Why #healthies are bullshit… or the one where I humiliate myself for no real reason

Taken (with permission) from Crocuses In The Snow

Type in any of the following into Instagram: #fitspiration, #instafit and the much talked about #healthie and you’ll see the following things: flawless tanned abs, lithe tanned bodies in the crab pose, lycra clad no-sweat-off-my-back plankers and many more.

I know they are supposed to be inspirational and I am all for anything that encourages healthy, happy bodies.

But these images, for me, aren’t inspirational in the slightest. In fact, it’s the opposite. These images make me feel as though my fitness efforts aren’t enough, that because I’m not aiming for a six-pack or doing push-ups in the snow, I may as well give up and go home. They make me feel as if I met these people in real life they’d scoff at everything I achieve, eye my fleshy, still-a-bit-chubby body up and down and make me feel as though I am lying when I say I enjoy working out.

It made me realize that if these images make me feel this way now, three years after starting my own fitness journey, then how are they making those who are starting out now, as so many in January have? They could be online looking for inspiration and come away thinking that world isn’t for them, and give up. So I decided to write something on what fitness means to me, something for those who turn red as a tomato as soon as they step near a treadmill, people who fart in yoga class and for whom the plank means collapsing on your nose after two seconds.

I used to be as exercise hating as you get. An expert note forger, the girl who got her period four times a month or the one who left her kit behind: anything to get out of PE. And if forced, the one at the back of the running group, huffing and puffing, sobbing that she is going to die and, always, always picked last for teams. And bad PE lessons stay with you, they give you the idea that you are simply not one of those ‘fit’ people, so why even try? Leave it to the hockey captain, the 6-minute miler and use it to form bonds with those like you. “Go to the gym? Nah, let’s sit in and eat chocolate instead…” and yeah, living that way was so much fun. But then three reasons forced me out of my slippers and into my trainers:

1, I’ve never really got the whole “does my bum look big in this?” thing – my policy was always, “it’s behind me, why should I care?” I looked at myself straight on in the mirror and was fairly happy with what I saw. But then one day I made the dreaded mistake of looking at myself from behind wearing just a pair of pants. It was a shocking discovery. My bum DID look big in this but worse were the rolls of fat rippling down my back. I didn’t mind the bum (after all, a chubby bum is surely comfier to sit on?) but, I reasoned, the back was a problem: they really should be flat. Alas, my cider years were catching up with me: it was time to lose some weight.

2, I rewatched Titanic and looked at it totally differently. Rose would have had to be pretty fit to run up that boat while it was on such a steep angle and have good upper arm strength to hold onto those railings. If I was in the Titanic, or indeed any other disaster, I wouldn’t survive. I’d be the guy that let go and slid down the boat, thunking on that big metal thing (technical term I’m sure) on the way down.

3, (the main one) I began working for a slimming magazine. Part of my job was to attend fitness classes with health journalists. I once even had to go spinning with Victoria Pendleton. And there is nothing more humiliating than dying by the warm up, surrounded by those who write about fitness for a living. I had to try and match them, or at least get past the warm up.

In the process I learned a lot of ways to trick myself into thinking of myself as a gym person, of changing that voice in my head that told me I was still the fat, ginger kid writing notes with my right hand so that Mrs Sie wouldn’t recognize my handwriting. And here they are…

1, It’s just you

Thinking back to those school day sniggers I spent a lot of time worrying what others would think of me. When out running I’d avoid the nods of fellow runners, scared they’d judge me for how slow I was going. At the gym I wore muddy trainers so others would see me as a ‘serious exerciser’ and I was so ashamed of how red and sweaty I was at the end of classes. But as I went more often and my confidence improved I realized that it didn’t matter what time that person on Facebook got for their run, or if I can’t keep up with the Zumba moves. I was only against myself. I hate looking at myself in the mirror so I don’t: I look at the instructor and the others in class. And doing that makes me realize that everyone else in class is doing the same. They’re as caught up in their own heads as I am.

