I’ve somehow managed to maintain a pretty static weight my entire adult life despite the nutritional stumbles along the way. In college, I wore my girl scout uniform from the 3rd grade for Halloween complete with jumper, blouse and vest (Yes, I fell into the slutty costume trap for a brief period of time) and I could probably still fit into it today. So why is it that now, at 27 years old, it’s almost impossible for me to look in the mirror and not criticize my body?
I don’t remember worrying about my weight or anything when I was younger. I don’t think the term “body image” existed in my vocabulary as a teenager. Instead, I obsessed about more important things like the new Backstreet Boys music video on TRL or how to get out of doing PE that day. Now, six months after I’ve made the conscious choice to work on my physical fitness as an adult, it’s like I can’t allow myself to be pleased with results until I can’t see imperfections anymore.
When I first started the 5am workouts, I could do 4 push-ups. Now I can do 30. That’s a serious accomplishment, but instead of high fives and heel clicks in the air, I pinch and poke at my love handles and yell at Russ for eating ice cream in front of me when I told him I didn’t want any. A pair of my work pants ripped across the backside the other day and instead of thinking about the 7,000 lunges I’ve done every week for the last 6 months and that maybe I have a new buff booty, or the fact that the jeans were about 7 years old and might have just worn themselves out, I immediately accused my “fat ass.” I said it to Russ with a sarcastically pouty face, but there was a part of me that believed it.
Despite the workouts, the quinoa based meal plans, and the exponential increase in push-ups, I legitimately think that my body is not as “nice” as it should be. How is it that I am working on my health and fitness now more than ever before and yet I’m more unhappy with my body than I’ve ever been?
I have a theory: It’s like learning about a new car that you’ve never seen before and then all of a sudden it seems to be the only car that’s on the road – you see them everywhere and it’s like they were mass manufactured and put out on the road overnight just to mess with you. Body image is like that for me. I never cared about my percentage of body fat until it was measured and now fat is the only thing I can see on myself. Once the concept of body image was pointed out to me, it became a part of my perceptual world that suddenly popped up everywhere.
Now that I’m noticing it more, I’ve realized that the world bombards me with the idea that how I look determines my value. It’s devastating. If the inability to look like a photoshoped magazine cover leads a professional, physically fit 27 year old to frown at herself in the mirror, imagine what it does to kids! A perceptual world filled with negativity and impossibility rarely leads to functional, happy adults.
I started working out and eating well because it made me feel good. I was learning and growing and creating a healthy lifestyle and somehow I lost that direction in the pursuit of an imaginary perfection that the rest of the world created. Fitness is a never ending quest. I can always be faster, stronger, thinner, better. And while self-motivation is a great tool that drives us to better ourselves and reach for more, a compulsion to attain an undefined perfection is destructive.
I should be focusing on the progress and the intention and not allow myself to spiral into some kind of crazy fitness addiction that only fuels my self-loathing. I will always strive for improvement – mentally, physically, emotionally – but a perfection constructed by others will never fit onto me.
Redefine perfection to describe yourself.
Who I am is perfect. And the only betterment that I strive for should spring from self-love, not self-loathing. Self love will always lead to healthy behaviors and the more I accept myself, the better I will care for myself and that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that a stupid mirror never could.
Plus, now I have a bunch of amazing engagement photos to look at anytime I need a pick-me-up!