By Sarah C. Wages
Image Above: Source
Igrew up the youngest of four. I am seven years behind my brother and eight behind my sisters. By the time I was 11 years old, I had been influenced, to some significant degree, to my two sisters who were addicts. More than alcohol, more than drugs, it was internal. They struggled with their own body images. Both were bulimic, forcing themselves to purge after a heavy meal. “Indulge, then, get rid of it” was their modus operandi.
Retrospectively, and now at 22 years old, I realize that these attitudes and actions affected me. It was constantly fed into my mind, at a young age, that skinny was good. Skinny meant that I was pretty. Gaps between my thighs meant I was in shape. If they touched, well I better skip dessert. Or so I thought, at least. I’m 5’10 now and average 150 pounds. Growing up, I was always taller and always bigger. I felt out of place. I thought my thighs were too big, my stomach wasn’t flat enough. I thought that my body was, compared to my teenage, 5’6 sisters, was ugly.
Needless to say, this is a major issue. And not only does it affect youth from the youngest, most impressionable ages, but one that affects persons throughout all phases of life – male and female alike.
While, true enough, I believe there is more to body positivity than simply working out and eating right, this is what works best to help me cope with my body image self-consciousness. Please note that I do not suggest this approach for all persons. There’s a phrase that’s become popular in our ever-secular lexicon: “You do you.” So, as I write on, I’ll detail how I internally confront my own body image self-consciousness through exercise and diet, but as you’ll see toward my conclusion, I believe before you begin any efforts in exercise or diet, you must, indeed, learn to accept, love, and treasure yourself as you are, rather than what you perceive the world, other persons, or our society expects you to be.
Working out, in my view, is not just about sweating and gaining muscle. I don’t want to enter competitions and flex my muscles, I simply workout for personal pleasure. It can be difficult just like any goal or challenge we face in life; it will not ever always go our way. But working out (physical exercise) allows you to create something that is yours. You can choose how long you are active, what you do, and even what you wear. You have the full freedom of your body. Working out is a personal time for me. Sometimes I go to “escape” the world and its troubles for a time. Other times, I go and my mind is everywhere, but being in the gym allows me to release stresses and energies I wouldn’t otherwise release had I just sat at home.
It releases natural endorphins which are natural mood-elevators.
On some days, my workouts are terrible. I can’t lift as much as I did the previous week, I’m tired, and I’m fatigued. But that’s ok. Half of the battle of exercising is finding your personal limits. The days that I feel weakest sometimes teach me the most. Because even when I feel I’m my weakest, I still continue to build inner strength. An ancient building only lasts because it has a strong foundation. My body, my temple, is my foundation. Working out is a challenging activity and can intimidate people. But the only thing that should really challenge you is yourself.
Physical activity allows me to love myself. I love watching my body grow. I can create the results I want to see. It’s something I truly can change and accept for its reality. It takes time and patience, which I think we all need a little more of. And because it’s within ourselves, we begin to create a truer value and love for ourselves.
It’s not about have rock hard abs or tight biceps. It is solely learning to love yourself inside and out. Having a positive mindset about your self is important for you personally and any other relationships you have throughout your life. You must learn to love yourself first, and love yourself most. If you can’t love and accept yourself, you see darkness and have negative energies. Those fog your vision and that is all you begin to see in others too. The demons we fear most are inside of us. Once you see the true beauty in yourself, you reflect that. You begin to love others and the things surrounding you. You start to see things for the truest value and what they have to offer.
More often than not, we let fear overcome us. Think of things that make you feel insecure, sad or angry. Find them and stare them in the face. Defeat your fears with courage. Courage originates from the French word le couer, which means heart. Courage is inside of you. You are in complete control of what you fear. If you fear your body, or more pertinently, how you believe your body appears to others, you’ll be inclined to fear the opinions of others about yourself. In truth, no matter how many times we may hear it, the phrase, having become somewhat cliché is ever true: The most important opinion is your own. “Love thyself!” Every inch, every imperfection, every bit of you. While exercise and diet helps me personally in my own body image struggle, the key is to take heart; that is, courage. Loving yourself requires that courage. And isn’t it fascinating that, in a way, both courage and love originate from the heart?
Sarah Wages is a personal wellness blogger, personal trainer, and is completing her degree in journalism from The University of Memphis. For more of Sarah’s insights, you can visit her website and blog.