No More Negative Body Image
(THE DAVINCI-CHARLOTTESVILLE) - The other day my eleven year old little sister came up to me while I was doing homework. She looked stressed, so I put down my computer and asked her what was wrong.
“Zoë, am I ugly?” she asked quickly, and then stared down at the floor. Her comment hit home. Why is my little sister worried about this? Why is she asking me this? Why does she think this?
I looked her in the eyes and asked her why she was asking this question.
“Well, because my stomach isn’t flat and my cheeks are kind of chubby and my legs are too big.”
Here's where I lost it. The amount of times that people, especially women, say negative things about their bodies is honestly ridiculous. I’ve heard too many people say “I’m so fat and ugly.” or “Ugh, I wish I had abs!” (I’ll address this one later on). These comments get thrown around all the time. I hear them often, and too often spoken by young women. The world often judges women harshly on their physical appearance, making it impossible to be content with the way your body is!
Personally I find it incredibly easy to get caught up in this. When I’m surrounded by people talking about how “fat” or “ugly” they think they are, I start to doubt myself. I’m a competitive swimmer and keep to an active practice schedule of six two and a half hour practices a week. I also love exercising and do a good amount of yoga, running, and weight lifting: exercise makes me feel refreshed! But there was once a time where I worked out because I was afraid I wasn’t thin enough, good enough, and doing enough.
As the type of person who wants to push herself and challenge herself when it comes to my workouts it’s really easy for me to get caught up in this worldview. I used to have the goal of getting “the perfect body.” I worked out all the time, pushing myself to the max daily. But after a while I started getting mentally and physically exhausted. Things were getting worse, not better. So I did some research, and here's what I found.
YES, THERE IS SUCH A THING AS WORKING OUT TOO MUCH! Working out too much can make you more prone to injuries and sickness. “Giving your body a rest is essential so that you can exert yourself at a higher level, which you can’t actually do if you’re just continually going all of the time.” says Naomi Arbit, PhD, in an article on WellAndGood.com.
TAKING REST DAYS is so important! To put it simply: When you workout you are actually tearing your muscle fibers and when you take a rest day it gives those fibers a chance to repair themselves. Also, taking a day's rest can rest your mind. Working out is not always easy, and (for me) it takes a lot of mental power to push through a hard practice or workout. Let your mind rest so that tomorrow you're back to being able to perform your best!
Lastly: being skinny and having abs DOES NOT DEFINE YOUR FITNESS. Athletes come in all different shapes and sizes and that's what's so cool about humans. We're all different! I try to be confident about my body. But whenever I go on social media I quickly start drowning in an ocean of posts, selfies, and talk about getting a flat stomach and abs to go with it. Oftentimes, having abs is unrealistic. There are healthier ways to get a “fit” body. Getting abs shouldn't be the goal when working out. There are plenty of professional athletes who don’t have visible abs, but are incredibly strong. Here is the beginning of Lindsey Vonn's (American former World Cup alpine ski racer on the US Ski Team) post about her body image:
“ I’ve posted quite a few swimsuit pics lately, which is scarier than it seems. Even as an athlete there are ruthless comments and media stories that tear apart my body and I admit it sometimes hurts me. I’m a normal person and sometimes I slouch, my stomach folds over, my cellulite shows on my butt, or I don’t fill out my swimsuit top just right....But, I always remember how my body has helped me achieve amazing things in my life and I am proud of how strong I am. I’m not a size zero and that’s perfectly fine with me.”
THANK YOU LINDSEY VONN, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!
Literally, thank you. I constantly struggle with the voice in the back of my head saying “You’re not good enough, pretty enough, strong enough.” And guess what? Sometimes I can't find jeans that fit over my thighs, or a shirt is too tight on my swimmer shoulders. I know a lot of women athletes who get a lot of nasty comments about their bodies. Margot Rittenhouse, a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope, says this about female athletes:
“Female bodies are judged more harshly even when their body type or makeup directly correlates with their athletic success. Muscular women are judged and called “manly” despite these muscles helping them in their particular sport. While our bodies are incredible machines that assist these women in achieving their goals, their value is minimized, devalued, and treated more as a prop than a tool..”
One of my other favorite female athletes, Olympic Tennis player Serena Williams, says this -
"I love my body, and I would never change anything about it," Williams told SELF in August 2016. "I'm not asking you to like my body. I'm just asking you to let me be me. Because I'm going to influence a girl who does look like me, and I want her to feel good about herself."
So to my wonderful little sister and everyone else who needs to hear this: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. All the things about yourself that you say are ‘imperfections’ and or ‘ugly’ are what makes you you! Remember: there is no perfect body type, and all bodies are strong, beautiful bodies.