"The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself." - Anna Quindlen, author
This is a post from last year that sat incubating till today. Enjoy!
Adam and I were cooling down from a long ocean swim / trail run brick at Crystal Cove State Park awhile back when we began chatting with a park ranger. He asked us which triathlon we were training for. We must have looked a little surprised so he gestured to our skintight spandex tri outfits, hydration belts, sockless shoes, interchangeable lens glasses and said, "You know, the outfits give it away". We looked down at ourselves and at each other and realized...we're 100% dorky from top to toe. There's just no use caring what you look like in triathlon. Usually my primary concerns are: Am I comfortable? Will this chafe? Is it UPF? Is this top quick dry? Are my girly bits going to be happy in these bike shorts on mile 60? I began to think about how my body image has changed over the years, particularly with my involvement in triathlon.
I come from a family of tiny women. My mom is 5'2" and looks like she's about 100lbs. My sister is tiny with an hourglass figure and a waist the circumference of my right thigh. I've always been taller and bigger and nothing I did was going to change that. I've been in shape, out of shape and somewhere in between and my happiness with my body has usually fluctuated in accordance to how healthy I feel. Yet, I am a girl and when I started triathlon I recall feeling too fat to wear tight shorts, worrying about how I dorky I look and wondering if other athletes look at me like I'm a poser in my fancy workout gear. I realized this day as the ranger laughed at/with our attire, that my body image has shifted quite a bit.
To be honest, with all those endorphins kicking in from the exercise, I feel pretty awesome when I'm working out. In my mind, I'm coated in spandex and I look sort of like the Lara Croft of triathlon. One photo from a race makes me question my connection to reality! My first tendency is to criticize myself, but it's easier to hit the mental switch to credit my body, imperfect as it is, for what it provides me. I am strong, I am healthy, I am flexible, I am working hard on achieving the goals I want in my life and in my body and I don't need to beat myself up. Accepting my body as it is allows me to just have fun. There's no contest, there's no competition, and there's no shame. I'm not worried about my thighs shaking when I run. I'm not worried about sweat marks on my tank top, make-up being right, hair being neat or what my dress size is. I'm free to focus on my workouts and on how I feel.
Being active has healed those self-criticisms and fractures in my confidence and it has abated any need to compare myself to anyone else's body image ideal. I view the beauty of the human body differently. It is a machine built to perform, not an idle work of art to be perched on a pedestal for display. I see perfectly tanned bodies and I love my zebra-stripes of mismatched tan lines more for my lines represent hours spent in bike shorts, running skirts, and swimsuits. I see well manicured and pedicured nails that have never changed a dirty bike tire and have never been bashed to the point of falling off in running shoes. I see thin bodies with skin stretched over bone and I see weakness, frailty and lack of power. I see perfectly smooth skin and I chuckle at the memory of each scar, abrasion, callous and scratch that represent a stepping stone on my way to where I am today. I see more beauty in a body that is being used by it's inhabitant and feel a sense of pride and contentment in my own imperfect perfection.
It's not easy to undo decades of marketing, advertising, criticism from self and others, and false images of what women should look like. The mental conditioning about who you are and what you look like begins the moment you're born. You learn it unwittingly, and it becomes written into your every action and moment. Every glance at a reflection merits judgment, assessment and comparison. It takes time and effort to slowly break those habits and learn to look at yourself and your body in a new light. Learning to silence the self-criticism is the first step to actually being able to hear the myriad of things your body is trying to tell you. Your body will let you know when it feels good, strong, sick, like it’s fighting a little bug off, sore, strained, hungry, and tired. Your body will clue you in to what you need to adjust in your workouts, your diet and your routine. Try viewing your body as a vehicle for experiencing life, as opposed to treating it like a decorative shell.
Feed your body the good food it needs to grow, heal and perform. Hydrate your body with nourishing water. Stretch your body so that your muscles are limber. Exercise to strengthen and tone your body, heart, lungs, and mind. Love your body for what it is, instead of hating it for what it isn’t. Without the constant criticisms and nagging worries, your whole outlook shifts to a brighter disposition and nothing’s more attractive than self-confidence.