I’ve not been my regular blogging self lately for a variety of reasons, but I know when something is worth blogging about, and this weekend included one of those things. Besides overdue reunions with busy friends, bouldering (aka falling on my butt, my side, my ego), and a bike ride/the discovery that my frame is cracked (ERMAHGAWD! Time for a new one?!), I had the pleasure of being a part of the first installment of a Women’s Empowerment Series hosted by Hybrid (with lululemon!), the gym I work out at in London.
The series’ facebook description will give you an idea of what it’s all about:
“WES is designed to inspire, guide & connect women across Canada, to create everlasting bonds and healthy relationships with health, fitness & self-worth.”
I think they’re off to a great start.
The first event, on Saturday, started off with a talk from Tommy Caldwell, who own the gym and who I think has a really insightful take on the fitness industry, what it can do to women, and health (start with this podcast!). Tommy used the half nekked (or more) selfies that fit women post on social media as a way to enter into a discussion about the ways in which pursuing “fitness” can turn into the pursuit of an ideal (that’s unrealistic) and external reinforcement to try to find a sense of self worth outside of ourselves. It’s not very often that you’ll hear someone in the fitness industry, who’s a male, admit this, but wow was it refreshing.
Next came a talk from Tosca Reno, the woman behind the Eat Clean Diet books and magazines. She was open and frank, as always (I heard her speak at CanFitPro and had the same sense of respect for her honesty), and talked about what she’s learned from years of being in the fitness industry. She even mentioned an article she wrote a few months ago that went viral, “The Pornographication of Fitness Needs to Stop:”
“Fitness magazines don’t help us get fit. Gazing at images of caricatured breasts, buttocks and biceps gives you the impression this is how a fit body should look, that every fit body needs to be shaped in the same vein. Fitness magazines use exactly these images to “inspire” women to look this way. Yet most of us can’t identify with what we are looking at because we don’t believe ordinary us could ever be them.”
Once Tosca’s talk finished, we went through a series of workout stations to learn the basics of how to move our bodies. It was a review for me, but I realized how proud I am of myself for taking care of myself already—and I had a moment of gratitude for the things that I can do (pushups, pull-ups, biking really far with a smile on my face) that I might take for granted in the process. The day ended with a chance to talk with Tosca and snap some photos and with delicious food, which was tied to Growing Chefs!, which is one of my favourite organizations around.
The message of the day that I took home was that we need to be talking about what makes us feel proud and gives us a sense of worth in the gym and outside of it instead of worrying so much about looking like a picture of “health” that isn’t even necessarily “healthy” (i.e. the magazine covers of women who have done insane things to their bodies to get there and then on top of it have been airbrushed). I think that’s certainly a message worth reiterating.
It struck me that this is about a heck of a lot more than our bodies. This sense of insecurity that so many of us seem to have—myself included—and the ways that we try to prove that we’re good enough shows up in my life far too often. Even if it’s manifesting in the endless pursuit of a hotter body, it’s a bigger issue than our thighs or our bellies or whatever it is we think is wrong with our bodies. I’ve said before that the troubled relationship I’ve had with my body has been a window into the troubled relationship I have with myself and I’m grateful that it made itself apparent with my eating disorder because it woke me up and made me realize that the way I treat myself needed some (ongoing) work. Getting thinner and thinner and in my mind, more ideal and more ideal, was never good enough for me because I never thought that I was good enough. Getting good grades was never enough so I joined all the clubs in the world. Having one job wasn’t enough so I ran myself ragged doing a million and one things. It all left me unfulfilled and with the same problem as before: I didn’t think I was good enough.
I’d be lying if I said I have it all together, but I’m certainly not giving up and I’m learning more and more that the way to fix this isn’t through weight loss or changing my body, through better grades or fancy degrees, etc. I know that surrounding myself with people like the ones I was with on the weekend—who encourage me and remind me to celebrate what’s worth being proud of and what’s strong in me—is one of the steps I’m taking in the right direction.
Take this post from a girl I already looked up to as an athlete and a coach at Hybrid:
“The idea of #storiesnotselfies really resonated with me. I am 25 years old, working at an incredible gym surrounded by strong, confident people, I am one of the top 10 CrossFit athletes in Canada, YET I still tend to fall victim of this darn insecurity cycle that Tommy talked about. For me, I train (and always have) with the primary focus of being able to DO something (walk on my hands, lift weights, jump high), not with the focus of how I look. I have committed to and worked my butt off in all of my sports of my choice (Gymnastics, Cheerleading and now CrossFit), which has resulted in a more muscular physique, leaving me usually around 12-14% body fat. I feel confident in what I can do, with BIG goals athletically, but I still catch myself looking at these photos of fitness models and questioning my own appearance…. “How the heck does she always look so good?”, “My abs definitely do not look like that all the time”.
At my current stage as an athlete, I am looking towards sponsorships and opportunities that will help me grow as an athlete and help me pursue my athletic goals… top 3 Canadian National Weightlifter (53kg) and eventually a CrossFit Games Athlete (individual or team). When sponsors talk to me, the first thing many ask is, “How many ‘followers’ do you have on social media?” I try to post photos and videos of me DOING something – training videos/photos, nutrition posts, etc, and yes I am slowly developing interest, but then I look at girls who post half naked photos of themselves (selfies GALORE) and the amount of attention they get is unreal. Not to say that those girls aren’t working their asses off too, but if I were to post sexualized photos of myself all of the time, I would certainly have a bigger following than I currently do.
Yesterday’s seminar was a good reminder of WHY I shouldn’t fall victim to that stupid cycle or post photos sexualizing myself to attract followers. I want young girls to look up to me and think, “When I grow up, I want to be strong and be able to do lots of pull ups and climb a rope and lift big weights.” NOT “I want to grow up and have the best six pack ever”. Yes, I have photos of me showing my stomach, but once again, that is the result of a lot of hard work and a result of focusing on getting strong, not on getting abs.
As Tommy said, make sure you’re getting fit and healthy for YOU, not for anyone else, and not for the sole purpose of looking a certain way. Set goals to DO something – get your first chip up, walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath, carry a heavy bag without needing to ask your husband for help – don’t set goals based just around your physical appearance. The appearance part will happen once you start pursuing your goals!”
The #storiesnotselfies idea is about this:
Amen to that. My number one takeaway was to appreciate what my body can do and to focus on doing more and being proud of where it takes me–every step of the way. When you always want to improve, it’s important to take the time to appreciate how awesome things about yourself already are. I am proud of myself for coming as far as I’ve come and for rebuilding my strength and my health after my eating disorder. I have a photo with Tosca from when I was in the midst of my eating disorder. I remember being at the fitness conference, on antibiotics because I’d just had dental surgery, but refusing to slow down even though I couldn’t eat solid food. Four active sessions a day was a badge of honour. I’m smiling but I can remember being absolutely exhausted and worried that I hadn’t been working hard enough (probably because I had a gnarly infection in my gums that rendered the surgery useless after all):
Today I recognize that if I’m in this industry because I want to promote health, being a crazed and obsessed exerciser is not something to be proud of. As a fitness instructor and a personal trainer, I know that I don’t want to pass that kind of judgement along and as a writer and blogger, I know that I want to stand for creating a different, more authentic representation of “health” that’s a heck of a lot more open to all the different forms that it can take. This leaves me smiling, proud of where my body is at, and a heck of a lot happier these days, even if it’s taken a lot of cries, journalling, and trips to the therapist to get here.
I encourage you to get involved with this movement — it’s just starting! I also encourage you to appreciate where you’re at a bit more today.
What makes you proud of your body and your self?
Were you at the event on Saturday? What was your favourite part?