2, It’s not fun

Sorry, what I really mean is, it’s not always fun. I got this idea in my head that if I found the right activity for me, the one I really enjoyed then exercise would be a doddle. And in a way that’s true – I would not work out if I couldn’t find enjoyment in any of it (which is why I left the yoga class where the instructor whistled at me like a dog) But this attitude left me shocked when, during hard bit of dance class or running up a hill, I found myself out of breath and gasping, and not enjoying this whole exercise malarkey at all. Then I remembered that I was overweight, hadn’t exercised in years and was throwing myself around the room like a mad man, using muscles that had, previously, been enjoying a lounging life. Of course at times it wasn’t going to be fun. But I began to adopt the attitude that if I didn’t enjoy that certain class or that workout then it was only 45 minutes of my life. And that was OK, it’s impossible to have fun all the time.

3, Mental tricks will get you through

The voice that tells me I’m not good enough, that I am not someone who enjoys working out is still there, daily. So I’ve had to adopt some tricks to drag myself to work out. These include: not going to the bathroom before the gym and not wearing a coat on my way there. That way I am forced to into the gym (which, conveniently is 5 minutes from my work) to relieve my aching bladder and get warm. Once I’m in there I remember, “oh yeah, it’s not so bad in here!” Before a class I’ll always, always arm myself with an excuse to get out of there early. It’s a treat to the old PE hating me. It says, “I won’t shout at you, or force you to do anything you don’t want to, you can do 20 minutes and if you hate it you have permission to leave.” I’ve not had to use one of my excuses once.

4, #healthies are bullshit

The most important piece of advice I’ve ever been given about working out is: “even an Olympic athlete should be red, sweaty and exhausted at the end of their workout. It shows you’ve given it your all. If you look good you aren’t working hard enough.”

So, to inspire you to not be intimidated by that fitness world, here are some real life #healthies…

Actually looking at them again I wouldn’t blame you if they scared you off exercising for life…

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“Being naked with other people in a non-sexual way really shows you that the most normal thing about your body is that it’s totally unique and different from everyone else’s.”

I’m really not sure how to begin discussing how my feelings towards my body have changed over the years as I love this blog and want to do it justice and also, until I stopped caring so much about my body, I was really never sure how I should feel. Perhaps “should” in there is a very telling word! While at school I was heavily into sports and trained at least 8 hours a week and as a result was healthy but incredibly skinny (I recently saw a photo of myself at 14 and was quite freaked out by the sight). I did the whole developing thing late and fast. At 15 or 16 I started my periods and went up 3 cup sizes in two months. The boob job jokes were quite flattering at the time but did make me more self-conscious.

This was when I was at the age where you really start to care about your body and are very vulnerable to media and advertising. While I never really attracted anyone of the opposite sex until I was 18, it was when I was 16 that I had more body confidence because since I wasn’t fully developed I had the media ideal figure with boobs but very skinny. Naturally, I stopped sports, started drinking and smoking and developed an adult body so the model-like waif disappeared never to be seen again! That didn’t stop me thinking I should still have it and trying to regain it, even with crazy and very unhealthy diets pills from the US (“if they’re illegal in Europe then they must totally work!” is not a good line of thought). Perhaps this was due to media, my mother’s constant dieting or just me, but I was unhappy with my own body, even though I’ve never been larger than a size 10, and I hated that I could also sense myself judging other women’s bodies and probably making them feel the same! Patriarchy at work I guess…

The biggest change for me was living at uni with no TV, and later no internet, and surrounding myself with only the sort of people I wanted to. After a few years of great friends and increasing amounts of communal nudity I now feel that I am finally comfortable with my body. This nakedness began at solstice and festivals with skinny-dipping and saunas and dancing round fires but I have also had several naked parties with friends in the comfort of private flats (apologies to West Princes St for that time I forgot to shut the blinds!).

I now have smooth legs, hairy armpits, a couple of tattoos and piercings in eh… intimate areas. My body is not small or large but has a little bit of fat all over, ok- maybe a bit more on my belly, and my legs wobble when I walk and I’m totally ok with that. Since I stopped wearing a bra my boobs are considerably bouncier as well! My friend and I even had a fantastic time decorating my new room with our naked bodies and lots of face paints.

