I vividly remember being in middle school and overhearing a boy say that he only liked girls who had abs but not six packs. The distinction there? I still have no idea. But for years I focused on trying to attain that societal ideal while I worked out, and only felt worse because of it. This led to an eating disorder and a very unhealthy body image. I was working out for all the wrong reasons. After recovery, I wanted to return to exercise but had no clue how to do it in a way that would be beneficial to my mental health and body image instead of detrimental.
Eventually, I figured it out. But many women still struggle with this issue. A simple search of ‘Workouts for women’ on Google turns up guides that focus on “Get Fit, not Bulky”, dieting, and how to make your butt, breasts, and abs look “better” according to society’s standards. Instead, we need to talk about how we can work out and feel good about our bodies, to make sure we’re exercising for the right reasons. For a break from the patriarchal “beach body” and some advice on how to change your perspective on working out, this is a quick, must-read guide to taking the beauty standards out of your workout!
Examine Your Motivations
Understanding what you want from the experience of exercise is really important to beginning the process. It helps you establish goals, boundaries, and expectations for yourself. One study found that being motivated by appearance was most associated with a negative body image, regardless of actual BMI. Consider watching your self-talk about your body while you workout and trying to focus on how exercise makes you feel instead. The most important motivation for your level of exercise should be what makes you actually feel good in your body and keeps you the most mentally healthy! Since exercise releases endorphins, moving and getting active can have amazing effects on your health. Go into it with an open mind and a willingness to try new things.
Make a Plan for your Activity Goals
Now that you know your motivations, consider your budget. Not everyone can afford a gym membership, but resources like apps, free Youtube workout videos, or just going for a walk are all accessible options! Some types of exercise are more fun or better suited to different people’s goals. If you want to relax, try yoga. If you want a break from the comparison and routine of a studio atmosphere, doing cardio outside is a great way to get active. Set a joyful goal of trying to move each day. Exercise should be like recess, a time to play and socialize, rather than a burden.
Get a Friend to Workout with You
One of the most fun parts of exercising can be sharing it with a friend! You can help each other reach your goals, encourage body-positive attitudes, and generally bond and strengthen your friendship as your release endorphins. Just being silly and figuring things out together can help you conquer the intimidating aspects of the gym and workout culture.
Find Body-Positive Fitness Icons
Motivation for exercise can be helpful, but often Instagram-style motivation accounts can encourage really poisonous body image ideas. Finding body-positive fitness motivation can be hard. But it’s not impossible. For example, cultivating body-positive workout playlists or following body-positive fitness accounts. Ultimately, remember you’re working out for you, not to look like anyone else.
The process of working out and discovering a new, positive relationship with your body can be daunting, but rest assured, people everywhere are struggling too. As women, we can encourage each other and recognize the beauty in all of us regardless of our culture’s unhealthy obsessions. Ultimately, forget the lingo and the numbers and do what feels good for you.