Are body positivity & fitness two mutually exclusive things?
This is a question that I’ve really been wrestling with for the past few years. I feel very strongly that they’re not, and they actually go hand in hand. However, our society paints a very different picture. It feels like somewhere along the line, somebody decided that being fit and being healthy should be synonymous with looking a particular way. Most of the “fitness” industry cashes in on people’s insecurities and thinks self-hate is a powerful form of “motivation.” As a result, fitness becomes more about torturing your body to meet a beauty standard rather than pursuing true health and wellness. And I’m not just talking about women here; a lot of the fitness industry profits from exploiting men’s insecurities too.
As a result, I see some people rebel against the six-pack fitness culture our society has created in an effort to celebrate their body and individuality… which is great! However, there’s a handful of people who take it to the extreme and shame people for pursuing physical fitness. They make the assumption that any type of workout only serves a negative purpose and any pursuit of fitness is for vanity or an attempt to fulfill beauty standards.
Part of the reason I started this blog was because almost every fitness article I read or fitness account I followed on social media made me feel bad about my body the way it was. Yet, I’m a strong believer in investing in your health and pursuing exercise as a form of self-care. I was tired of feeling like I had to choose between loving myself and wanting to exercise.
Body Positivity and Health: Two Gray Areas
So what is body positivity? It’s loving your body… but what is loving your body? What does that look like? Well, I think it’s so hard to define because it’s slightly subjective. Sure, we know what each end of the spectrum looks like. Saying, “I look like shit. My body is disgusting” is not body positive. Saying, “My body is bangin! I love myself!” is pretty body positive. However, there’s a lot of gray areas in-between. Body positivity can look different from person to person, depending on their needs, feelings, and attitudes. To me, body positivity is about self-love, peace with your own body, and respect of others’ bodies. In my opinion, how that manifests itself is going to look a tiny bit different for each person.
Likewise, health and fitness has a lot of gray area. For me, I love working out and it’s a healthy habit to go to the gym 5-6 times a week. For someone else who might be in the midst of a battle of an eating disorder, going to the gym at all, let alone at that frequency, could be a very unhealthy habit. Again, while there are extremes on either ends of the spectrum most people can agree on, there’s a lot of “well that depends” situations. Genetics, health conditions, schedules, personal history… there are so many factors that influence what is healthy for each individual.
So, what does it look like to find a happy medium between two slightly subjective concepts? What does it mean to be pursue body-positive fitness? Well, I’m still figuring that out. However, I have picked up on a few things:
Stop Putting Yourself Down
Seriously, stop putting yourself down. Just stop it. I don’t care if you’re 15lbs underweight or 100lbs overweight; self-hate and negativity is never helpful. There’s a difference between being honest with yourself and being cruel or dwelling in the negative. And don’t think giving yourself backhanded compliments is a good workaround (confession: I’m a repeat offender of this one). It’s good to set (reasonable) goals for yourself, but if you spend all of your time obsessing about how you haven’t reached them yet, you’re discouraging yourself not motivating yourself.
Don’t put your past self down either. I really hate seeing people post transformation photos with captions like “I can’t believe how fat I got” or “I was so gross.” You weren’t gross. You were a beautiful damn snowflake worthy of love and respect. It’s okay for you to acknowledge you struggled with something or that your health wasn’t in a good place. But even though you might not have been at your best, I guarantee there were a lot of things you were still doing right. Treat the person you were 5 years ago like you would treat your best friend.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Easier said than done, I know. However, I think the heart of body positivity is recognizing your individuality. Every single person’s body is different. The healthiest version of you is going to look different than the healthiest version of me. If you obsess about all the ways your body doesn’t look like Beyonce’s or Ryan Gosling’s, you’re never going to recognize your own worth. It’s really helped me to stop saying things like “I just want abs like____” or “If I could have a booty like _____.”
A lot of people claim staring at transformation photos and pictures of celebrities is motivating, but I found it led to me continuously being let down. I would be motivated for a short time, but then I’d become discouraged and frustrated when I realized my body wasn’t magically transforming into someone else’s body. I became blind to all of my good qualities. By fixating on a stranger’s body, I missed out on what was beautiful about my body. It sounds cheesy, but seriously try standing in front of a mirror and name 5 things you love about your body. Then do it another day and name 10 things. Then 15. Then 20. Focus on yourself and don’t be ashamed of being confident in who you are.
While you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, we’re all still guilty of it at some point. So, keep in mind that others may be comparing themselves to you. You may think your body isn’t worthy of comparison, but I guarantee someone out there would kill to look the way that you do. There’s also probably a lot of other people who are the same size or shape as you right now. So, keep in mind that when you’re putting yourself down, you’re discouraging and insulting others who look like you or wished they looked like you. Never forget that bad attitudes are toxic to everyone around you.
And for pete’s sake, stop all this “Real Women Have ___” bullshit. It’s great to want to embrace your curves, but don’t put down naturally thin women in the process. Fighting society’s beauty standards doesn’t mean creating new beauty standards that you fulfill and others don’t. Thunder thighs or chicken legs, we’re all real women and need to be lifting each other up.
Also, I’d like to think it kind of goes without saying but DON’T TROLL STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET. Remember that even if they have a bajillion followers, there’s still a real person behind that account. Comments like, “omg she looks like a man” or “she needs to eat a burger” are just as harmful as some saying “ew, what a fatty.” Keep it respectful, y’all.
Acknowledge the Difference Between Feelings and Reality
Don’t be mistaken: being body positive doesn’t mean you have to deny having insecurities. We all have moments when we feel pretty shitty about how we look, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit when you’re really struggling with how you look or feel. However, I find it really helpful to acknowledge that these are my feelings. Not facts.
Instead of saying, “Gawd, I’m so fat” which is pretty much projectile vomiting negativity all around you, try to focus on your feelings. “I woke up feeling really insecure about my weight today, and I fear that I’m not seeing the results from all the effort I’ve put into improving my fitness.” Notice the difference? I also believe sharing your feelings can be a bit more cathartic, because it forces you to think about how you really feel rather than just throwing out an easy self-insult like “I’m a pig.”
Focus on Being the Healthiest Version of You
Don’t be afraid to set goals for yourself and push yourself in the gym. Fuel your body with food that will make you feel great and thrive. Pursue fitness with a passion and know that it doesn’t mean abandoning who you are. Fitness should just be about being the healthiest version of you that you can be in your current circumstances. For some people, that might mean hitting it hard at the gym. For others, that might mean enjoying a peaceful walk in the evenings. Being active should be about self-care and embracing the gift of life you’ve been given.
To me, an essential part of loving your body is taking care of it. Find what it is that makes you feel strong, alive, and well. Know that spending time exercising doesn’t mean you have to buy into the diet industry’s lies. Live vibrantly and unashamed of the special damn snowflake that you are.