Something had been bugging me for a VERY long time. Now, I've figured some of it out, after the ideas from some amazing conversations with people I consider to be some of the biggest minds in fitness have congealed. On the left side of the desk is this little heap of paper bits: brainstorms, workouts I've written for clients, myself, or the small group, a few receipts and SD camera cards sneak into the pile, but whatever. Sometimes things get scrawled on the back of receipts. Anyway, as I'm working on other, but very related writing assignments, the jumbled stew in my head occasionally makes some sense, and ideas are jotted down for later. Well a couple days ago, the right neurons connected.
So this thing... What REALLY bothers me about some of the rhetoric and images we're constantly bombarded with in the media (and FACEBOOK, Pinterest, etc.) is that they seem really to be born of or even encouraging self-hatred. For several days in a row, I was continually getting angry, and having that oh-so-teenage feeling of "OH YEAH?! You wanna tell ME what I should LOOK LIKE?!?!" The outrage and righteous fury was trying to tell me something. It even inspired me to break one of my cardinal rules of "don't rant, ranting is totally annoying!" BTW, in case you missed it - here's the rant:
ATTENTION, makers and forwarders of quasi-viral pictures with words on them... I don't give one hoot what you think my body should or shoudn't look like. I don't care what your feminine ideal is. I don't care who you think is a "real woman" I care about being strong, being healthy, kicking as much butt as possible, eating delicious whole foods, and having adventures the likes of which will be spoken of in hushed tones of awe and fear.
For the record I don't enjoy feeling annoyed - especially this sort of annoyance... so I try and turn it on it's head and see what's really happening. Besides figuring stuff out and sharing it is more productive than howling and flicking the internet the bird.
I don't personally feel threatened or lessened because of these images of oiled up fitness models with "motivating" phrases over them - what really bugs me is how they are perpetuated by people who really should know better. There's this really terrible thing among communities of people with eating disorders online and it's called "thinspiration." And it's all about deprivation to meet some impossible (and disgusting looking in my opinion) ideal. Well, these "motivating" fitness images really remind me of that "thinspiration" crap. Sure, some are "celebrating" strength, but they're doing so by using ideal models (who prepped for this photoshoot like they would prep for a contest) yet again. The female models just have a LITTLE more muscle - and it's always a politically-correct-no-threat-to-society level of muscle too. The guys are just as idealized and spraypainted. I am sure this all began with the most noble of intentions, but stop showing me pictures of bikini models lifting shiny chrome dumbbells and telling me I shouldn't "give up on my dreams." My dreams occasionally involve teleportation, time travel, climbing stuff, REALLY insane cars, being invisible on demand, etc. Let's see you depict that with someone in a pink bikini covered in bronzer and oil and a cutesy font. I DARE YOU.
The ideas, and more often the effect of these images isn't really motivating to most people - at least not from what I've seen. Faced with what seems like total impossibility, these images often arouse the feelings of guilt, helplessness, and self hatred. If there's ever anything I want to rail against it's guilt, helplessness, and self hatred. I have had a hard struggle against all three, and I hope that I can help just one person conquer those terrible feelings in any small way.
Even if you've only taught one group fitness class ever, or maybe even just dropped the hint that you're interested in fitness, you've probably observed the following phenomenon:
The person grabs some part of themselves - usually in the tricep region, the side of the body (love handles), or the side of their thigh. Then the person makes a disgusted face and asks in an exasperated tone, "HOW do I get RID OF THIS?!?!?"
They might not even consciously know it, but they're hating on their body - some people hate their bodies 24/7 and that's a terrible thing. Before we proceed, I want to make a quick statement that while it's more often seen as a "women's issue" that there are as many if not the same amount of men in this situation. We see a lot more images depicting women, but it's just as tough for the guys. And ladies - don't forget - men aren't the enemy - heaven knows if that were the case I'd personally have 75% fewer friends in real life. That's a SCIENCE FACT. But in all seriousness, my guy friends ask me stuff about women all the time - they want to know why women dislike how they look, why the women in their lives are constantly unhappy with their own bodies. Sometimes they even grab their own tummies and ask, "How do I get rid of this spare tire?!"
The real ugly truth is that if you're deeply unhappy with yourself in some way, you're easier to control - which means it's also easier to sell you stuff. Because you'll "try anything" any magic pill to make the pain of self hatred go away - or more often to temporarily alleviate the pain by thinking you've somehow "doing something." Doing something has to be more than running up a big bill however. (Surely, you know someone who has a gym membership, and who never ever shows up - but they wave that gym membership around as if it's somehow going to magically make them healthy and fit.) Anyway, back on topic - sometimes the fitness industry seems hellbent on perpetuating your own self hatred, your guilt, and your helplessness to change the situation... but here's the latest gadget!
