Why We Work Out

I have been examining how I work out, and my reasons for working out. I’m not sure when the change happened, or even how it happened, but I have noticed that my reason for working out has been to feel strong – to be strong, feel strong and look strong. Somewhere on my journey toward wellness I figured out that I want to feel strong more than I want to be skinny.

Prior to this little epiphany, I have been thinking about how women talk about working out. I noticed that when I hear women talking about working out it is immediately followed with: I hate my stomach. I hate my legs. I hate my arms. I need to lose weight. It’s not just women saying it – it’s also the magazines, commercials, and gym owners. The focus for female athletes working out is on escaping some type of hatred for our bodies.

I hated thinking this way. What if we actually got to a place where we worked out because we loved what our bodies could do? What if we did it because we wanted to see how far we could go? What if it wasn’t a punishment for disliking our features?

My workouts have been curbed lately. After facing some health scares and then surgery, I have learned that my body is precious. It cannot “do it all” so why should I expect it to attain it all?

I was always a high-level athlete. Working out and pushing my body to the max is in my DNA. Once my high school and college athletics were over I was faced with the idea of working out, but I did not know the purpose. I have always worked for a season or game. Now, I had to find out how to love my body just for the pure joy of being able to work out. My body’s dependence and reasons were no longer focused on a team or a sport.

Now, I don’t stand here talking like I’m impervious to self-esteem and confidence issues. I would be lying if I said I was. I wasn’t sure why I should workout once the sports were over. I looked at the messages surrounding me and I decided that I would work out to control my body and become skinny. I have succeeded in losing weight, so much that I was terribly ill and needed to seek treatment. I did not gain confidence. Instead I lost my period, my breath, my appetite for adventure and my center.

As I have navigated through recovery I have noticed a change. I have noticed that instead of looking at airbrushed images in awe, I just sigh and think there are so many people who are unaware that this body isn’t real. When I see the images of “perfectly” sculpted bodies on the covers of running magazines I think about how doing ab workouts for 4 hours a day isn’t worth seeing that under my shirt.

In church many speakers have been talking about the power of our tongue. Proverbs 18:21 states “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it [for death or life].” We speak things into existence. The words we put in our hearts is what we will feel in life. Changing my way I talk about working out has allowed me to begin to think differently about it. I now look at how strong my body is and I work out to feel strong instead of look skinny.

I’m not saying that I’m free from critical thoughts. Just like any other person, I still have them. When a friend talks about how fat they are, and how they need to attain the bikini-body, I will feel insecure for a few days following hearing that. What I have learned is to curb the conversation. I will change the subject, or comment on the idea of being strong instead of skinny. It’s not the norm – I’m well aware of that. I get the weird and shocked looks when I question why people want to get skinnier and why it’s so hard to love their bodies… but the truth is, until we start making others aware that it is okay to love your body, the change won’t begin to happen. Silencing the “fat” talk is the only way to take away the power because confidence and critical thoughts/ “fat” talk cannot co-exist. 

Under Armour’s new “I Will What I Want” campaign, featuring Misty Copeland, is an amazing example of empowering women and the strength of a body. It reflects on a rejection letter she got when she was thirteen, telling her she didn’t have the body for a ballerina, and then flips to her stunning dancing now, as a solo ballerina in the American Ballet Theater. I can’t think of a better example of believing in the power of your body – especially considering she does not have the traditional body of a ballerina, but instead one of a strong and powerful athlete.

I hope that one day women will work out for the love of our bodies, not for the hatred of them.

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