Conditional acceptance: The problem with the performance focus

I’ve blogged about the need for believing we’re worthy before, but it’s an issue that’s close to my heart and that I’m continuing to work on, so here we go again.

Before I start, let me add: I say yahoo! to anything that shifts the emphasis for women away from how it will make their bodies look (Will pilates give me the toned abs I’ve always wanted?). But the more I read about woman after woman finding her self worth in her abilities, the less comfortable with the whole idea I get.

For my thesis, I’m reading issue after issue after issue of CrossFit magazines and The CrossFit Journal and looking particularly at constructions of healthy femininity. One theme that comes up a lot is CrossFit saving women from their body image woes. Time after time, women are saved from their eating disorders or years of self-abuse thanks to learning to appreciate what their bodies are capable of. In general, these are women who are extremely talented at CrossFit, pictured in sports bras with six packs, and who echo the same sentiment: the route to empowerment is via doing.

I call (at least a little bit of) bullshit.

The route to empowerment is different for all of us. Basing it on ability leaves out those who aren’t able, firstly, but it also sets us up for a conditional kind of self-acceptance that I don’t think will give us the kind of lifelong healthy relationship with our bodies that I am working on creating for myself (and starting a discussion about via this blog and my work in the world).

As it relates to me, I know that athletics helped me a whole lot to appreciate my body. I’ve mentioned before the way I keep my picture of my big ol’ deadlift PR around for when I’m feeling shitty about myself. I hang my latest race bibs around to remind myself that I’m badass for signing up for things that force me outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis. And moving away from the need to burn calories and burn off food to testing out my performance and seeing what I can do with the body I’ve been given has certainly helped me feel better about what I’ve been given.



Since I’ve started to focus on triathlon training again (with lifting things on occasion more for fun than anything and because I like to feel strong), I’m not as strong as I used to be. I can’t do as many pull-ups as I once could, and I sometimes find myself beating my self up for letting myself slip. And on the triathlon front, I don’t run or bike as fast as I did when I was in the midst of my eating disordered days.


I’m healthy. I have balanced hormones. My weight went way up and then has started to come down a bit (not much by the standards of those who employ 30 day challenges or body transformations, but 10 pounds over two years without losing my period). I like training and understand that when my body is whispering no, I should listen so it doesn’t scream. These are perhaps more important than winning an age category at a race or impressing people in the gym and on instagram.

So in my recovery and body love journey, I’ve seen that impressing myself with what I can do is certainly a tool for me to, like I said appreciate my body. But acceptance requires me to dig deeper. Yesterday I got a migraine and missed my workout. If my self-worth is based on what I can do, what’s a girl who’s stuck in bed and only wants to eat cereal and chocolate to do?

I think the answer lies in realizing that we can’t find the kind of self-love we want outside of ourselves. Some of us look for it from guys, some of us keep on trying to show that we’re good enough by taking it out on our bodies, and some of us don’t even realize that we want it.

This all comes back to a piece of advice worth repeating over and over again ‘til we get it: we are inherently worthy. Whether or not we work out, whether or not we can lift as much as someone else—or our former selves, whether we run faster than we did last year, whether we put pants on in the morning, whether we eat “clean” or choose cookies. Loving ourselves doesn’t require us to be better than yesterday, because we weren’t bad or unworthy yesterday.

can be already are

Loving our bodies doesn’t require that we do exceptional things with them. I think our bodies are exceptional just by virtue of the fact that they let us live our lives. It’s great when we can also appreciate what they’re capable of, but getting to a place of acceptance is another worthy goal, in my opinion.

Sometimes I forget this. As a goal-oriented and ambitious person, I struggle with feeling worthy unless I’m productive, or I work out, or I do this or that. But I for one would like to accept my body so that when things that stop me from performing as I might like to – injury, pregnancy, illness, life – come around, I still feel like a boss. While we by all means celebrate what we’re capable of, let’s give this acceptance thing—no conditions required—a go!

love yourself first

Do you struggle with this? What’s helped you?


5 thoughts on “Conditional acceptance: The problem with the performance focus

  1. That’s a lot to chew on. Since taking up running, I’ve definitely bought into the idea of the “route to empowerment via doing.” It’s helped me turn away from disordered eating and negative self-talk about body image and made me marvel instead at what my body’s able to do and how strong it can be, even though I’m far from a high-performance athlete. And I’ve always viewed that in a positive light, which kind of made me balk at what you wrote here initially.

    That being said, I don’t know what would happen if I were to get injured and wasn’t able to train anymore. I also catch myself, when talking about having kids down the road, wondering what that’s going to do to my body and dreading the idea of having baby-making/baby-nourishing become my body’s primary goal. Will that mean I’ll never run another PR? Will I lose my identity in the process? And am I the most selfish woman ever for thinking in those terms?

  2. I absolutely don’t think that this should be a reason to beat ourselves up. I will still applaud those who find personal empowerment from their achievements and abilities, but on a personal level I am trying to always frame what I’m proud of in a way that won’t make other people or a future version of myself feel inferior because they’re not as capable. The girl I was when I had my eating disorder was still amazing, even though she didn’t do amazing things with her body. It was only through realizing that I was not worthless that I was able to recover–so sometimes I think more than ever when we can’t DO is when we know that we are good enough and amazing simply because we ARE. I don’t know if this makes sense!

    I think we need to find our confidence from things that make us feel good — and I hope, personally, that in the same way that I am amazed at how resilient my body has been and sprung back from my eating disorder, I am able to appreciate the way I’m able to bring a baby into the world (if/when that happens for me!). I don’t think there’s a way that any of these choices are better than the other, I’m just learning more and more that I cannot prove to myself that I’m good or deserving–that’s something I just have to trust and believe.

    I am glad that this made you think, but I hope that the thinking doesn’t lead to self doubts! It’s about personal empowerment these days, and my own struggles with this performance-based feeling of confidence doesn’t mean that it won’t be simpler for someone else. 🙂

  3. I agree with a lot of what you wrote.
    Finding self acceptance because you got yourself super fit at crossfit sounds like a shaky thing. What if you get injured and have to recuperate. Will you still have self acceptance without the 6 pack? Some might. And that’s great.

    I definitely don’t believe those memes that say if you are better today than you were yesterday you are winning.

    What was wrong with yesterday? Why do we need to be better?

    My personal journey focuses on softer and gentler. I look at people going to boot camp and I cannot feel one iota of interest in joining them. I love almost all forms of yoga. So that’s what I do.

    It’s not simple. I was tired and did nothing last night. The little voice of inadequacy creeps in. But my heart knows I’m not just suddenly lazy. I’m being kind to my body.

    I’ve also stopped trying to justify my choices. No one is judging me. And if they are, it’s best I not know or care!

    This has been a long road from self punishment to acceptance for me. Being able to sit still and only feel love and appreciation for my body is a joy I never expected.


    • I’m glad to hear you’ve found what you love (yoga) and can recognize the gremlin telling you mean things and can replace the voice with kindness. I like that you call it a journey, and it sounds like it’s a process that takes repeating on a daily basis. I know it’s getting easier for me. 🙂 It sounds like we are on the same wavelength here!

  4. Pingback: Owning it: Athletics as (a) source of self-esteem–and why we need to take a darn compliment | Happy is the new healthy

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