Or... here's something insidious... workouts with a real "punishing" effect. It has been said that if you can make a female client's most hated areas (typically hips/thighs) sore, then you have a client for life. "How do I get rid of this?!" I've been there - I tried everything, stupid things that I don't really even want to admit. But imagine, to a self-hating, guilt-feeling person how alluring the idea of a workout that will PUNISH those HATED FAT STORING AREAS! I see some of the insane workouts people put themselves through, and while it's great to challenge yourself on occasion, there must be balance. You can't constantly tear yourself down with all super hard workouts EVERY freaking day - the body just isn't designed for that. It's a recipe for injury, halted fat loss, illness, and a real lack of strength or endurance.
I am about to post my review of Al Kavadlo's new book, Raising the Bar. One of the things you will immediately notice in the book is that in 99% of the pictures, no matter how difficult the exercise, Al has got the biggest grin. He's having FUN with the workout, from the look on his face you'd think he was at Disney World and just found out that he'd never wait in line for anything. Joy. Is there JOY in your workouts? Do you feel joy after a workout? If not, maybe you should.
Ask yourself: is your quest for fitness fueled by love or hate? Are you working hard because you hate your thighs, or because you're taking care of yourself and want to make improvements?
Here's the good news - YOU CAN make improvements - and they will happen - like clockwork if you get a good coach and stick to a plan for your workouts and nutrition. It doesn't have to be super hard. It doesn't have to be one of these horrid starvation diets or starvation plans disguised as a "cleanse or detox" (don't get me started). Of course you know I really recommend that you find an RKC or HKC instructor for the exercise part - I know you saw that coming :) But there are other ways - the plan that works is the plan that you will do - which is further elaborated on in Dan John's book, Easy Strength. It doesn't have to be hard, it has to be consistent - that also goes for your nutrition. If you fall off the wagon, just get back on. Don't beat yourself up for it, don't starve yourself for the next 3 days, and don't just give up and wallow in a shallow grave filled with pizza and ice cream. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on it. Forget that guilt crap, get back on the wagon, eyes on the prize, etc. etc. Same with workouts - practice your skills, keep it challenging, but don't be gasping and barfing in the corner! Shift the focus from hating parts of your body to working on new skills, new strengths, abilities. I don't care how old you are, it's never too late. I'm 35 years old and run around like I was when I was 12 - monkey bars included. It didn't happen overnight, and as my handstand practice proves, can be a slow process. But acquiring strength helps so many things - confidence, appearance (posture, leaning out a bit, curves), and just knowing that you can set a goal and meet it. Something that keeps echoing in my head from the Super Human Training Workshop from last weekend is when Bud Jeffries said (paraphrased):
"Strength is the ultimate self expression"
The demonstration of strength (even just to yourself) is incredibly powerful. It implies a level of self-mastery, of mental focus, coordination, and of the fusion and acceptance of body and mind.
I've led a number of group classes in different forms over the past few years - and something that I noticed was that the people who tended to be less coordinated (not always) seemed to have a higher than average level of self-hatred. They were frustrated with these "faulty" or "inferior" bodies that they had been "stuck with." Read those words carefully - they imply a lack of control. They imply a lack of power to change. I remember thinking a couple of years ago, when coaching someone through a very basic movement, that they were not able to do easily (and it was an EASY MOVEMENT), that they were not really IN THEIR OWN BODY. They hated their body so much, that they had distanced their own mind so far from it, that they had a hard time telling which leg, which knee, which foot, which hip to move! SO disconnected. What I want you to know is that it is totally OK to be IN your own body. Because once you are, you CAN make changes. It's not going to happen over night, but you can do it. Seriously. Stop with the self-hating, stop with the guilt and the punishment. Train for the love of improvement, of empowerment, of becoming a better version of you. The sky really is the limit.
This self-hatred stuff is insidious because you may not even know you're doing it! Listen to what you say to yourself today, tomorrow etc - catch the thoughts and examine them - do you agree with them? Are "the voices" your friends, or not? Are they even really YOU?! Stop tearing yourself down from the inside out - it's easier said than done, but it's a good thing to start being aware of right now. TODAY. THIS MOMENT. Do it. And it's not just about you - when you start becoming aware of this self-hatred, and making mental changes, the people around you will notice. Time after time, I hear Moms complain that their young daughters (even 5 years old!) are concerned about their own weight, or already judging their own cute little bodies. Guess where they learned those behaviors?! From Mom and from the media. Stand up for yourself, and you aren't just helping you, it's bigger than that. People watch and learn from other people -and isn't always on purpose either. No one is perfect, but it's your responsibility to be a great example.