The self-love movement is growing rapidly.
From the “Thunder Thighs” music video that celebrates curves in the midst of “bikini body” season.
To the former bodybuilder who “let herself go” and now says she finally loves herself.
I think these stories, and others like them, are inspirational.
But I also don’t think self-love and working out have to be mutually exclusive.
No one is saying it, but if I read between the lines does it mean that if I workout and try to eat healthy that I’m not doing a good job of “just loving myself?”
Health Vs. Appearance
Personally, I think all women are beautiful.
Unfortunately, I also know many, many women have incredibly low self-esteem.
The media and internet paints an unrealistic picture of what we’re all supposed to strive for.
How can we be satisfied with our appearance when we’re surrounded by doctored images and silicone implants on every side?
So I can see how the self-love movement is needed.
If all we do is fat-shame, (in addition to it being hateful and terrible) how are we supposed to see our true, inner beauty?
On the other hand, if we start skinny-shaming, have we really accomplished anything?
This is tragic.
But the answer isn’t a return to processed junk food.
The answer is healthy body image and nourishing self-care.
If we eat whatever the heck we want and sit around all day, won’t we develop some equally life-threatening diseases?
Both severely overweight and underweight women are at risk for health problems.
We can love our bodies…but still get diabetes or severe malnourishment.
Clearly that isn’t the answer we were looking for when we set out on this self-love journey.
We can also love our bodies and workout.
We can also love our bodies and eat real foods – lots of them – instead of sugary processed foods.
We can choose to be healthy, while not getting too caught up on how it affects our appearance.
At least I think we can.
I know this is a complicated issue, so I won’t pretend that I can put it to rest here. But I’d like to start a discussion.
I’d like to know how each of us fits into this picture.
Reasons to Workout
There’s a lot of different reasons to workout that have nothing to do with getting that “perfect body.”
In fact, this fitness instructor has committed to stop using the words “bikini body” in her classes.
These days, when I’m teaching a group fitness class, I choose my words carefully, knowing how much of an impact they can have. I emphasize how the exercises we do in class are in preparation for activities we do outside the gym. I push class participants to persevere through tough sets, because I know that how we face challenges inside the gym directly translates to how we face challenges outside the gym.
Unfortunately, this is not how most health and wellness industry professionals approach their work. When it comes to marketing, it is virtually impossible to go against the grain; editors have magazines to sell, after all, and marketing is a very valuable tool. For years, entrepreneurs have used Google search engine optimization (SEO) as a powerful tool to tell them what they should name their fitness programs—which is why “bikini body fitness program” is one of the most-searched fitness programs today.
Except women are not actually searching for a “bikini body fitness program.” They are searching for a place to find self-worth and satisfaction, hoping Google can provide something that can only be found within themselves.
I admit, it’s nice to see results when a new workout regime is working.
But you know what’s even better?
- Being stronger.
- Feeling more in control.
- The mental lift.
- The accomplishment.
- Feeling powerful.
- Creating a healthy routine.
- Doing something good for myself.
Honestly, I love working out, but if I was only doing it for how it made me look, I wouldn’t do it.
In my opinion, working out is too hard and takes up too much time if I’m only concerned about appearances.
What a fleeting goal.
Will anyone else even care if my calves are more defined?
If I’m going to work that hard for something, it needs to do more than just make me look a certain way.
Working out isn’t something to do because you hate yourself – although it can help your self-esteem to feel stronger or accomplish a goal.
Working out is something to stretch yourself. To challenge your body. To thank your body. To strengthen your body over time.
The Myth of Perfection
If you’re striving for “the perfect body” you’ll only be disappointed.
No one’s body is perfect.
You will always be striving for more, and you will always be dissatisfied.
You will see yourself differently than others see you.
You will always find something about your body to hate until you finally give up the hatred altogether.
“A six pack didn’t make me happy. I was never enough and always needing to improve,” says former bodybuilder Jolene Jones.
To me, it isn’t about chasing perfection. It’s about balance and acceptance.
I’m not going to throw my hands up and “let myself go,” but I’m also not going to strive for perfection, in myself or in others.
Instead, I’ll strive for progress.
Even if it’s baby steps, I’d rather strive for progress than perfection.
Some women are genetically predisposed to look a certain way no matter how hard they train.
But focusing on progress rather than society’s idea of a perfect body drives them to press on anyway.
Workouts as Self-Love, Not Instead of Self-Love
Listen, I’ve got nothing against the self-love movement.
But I do believe you can workout and love yourself.
To me, working out is a huge part of how I love myself.
The fact that I take time out of my schedule 5-6 days a week to do something good for my physical and mental health is pretty significant.
It makes me a stronger person.
It teaches me discipline.
It makes me a better mom, because I’m not running on an empty tank.
There’s a lot of different kinds of self-care remedies out there.
Sometimes what we want to do for self-care isn’t the best for our health – maybe beer, brownies, or binging.
But I truly believe that good self-care isn’t destructive or damaging.
Good self-care can be a good conversation with a friend, going for a walk, listening to a podcast, reading a book, praying, singing, dancing, or doing yoga.
We love ourselves well when we take care of ourselves well.
And when our tanks are full, we’re better able to fill the lives of others with love and affirmation.
I’m not here to judge anyone. I’m here to affirm you, wherever you’re at.
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
And you are probably too hard on yourself.
I’m also here to challenge you, if you’re at a place where you need to be challenged.
You deserve to take care of yourself.
You are worth it.
And no one else will do it for you.
Loving ourselves well is so important, and many women have a hard time practicing it.
Take the time.
Make the time.
You’re capable of so much more than you think.
No matter your shape, confidence looks great on everyone.
Whether loving yourself means taking a night off and going to bed at 8pm, or loving yourself means going for a run at dawn or lifting weights in the gym, I hope you can find your inner power to love and take care of yourself well.