Body Positivity For Every Body
A few weeks ago I was invited to join a panel discussion on Body Positivity & Diversity in Beauty.
The organizer of the event recognized that the perspective from a fitness professional is often overlooked. She felt it was important to open up the body image and positivity dialogue to all sizes because ALL women struggle with different internal conversations when it comes to their inner critic, body image, self-love and more. She felt it would be particularly impactful to have a fitness expert on the panel that could give some tips on health and wellness in addition to sharing personal struggles with self-acceptance.
Here are a couple of the questions I was asked with my answers below.
Q: When it comes to health and fitness, what do you think healthy looks like? Healthy can look like a lot of different things. Being a certain size does not mean someone is healthy. I know a pilates instructor who is tiny because she has hyperthyroid. It’s not because she does pilates and drinks kale smoothies. She’d be tiny eating McDonalds! She, of course, doesn’t publicize this and no fault to her. Point is - you never know what someone is going through so body size shouldn’t be the main indicator of someone’s health. Mental outlook is an important factor when it comes to health though!
If you exercise - are you doing it because you hate certain aspects of your body? Are you punishing yourself for eating that cupcake? Are you doing it for someone else's happiness or for their validation?
I like to think of food as something that provides fuel, nourishment, and materials for rebuilding a stronger and more resilient version of myself. Eating shouldn't be purely functional though. Eating should also be a full sensory experience. #FindBalance
I echo the above sentiment when it comes to training or exercise. In the distant past I studied dance. In dance you study technique so that you can eventually bring that to the stage. A dancer with strong technique is able to express themselves more fully through movement and have FUN with it.
If exercise ONLY feels like a chore. Find something that "gives you life". This is one of the reasons why Zumba is so popular. It doesn't feel like a chore and in some cases it can provide the cardio element of training people need. Aerial dance continues to grow in popularity. Crossfit is incredibly popular because of the community aspect. As a group fitness for over 20 years I understand how much fun it can be to sweat together. There's camaraderie. We feed off of each other's energy. It's awesome! #FindSomethingThatGivesYouLife
Q: Let’s address how social media can contribute to eating disorders and unhealthy obsessive fitness habits. Specifically in the world of bodybuilding, fitness modeling, and social media there is a lot of smoke and mirrors and there's a lot of misinformation. More people are also coming to understand that what's seen in social media is not always real life. I think it's definitely harder for younger people to grasp this. As a professional bikini competitor I personally know a lot of other competitors and fitness models. A rare few look the way they do on stage in real life 365 days a year. Realistically - the "stage body" lasts 1 to 14 days. Besides dropping body fat, we also drop water weight. Your body stores carbohydrate in your muscles in the form of glycogen. For every gram of glycogen stored, 3 grams of water is stored. So after dropping a bunch of body fat, to get ready for stage there's also a process of dropping water weight which includes reducing stored glycogen. The more muscle someone has...the more glycogen they're able to store...the more water weight they can shed when it's time to "peak" for stage. So someone with more muscle has the potential to appear more shredded for stage or photos. Shedding water weight can be done in healthy ways... and less than healthy ways. Point here is that in some cases social media creates unrealistic expectations. There’s also quite a bit of bad information out there. A lot of nutrition infographics create a lot of fears around foods that don't need to be feared by everyone, encourage extreme under eating, or extremely misleading like below. Broccoli is NOT a good source of protein.
Also side-bending exercises will not make your waist smaller. If your goal is a six-pack and tight waist - the keys are nutrition + cardio (which can include High Intensity Interval Training). Strength training also helps since it contributes to a leaner physique! When you shed body fat - you'll show off your six-pack if that's what your goal is. On the flip side - one thing I LOVE about social media is range of fitness being represented. We are seeing all ethnicities represented, a range of ages, heights, and sizes. We're also seeing different types of activities represented. It’s awesome! And because of all this diversity - companies are taking notice and are connecting with a variety of social media influencers. We still have a ways to go - but I feel like social media has definitely changed the game and opened doors in a positive direction! If you're on Instagram a woman I know (@iamlshauntay) has recently picked up a lot of publicity regarding her body shaming experience while running the NYC Marathon. Back in the day - I'm sure companies would have ignored her because they wouldn't see her as someone others would look to in finding fit inspiration. Thanks to social media we can see people find their fit inspiration in people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. I love that!
Q: You are a fit woman. Can you share with us a time when you haven’t felt so positive about your body? And what did you do to get out of that? During the "off-season", like now, is when it’s really hard to feel good about my body from a purely aesthetic sense since I’m aware of my peak - which is on stage. This is when my focus has to become less about “ideal appearance” and more on honoring my body. This means being more mindful to avoid mindlessly eating foods I know that I react poorly to, eating too much food to the point where I feel heavy and lazy, and emphasizing foods and quality nutritional supplements specific to my body and lifestyle to help me recover from training....especially as I get older! It also means to keep my home clean and organized, taking time away from technology, journaling, and doing things like self-myofascial release to physically recover better from exercise or from sitting too long in one position.
Q: What tips do you have for the women in the audience to help them embrace their unique beauty? Avoid comparing yourself to anyone else. That might mean that you need to unfollow certain social media influencers.
Edit the things out of your life that make you feel icky or bad about yourself. That includes people and situations. Focus on the things you love about yourself (not just the physical) and don't hide them from the world. Never use negative words when describing yourself. It's a pet peeve of mine. I cringe whenever I hear someone describe themselves as gross, fat (in a negative way), ugly, etc. I think it hurts my soul because I spent years doing that to myself but trained myself to stop by accepting compliments and forcing myself to believe them all (even if they were used in a way to attempt to manipulate me). You are what you repeatedly tell yourself. So - when people give you a compliment - believe it. Even if you don't at first! :-D Be selfish when it comes to your self-care - especially if you have to take care of others. When you take care of yourself (this includes basics like training/exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep) you're telling yourself that you are worth it and that you are dope.
Thank you for reading this post!