I first got heavily interested in weightlifting back in college for the sole purpose of attaining the “perfect physique.” I watched probably hundreds of Youtube videos on a myriad of different exercises just so I could feel more confident going to the gym alone and navigating the men-dominated weight room. I would practice exercises at home and even film myself to check my mobility in different areas. I loved the way weightlifting made me look and feel. Unfortunately, this was also at a time when I struggled tremendously with my self-esteem.
As a college girl, it was hard for me to mentally live up to the type of pressure to be physically beautiful. College for me focused a lot on the superficial. What was everyone going to wear to that party? Do I need to get a new outfit before I go out tonight? That girl has so much expensive makeup – maybe I should get that same kind too? That girl looks really in shape – maybe I should do what she does to work out? I developed disordered eating patterns and even binge-eating disorder that lasted for almost 5 years.
I have always to some degree felt somewhat ostracized from others beginning back in middle school. I was different. I like horror movies when most girls like rom coms; I have always been a skeptic when others just agreed; I started college technically as a sophomore in AP credits when most of my peers were taking Pre-Calc and Chemistry I; I didn’t like going shopping or doing things in large groups, and the most inconvenient of all (especially in my college years), I was an introvert. Combine all of this with an anxious, perfectionistic personality and you can see how my self-esteem suffered. I just simply did not fit in.
Fast forward to graduate school. With Instagram becoming more popular for fitness gurus back in 2013, I started following all the people I thought would “get me the body of my dreams.” I, like many others, fell into the trap of simply following others just because of the way they looked. I started doing all the exercises I’d see fitness models doing and, not surprisingly, following this pack of big booty-ed, tight-shirt-wearing, made-up “genuine” women made me feel even worse about myself. Regardless of how much I progressed in my own physique, I never felt like I was good enough. Reflecting back now, I see how my drive to attain this “perfect body” was only an attempt to fit in, to be physically beautiful to mask my unhappiness with true self.
In my second semester of graduate school, my mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, a glioblastoma. Her illness drove me into a great depression, and since I had no control over the cancer, I looked for other ways to gain “control.” I went through a period where I calculated literally every calorie that went into my body. I hated to eat out because I didn’t know what was in the food, I hated to be out with friends and have to worry about how many calories I was eating. That was a very scary and dark place in my life, and isolated me even more.
Luckily, I was able to overcome my disordered eating patterns on my own. After picking up a copy of Intuitive Eating, my life began to change in the right direction. I stopped obsessing about every calorie, I started listening to my body, and reacquainted myself to what hunger should feel like. I actually started to enjoy food again. This process was not an easy one, and surely took me over a year. I have not counted calories again because I know it is a trigger for me personally. You can thank my anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies for that.
It wasn’t until I became a personal trainer that I truly fell in love with myself again. I began to help others reach their fitness and nutrition goals. As introverted as I am, I opened up to strangers about fitness probably more than I had even opened up to myself. I worked to hear my clients say they felt better, fit into their clothes better, and feel more self-confident. These quickly became some of the most precious, most fulfilling moments of my life and still continue to be. I learned to embrace my differences, to speak up when I am not happy, and to believe I am better than I think I am. I learned (and still continue to learn) that mindset is everything.
My journey has led me down dark roads, but these roads, in my opinion, were perpetuated by the fitness industry itself and its lack of authenticity to help women like myself self-love. It is so easy nowadays to play the comparison game. We do it on Facebook, we do it on Instagram, and we do it on Snapchat. “Look at what I’m doing! Look how pretty I am! Look at how successful I am!” Now that I have been in dark places and back, I can see the mainstream fitness industry in a different light. It is not an atmosphere of self-love and acceptance, it has become an atmosphere of jealousy, insecurity, fear and self-degradation. This is not to say all fitness gurus and instagrammers are perpetuating this culture, but many of the top fitness profiles are men and women who care more about their physical appearance than actually helping others be their best self. Just because someone is “pretty” or “muscular” does not mean they are healthy on the inside. I believe a mixture of media advertising and human genetics strengthens the idea that health can be seen only on the outside. You can have a six pack and lean legs and cut arms, and many of us equate this appearance with being “happy”, “good”, and “fit.” But I see more than that now. I see past the chiseled, smiling, filtered Instagram images and wonder, “Are they truly happy with themselves? Do they practice self-love and self-acceptance?”
The purpose of why I have started this blog is to bring back authenticity to the fitness industry, and that can be hard. How can it be easy in a society that focuses so much on the superficiality of everything? I don’t want to post pointless selfies or take generic videos of me just “working out” in the gym being dolled up. I don’t care about the likes these types of post generate. I have been through too much to accept anything but authenticity. I want to reveal and support the true face of health and fitness. The one without the make-up and the sexualized workout videos. I want to create a community of love and acceptance between women. A community that others can relate to and not feel pressured to conform to today’s fitness and beauty standards. I want to educate and help those who may feel like they are never good enough. Because the truth is, we are all good enough. Fitness and health isn’t just for the beautiful and elite, it is for everyone. Being healthy and fit should not be a beauty pageant or a contest. It should be a part of self-respect that takes care of your body and your mind.
I hope this post finds all of you well. I would love to hear your feedback on struggles you have faced with yourself and the fitness industry. What obstacles have faced or continue to face? How did you overcome them?