One of the things which makes me happiest now is how comfortable I finally am and how liberating it feels! I love being naked!!

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“When you’re a girl, every body is similar. When you’re a woman, every body is completely unique.”

Quite recently, I realised something very important. This realisation changed not only how I felt about my body, but also how I thought about my personality and my future. It gave me both contentment and drive, and has made for an altogether happier me. That realisation is this: at the age of twenty four, I am a woman and not a girl. Yeah, so maybe that does sound a bit daft, but let me explain.

When I was a girl, I was an acrobat and a diver. I was required to train daily at home, and every day at either the pool or in the gym, or both. I was very flexible and strong, and thin too. But even then I would pull out bits of skin on my stomach thinking it was fat. I would cover my thighs in shorts when the others would be comfortable in leotards, and I would wrap a towel around myself the moment I got out of the pool.

Because of all the training, I saw the girls at school begin to change shape long before I did. Where they had breasts and hips, I had the straight-up-and-down body I had always had, and I was fine with that. When my breasts eventually did develop, I was embarrassed by them and was glad that they were small. The body that I wore until I was around eighteen was slim, almost entirely curveless, and small-chested – a girl’s body.

Of course, once all the training stopped, that quickly changed. It was like my body breathed a great big sigh of relief and just got comfy. My weight began to fluctuate, my boobs grew, I began to develop a more feminine figure, and I lost muscle tone. I wasn’t happy and I damn sure wasn’t going to accept it, so I locked the fact of the matter away into a box and set myself into a weird form of denial. Somewhere in my subconscious I decided my body was just bizarre and nothing would look good on it anyway. I dressed masculine and had a masculine haircut, unwilling to match my outward appearance to this body I had been lumped with.

My first big wake-up call came when being measured for a bra when I was twenty two. My B-cups, it turned out, were actually a very squashed pair of Ds. It felt like the end of the world! No more hiding these bloody things, I thought. But that day of shopping with my mum really opened my eyes to the nonsense in my head; all that had changed was my perceived bra size, and only in my mind. The bra lady had hit me with what I was shutting my eyes to. My boobs were not going to change, I realised, but my mindset sure could.

The first time someone calls you a ‘lady’, as in “Mind you don’t bump into that lady”, is pretty weird. And for me the first time I called myself a woman was pretty weird too. But the word fits me now. I am an adult woman, and it’s high time I got used to it.

I like my body. It works the way I want it to. There are some achy bits and little nicks and scars, and always a bruise or five, but they are all there because of something that I did with it. I can do some cool little party tricks with it, and I absolutely adore its tastebuds. I could live without the spots, but I can also live with them, and I’d hate it if I didn’t have cracky knuckles and toes. I would like to lose a little weight and tone up, but I won’t suffer for it – I’m working on it in a way that I really enjoy. There’s nothing better than drying off naturally and nakedly in bed when you get out of the shower, and when I look in the mirror, I’m happy with what I see.

As for comparing myself to others, we all do it, and again it is something I’ve come to accept as fact. In a way, it is comforting to know that while I might wish I had her long legs, she might wish she had my eyes. We’ve all got best bits, and we’re all our own worst critics.
I love to be naked with my boyfriend. I enjoy the closeness and intimacy of it, it makes me feel sexy and free. But I have no desire to spend any length of time naked in a group. I admit I would probably feel quite uncomfortable in such a situation, but I don’t foresee group nudity in my future, so that discomfort is unlikely to hold me back. As yet, none of my platonic relationships have been sullied by a lack of nudity, and though I bet it is an amazing feeling to overcome that fear, it simply isn’t something I’ve ever really felt an urge to do. Maybe one day I will, or maybe it takes guts that I just haven’t got. Either way, I’m cool with it.

When you’re a girl, every body is similar. When you’re a woman, every body is completely unique. Embracing that has made the world of difference to me. I will never be so confident with what I’m rocking that I go shouting it from the rooftops, but that isn’t what I need. All I need is to feel good in myself, and I do.

by an anonymous woman, aged 24