, aspects of the broader Bo-Po movement seek to separate women from one another, not based on their bodies but rather on their politics.
There’s this idea that to admit you want to change your body is a threat to women’s solidarity and a rejection of feminist ideals:
“Oh, you’re not strong/brave/committed/enough to love yourself as you are? Well, you can’t sit at our lunch table then.”
Who’re the mean girls now??!!
I get that this is a bit of an oversimplification of the goals of the body positivity movement, but it’s all to illustrate the greater point that Jessi makes: “Just because the old way wasn’t working doesn’t mean the new way is perfect either.”
When there are only two extremes, when there’s only black and white, there’s no nuance. And where there’s no nuance, a huge swath of women get ignored, and that’s just not acceptable.
There can’t be ONLY there two options:
- Love yourself the way you are, period; or
- Withhold love for yourself until you achieve some impossible standard.
You can’t hate yourself into leanness. Stress and negative self-talk about our bodies makes it that much harder to achieve the results that we want. Studies have shown that relying on negative motivational techniques to “fix” what we don’t like about our bodies has the opposite effect.
Alternatively, shifting the focus from what we want our bodies to look like to how they perform tends to translate into a more positive self image. A more positive self-image increases compliance, consistency, and enjoyment, thereby increasing results.
But once we’ve cultivated that positive self image, are we supposed to stop there?
Should we be as concerned about having an overly-positive self image as we do an overly negative one?
There’s a disconnect here. In the Bo-Po world, you’ve “won” if your positive body image is as big as your thighs or the rolls on your belly–as long as you’re not interested in doing anything to change them.
But a woman who’s done the work to extricate her self worth from her body; trains because she loves her body and not because she resents it; and yet *STILL* has physique-related goals??? Forget it! She’s a self-absorbed narcissist!
You’re lying to yourself if you say you only work out to “feel good,” #sorrynotsorry.
“[…] training the way I do is the perfect intersection for me between enjoyment of the process and enjoyment of the results.I take an enormous amount of pleasure in moving and lifting weights, but I take an equal amount of pleasure in admiring myself.”
Despite what you may have been lead to believe, you are not vain if you work out to actually look like it! You are not wrong to endeavor to focus your training on building a bigger, higher booty; a stronger, more defined back; or shoulders that pop.
‘Cause here’s the thing: these types of physique goals are achieved through deliberate, progressive overload strength training so your aesthetic goals and your “get #strongAF” goals remain inextricably intertwined.
You don’t have to choose between working out for how it makes you feel and working out for how it makes you look: as long as that pursuit derives from an innate sense of worthiness (which is reliant on, as Jessi writes, “[…]raising your own consciousness and being aware of your own intentions”), go on with your bad self, girlfriend!
If you’re like me and reject this either/or dichotomy that says we can’t love our bodies and have physique-related goals at the same time, I have the program for you!
#DefinedbyDesign, the 14-week Exercise Blueprint to Build Muscle Mass, Burn Body Fat, and Crank Up your Cardio Endurance, is now available!
This program came about as a rejection of this idea that aesthetics-centered pursuits are less worthy in the eyes of the fitness community. It’s a repudiation of the idea that training has to be “functional” to be worthwhile.
Nope, I don’t believe it! I need a program that helps me feel better, stronger, AND #looklikeIlift. Otherwise, I’m bored, #girlbye.
I wanna see the fruits of my labor, and I don’t see a dang thing wrong with that!
If you agree, grab your copy of #DefinedbyDesign here! It’s only available until Friday, April 21st at midnight, and I don’t know when I’ll release it again, so don’t miss your chance!