Body image is a huge issue in today’s world. Between social media, the entertainment industry, and media outlets in general, women feel pressured more than ever to conform to certain “beauty standards.” In an effort to combat these ludicrous expectations, our staff joined together to share its thoughts on the concept of positive body image.
For a lot of women in athletics, an exorbitant amount of time is spent on physical appearance. We constantly think, “If I wear this, will I be taken seriously? Will my outfit become a topic of discussion? Will I be comfortable sitting on a plane or logging 10,000 steps in this outfit?” Oftentimes, it can feel as though your attire is the first impression someone has of you, even before you open your mouth and reveal you’re a badass lady with some serious credentials.
With these concerns, it’s no wonder we’re constantly focused on our body image. Personally, I am curvy. I have a tush and a pooch and I’m well endowed. When I worked in athletics, especially because I worked with men’s sports, I was always cognizant of that. If I didn’t wear a suit, I was frequently mistaken for a student worker or an intern. If I wore something that wasn’t conservative and loose-fitting, almost certainly a player or coach on the opposing team - or even a coworker - would linger on my chest a little too long. I’d spend hours straightening my frizzy curly hair, thinking that looked more professional.
So, how do you release that mindset, that focus on your physical appearance and your body image? For me, it starts in the smallest moments: Trying on Spanx to wear under my wedding dress and deciding that I don’t need the one that sucks me in the most, or wearing a bikini at the beach, or flaunting my curves in a bodycon dress, or deciding I want to work out because I find power in seeing what my body is capable of versus what it looks like. The human body can do incredible things, and it’s time to celebrate that.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been hyper-aware of my body image. It started at a young age when I was “complimented” on my “muscular” thighs, or when people would comment that you could really tell I was Asian because of my “strong” calves. Unsurprisingly, in my adolescent mind, “muscular” and “strong” translated to “too big.” As a result, I wasted years obsessing over the size of my legs and justifying my femininity in my body that was not as petite or slender as other girls.
I am now much more confident in my body image, but it’s something I still wrestle with at times. I work part-time as a group fitness instructor, so physical fitness and appearance, as you can imagine, are often a topic of conversation and thought. I love teaching group fitness; since I started teaching, I feel stronger and more inspired than I ever have about my fitness journey. But it’s a role that comes with a lot of pressure: pressure to keep up with my own fitness so that members can view me as a role model, pressure to be just as strong as the other trainers in order to maintain the status quo, and pressure to adhere to the meal plans that my gym offers, to name a few. When you are the person that people look to to help them achieve health-related goals -- which are oftentimes based off of physical appearance -- balancing these pressures with a body-positive mentality can be challenging.
However, when I receive positive feedback from members, it’s always centered around how a class made them feel good, not how it made them look good. That feedback is what keeps me grounded, and it reminds me that body positivity should be about a feeling, not an appearance.
My post-baby body is… strange. I have always been pretty confident in my body but pregnancy and birth can really do a number on you. Now when I look in the mirror, I see things I wish I could change. Strange marks in weird places, a larger bosom, a stomach that just looks tired, and a crazy looking scar are just a few of the changes that my body is still adjusting to. If we’re being completely honest, sometimes I see myself in the mirror and I’m surprised that the body I’m looking at is my own.
In addition to the “surface level” changes, motherhood has brought my body some additional quirks. Breastmilk, for one, but also back pain, sciatica, and damaged hair. Let’s also not forget about the fact that I now have less time to shower, blow dry, and apply makeup than I ever have before.
These days, when I do finally have the ability to leave the house, I really don’t look my best. I’m not putting my best face forward and I know my body doesn’t look the way I want it to. However, I have to be gentle on myself. I have gone through many changes physically, mentally, and emotionally through my journey toward parenthood. I haven’t always treated my body with the respect it deserves, but now I feel an innate pride in all that this vessel has done for me over the last year and a half. I have a beautiful healthy baby boy and we both got through labor safe and sound. When I look into his eyes and my heart swells with love and affection, a few extra pounds, a scar, and some stretch marks seem like a small price to pay for all that I now have.
I’ve always been skinny; thin, even. I have neither an athletic nor traditionally feminine body. In blunt terms, I’ve never had a butt or boobs. I have broad shoulders, broad hips, and long legs, and don’t build muscle. Thanks, genetics. I developed the casual “smart jock” persona since I wasn’t the “pretty girl” in the room. I’m more comfortable in jeans and running shoes, perhaps as a defense mechanism against those insecurities. When I dress more formally, the joking responses of “hey, you match today” or “are you interviewing for another job?” often invoke a self-deprecating comment, and intentional avoidance of that attention in future situations.
Recently, I attended an event with colleagues I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. The first comment from several people was, “you’ve lost weight.” I hadn’t. Surely, this is one of those #firstworldproblems, right? But yet, those thoughts were their initial reactions as a greeting. Not “how are you?” or “it’s good to see you.” Why is weight part of our perception? Logically, I understand the intention of comments was complimentary, but my negative reaction was, “Is weight all I am?”
To be completely honest, concern about my body or weight has rarely been warranted, but I’ve struggled with my perception of of both. If I skip a few days running or in the gym, I “feel” like I’m gaining weight, even if my body actually needs the break. If I eat “too much”, I focus on food as the enemy, rather than nourishment. Acceptance is still a process of endurance to focus on what my body CAN do: run half marathons, grow a baby, rock a style all my own, even show off my long legs. Maybe I’ll eventually get to that finish line.
With the crazy schedule of life in sports information, there are some days I don’t eat lunch until dinner time or not at all. And then there are days full of sitting at my desk or on the bus. In graduate school, I lived in a very walkable city. Plus, since I needed to be frugal I walked everywhere, and I was able to keep my weight at a healthy for my solid and pear-shaped five-foot-five frame. Oh, and for my five-foot-five frame, 130 pounds is the recommended weight, which I haven’t been since eighth grade when I reached that height.
Now that I live in a car commute-heavy city and have struggled with my mental health the past few years, I gained weight. I dread going to see the doctor only because of the scale. I am doing all of the suggested things that will supposedly help me to lose weight: I have made changes in what I eat, drink less soda and sugary lattes and more water, and eat more veggies and proteins in meals made at home. I also try to run more, plus do yoga and HIIT group classes.
I still struggle to lose weight based on an antiquated system that was originally designed based on the male body. When I do all the “right” things and I don’t see a change in the scale or in how my clothes fit, I get discouraged and fall off the exercise wagon. It takes a few days to connect that my body misses exercises and not the sugar, and I slowly find my way back to my mat or slide my running shoes on. I try to remember that if I keep returning to exercise and create healthy meal choices my number will go down. It just might take some time.
As someone who never played sports growing up (shock of all shocks, unless you know me, then you get it), I’ve never had the “athletic” build. I’ve always admired it and always desired to be fit, but never made much of an effort toward it until a few years after college. I’m small but not skinny, and what I consider fairly average size for someone my height.
Following my divorce two years ago, stress and stress-eating got the best of me. I gained weight and weighed more than I ever had, but I made a choice to choose me again. I chose to be healthy, but more than that, I chose to be happy. Since August, I’ve gotten back in the gym and lived healthier, but it was a personal choice based on my own satisfaction, not someone else’s opinion of me.
Choose to be satisfied with you. Whatever version that is and however many times that version changes. Each one of them is beautiful.