My body image journey & the gym

Something I’ve been banging on about a lot over on my Twitter (and a lil bit of Insta stories, because that’s getting a tad addictive now) is the fact I’ve joined my local gym. Trust me when I say I hate it as much as the next person when I see people sharing their long AF runs, which they ran in minutes rather than the hours it would likely take me. But, for me at least, that came from festering jealousy, because I’m not that motivated and I’ll never have their body; and I am such a lazy slob of a person; they’re doing so much better at life than me. Not to mention the fact a love for sport wasn’t particularly prevalent or nurtured into me — although in hindsight I am questioning how the hell I was ever a part of the netball club when I was in primary school?

I am not a sporty, fit person and the important thing to note above all is that any time I did try to shape myself into some active-being and do workout DVDs — courtesy of Davina McCall, or that annoying American woman — was when I was feeling particularly low about my body and motivated (for a millisecond) to somehow miraculously blast all my body insecurities off in one unrealistic surge of exercise.

But all that has changed. Well, the body insecurities didn’t and haven’t. They seemed to take off for stretch of time whilst I was at university, where I had fun and, for a fleeting moment, got my invincibility back. And then I came back home and gone were the frequent drunken nights and the ease of meeting people who, for an hour or two, made me feel good about myself. Now I rarely bump into someone new and I sure as hell am not being frequently appreciated in any hidden meaning between those words. That has its effect (though I wish it didn’t, I hasten to add) and thus came the shocking attempts to somehow aspire towards this out-of-reach body type that I do not have.

(That’s the pivotal point of this post, though you’re going to have to let me ramble for a little longer.)

A few months back I started writing a blog post about my battle with my body image, but it never saw the light of day. So here is what I wanted to say. As a teenager my main problems with my appearance were feature focused. I didn’t think I had substantial eyelids (WTF?!), I hated my nose for all its blobby, shapelessness (still kinda do), and I had a traumatic stage in my early teens where my hair was so greasy I had to buy special shampoo and flakey, scaly skin on my forehead that turned into Impetigo. The issue then was not my body. I always had a slight podge to my tummy, but my legs and arms were rake-thin, partly down to the fact I didn’t start my period until I was fifteen-years-old. And long after that interesting day at school, in which my first two lessons of Philosophy & Belief and IT were followed by a sprint to the girls bathroom to discover…that… In my head my body stayed the same. Apart from an underwhelming lack of boobalicious growth (which was another asset of myself I was fixated on in my teens), I didn’t realise anything had changed.

Then there was a bridesmaid dress that showed off what quite clearly had changed and my last months in Sixth Form and into my time at university, I began to gradually discover my body had gone behind my back and betrayed me. There were stretch marks beyond just my bum, my thighs and my hips — the latter of which never really bothered me; they were my racing stripes! Nope, it was the excess wiggles of fat above my knees and indents in my arms, the stretch marks behind my calves, that began to slowly destroy any ounce of confidence I had dug deep to unroot. I started covering up and the summers became more uncomfortable, saved only when autumn came back around.

Then I tried to run, to do workout DVDs and I couldn’t understand why my body would never look like my sister’s, who had quite clearly got the good parts of my dad’s DNA with her slim arms and legs and hips just wide enough to give her that media-desired thigh gap, or near enough. I don’t resent her for that, though. You could never say she didn’t work hard for it, especially post-baby, when she ran a freakin’ marathon and exercises more than once a week. But we’re sisters. We’re meant to look the same, and yet I felt like a less delicate, more heavy-weight version. Then again, me and my three sisters are all slightly different in body shape, but there’s still some dominant AF genes that tie us together.

Still, it was a struggle and remains to be just that. But there comes a point in battling with yourself and how you look where you have to reason with those horrible voices in your head. Everyone is different and no amount of exercise, dieting or plastic-freaking-surgery is going to make you look like someone if the foundations of you aren’t built that way. I realised I am not built to look dainty and pointed. I am a curvy woman who, yes, lacks heaving great breasticals, but has thick thighs that could crush a person’s skull and a booty that looks excellent in skinny jeans. There is still a part of me that would swap all that in a heartbeat. Who am I kidding? A gigantic percentage still would. We have the media to blame for perpetuating perfection in just the one narrow body-type. But (that’s a pretty big BUTT), coming to terms with what you have to work with is the best way to healthily aspire towards not only confidence, or at the least acceptance, but also fitness.

So I joined the gym. Not so that I could, in my wildest dreams, look like a runway model or even Gigi Hadid (who’s apparently deemed curvy because she has tits. Um, really?!). I joined because, yes, I’d like to lose weight, but mostly because I want to be the strongest I can be and look after the body I’ve been lumbered with for the rest of my life. I want to feel good and breathless only in the right, heart-stopping ways one can. I want to be firmer and feel the exhaustion of working physically hard. I want those endorphins shooting around my body. I want, more than anything, for my body to feel like mine, to stop this constant battle as if we’re on opposing sides.

This is the first time in my life I have looked forward to exercise. No joke, I — yes, me?! — get excited about the days I plan to go to the gym after work. I love making my way through my hour workout program and using all the fancy schmancy machines, of slipping my headphones on and settling into my little gym bubble. And I wholeheartedly believe — I know — that wouldn’t be the case if I was putting all my faith in dramatically transforming my body. Actually it’s because, on some minuscule level, I’ve accepted and, just a smidge, learned to love my body.

The moral of the story is this: Body confidence and self-love doesn’t come from changing your appearance. It comes from changing your mentality.

4 thoughts on “My body image journey & the gym

  1. CleaverFit

    As a soft tissue specialist, movement analyst and performance coach who runs his own clinic, I commend your honesty and subject matter.

    I don’t often say this to many people and am not the type of person to usually comment. Spoken from the heart and you have my respect.

    I have a recent post you may enjoy called “I used to be a body builder, before I grew up,” it’s a 6000 word spiel, but it deals more with the clinical element of soft tissue principality, biotensegrity and psychology rather than the generic outlook of “fitness.”

    Give it a read some time if you are ever free. If you like it, if you agree with it, then let’s work on some online ideas together? I have a platform through my clinic and I’m looking for more people’s stories to be able to share for motivation, to help others.

    If not…then take care and keep doing you!

    Lee

    Like

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