Body image issues plague American women regardless of size. Statisticsbrain.com states that 91% of US women, “are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting” (dated February 19, 2017). Some women may have achieved immunity from an overly critical culture, but I don’t know of any.
Last weekend I had to buy new jeans. With all the running, my legs changed shape and no longer fit into many of my jeans. In addition, my weight cycles throughout the week: I have my long runs on Fridays and Saturdays and typically develop significant hunger on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Thus, my heavy eating coincides with the lighter parts of my running schedule, which leads to mid-week weight gain. My weight also fluctuates relative to my salt intake and hydration. So depending on the day, the jeans don’t fit.
Ordinarily, the weight gain would bother me. Training for an ultramarathon softens my need for weight control as I’m more concerned with appropriate hydration and nutrition, which are potential game changers for my race. Nutritional depletion could result in significant setbacks in my training while a few extra pounds will not.
Today, I’m able to be gentle with myself about my weight, but this isn’t usually the case though I’m not overweight and have an age-appropriate body mass index. The concern for my health and well-being, as well as my ability to train, are the only reasons I’m tolerant of my recent weight gain. This points to a deeper discontentment with body image that defies logic. Why is it so difficult to be satisfied with the reflection in the mirror?
As a society are we afflicted by a phantom disease to be thinner than humanly possible? Are we ever thin enough?
Sadly, I have to answer, “No.” Even when I weighed 123 lbs. and was a size 0 (the smallest I’ve ever been as an adult), I still never felt that I was thin enough. People inquired if I was sick and my parents sat me down and asked if I had an eating disorder, yet I still didn’t think I was thin enough. There remained lumps and bumps that dissatisfied me.
I know that some people struggle with eating disorders or use food as a coping mechanism, but that’s not what I’m referring to. Those are separate topics. Needing to lose weight to be healthy is one thing, requiring physical perfection is another. I’m speaking of unrealistic expectations like feeling the need to be magazine-perfect to be valued. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we could accept our own bounces and jiggles? Wouldn’t it be great if we could acknowledge our limitations while at the same time making the most of ourselves?
On Saturday, I bought a new pair of jeans that fit nicely over my calves and my thighs. I choose to celebrate my legs because they are the powerhouses that are carrying me (literally) toward my goal of completing a hundred-mile ultramarathon. They do the work, and my brain goes along for the ride. Their output exceeds my greatest imagination.
How do I translate this celebration of function to my every day, non-ultramarathon self?
The first thing that hits me is training. I have to train my mind to live in this mentality all the time. That’s not to say that looking good and being healthy are not important. They are. However, there is an underlying, untrue distortion that happens, many times in a comparative fashion, when we look at those around us or in the media. We need to love our bodies for what they can do, keep ourselves healthy, and let go of the unrealistic expectations of perfection. Just because we’re not all supermodels doesn’t mean we’re not all super.
So I challenge you to be healthy, not only in body, but in mind and spirit. Set fitness and personal goals for yourself and be gentle when perfectionist urges occur. Avoid comparison. Smile.
And my new jeans? Love them. They are designer jeans that I bought at a thrift store for a fraction of the price. Yep, I’m Frugal McDougall. But that’s another story…