Guest blog 4: Gentle Paws

When I ask someone to share their views on my blog, I always offer that they can do so under a pseudonym. For me, using your own name is quite empowering and liberating, putting your thoughts out into the world and owning them. It makes you think about exactly what you want to say and how, because it’s the internet, it’s like a tattoo,permanent (perhaps). But, in the same breath, it’s a big ask at times to shun the safety of anonymity, especially when you talk about some controversial topics, which feminism and views on women’s strength seem to be at times (though it shouldn’t be). It’s disappointing that there is still a concern that what you say in a motivational and inspirational post, such as the one below, could somehow impact negatively on your professional career. Regardless of this, the following words from a dear friend from my university days who knew me at 120kgs, are so relevant to our everyday lives, and perhaps thinking about ourselves in a more positive mindset will open amazing doors for our experiences. 

How do you feel about yourself when you’re doing your thing working out – running, strength training, yoga, swimming, walking – whatever it may be? I usually feel fan-freaking-tastic unless I have a niggling injury. Our bodies are amazing complex machines that should be held in high esteem for all that they do! So why do we beat ourselves, and each other, up?

Putting aside all the gender inequality, misogyny and patriarchy issues, there are two mindsets I think play a significant role:

(1) Aspiration

From a young age I looked at magazines, then the internet, at all the ‘beautiful women’, mostly thin white women who look nothing like me, and became the teenager and young woman ever frustrated with my body for not matching. It is only recently, during my self-care journey over the past two years, that I have come to understand my body, myself and the misalignment betweenthe force-fed ideas in my mind with the true capacity and formation of my cooperating body and mind.

The collective thought of a nation sets societal standards – reinforced by the media, and frankly #shitoldwhitemansays because, as we are all well aware, the gender gap places more men in positions of authority than women – unless you grew up with self-loving female figures and surrounded yourself with self-loving girlfriends to combat the effects.

The “Perceptions of Perfection” project demonstrated the mass pigeon-holing of women with their global experiment: ask female graphic designers from around the world to Photoshop a photo of the same woman with the goal of making her more attractive to other citizens of their respective countries.

The results are astounding (see below):

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How can we even allow anything external from ourselves to set the standard of beauty for women, to determine our worth, to measure our value? Self love, self compassion and self care are made all the more difficult in this environment.

Goals, of course, can be incredibly useful, but aspiring for an abstract ideal – I mean these images are literally genetically (read: digitally)-modified (read: Photoshopped) women – is a waste of our energy. And comparing ourselves to fake images, or even any real person you know, is futile and harmfulto yourself – and, don’t forget, the women around us!

Some marketing campaigns aim to draw attention to real women and real bodies, such as Dove’sReal Beauty (see first image) and, as I saw displayed at the bus stop during my run just this morning, Target Australia’s Yay For Every Body (though I’ll save my thoughts on the white Australia policy evident in representation of women in Australian entertainment, and the cosmetics industry, for another time – I don’t see anyone who looks like me – where are all the Aussie women who aren’t white, fake-tanned?) to counteract the stereotyped and exclusive representation:

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while others continue to perpetuate the sexualised stereotype (e.g. Lorna Jane – there are certainly other stores out there, this just happened to be the one I encountered first-hand) – and I’m not the only one to point this out (cf. Ryan Jake’s open letter to Lorna Jane). I tried a few LJ items, and aside from being ridiculously expensive and really just not fitting my body correctly at all, I felt incredibly uncomfortable during my runs and strength training (i.e. physically overheated more than usual, and heightened self-consciousness).

Why am I expected to look ‘sexy’ at any time, let alone when I’m working out? Left (below): how one company chose to advertise female cyclist attire; right (below): another company’s take on similar clothing with a real-life fully-clothed model. Which do you prefer? Which makes you feel like an object? Which makes you feel like a human being?

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This is why I prefer to buy Michelle BridgesMB One Active workout shorts and pants from Big W(because #affordable) and Dri-Fit tops from Nike (because I have a health condition that can be exacerbated by overheating) because I want functional work out clothes, I want to see diverse models and I want to see real women. Mish and team could certainly do more on diverse colour, but they are doing well with shapes; the reverse for Nike, I feel.

Many have said this already and called for these changes but we’ve yet to see results on a wide and permanent scale, so let me show you an example of what I’m talking about – what I think the ‘new normal’ should be, i.e. everyone – Runner’s World #keepingitreal campaign (see all: runner’s 1-10and runner’s 11-20):

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and, recently Serena Williams’ New York Magazine photoshoot:

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We rarely consider the diversity in elite athlete bodies because those used for marketing tend to fit ‘the type’: tall, skinny, white – but we’ve got to remember that fit comes in many shapes and sizes (and colours!) (Howard Schatz (2002). Athlete):

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We all should be represented.
We all should feel included.
The message should place value in pluralism.

Runner’s World also presented the Body-Mass Index (BMI)’s of female Olympic champions in different fields displaying their corresponding ratings from underweight to overweight:

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I don’t know why, but all this made me think about something I heard from Ronda Rouseyrecently, something she calls a ‘DNB’, the type of woman that she does not aspire to be, and one that I prefer to translate as a ‘Do Nothing Body’. It reminds me, again, that:

The shape of my body doesn’t matter (i.e. I don’t look exactly like a fashion model), this body can run 15km+ and I feel AWESOME!
#boom #micdrop #feelit #learnit #liveit #loveit

= I am not a DNB.

#sheruns

(2) Expectations

Often what we see (photoshopped), what we compare ourselves to (the fake glossy picture) –  the basis for comparison and aspiration – focuses solely on a fairly sexualised aesthetic and neglects to really conceive of the logistics behind attaining and maintaining any particular body: the nutrition, the exercise, the discipline – and sometimes, a lack thereof in the case of body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

A little while ago now, I saw an article shared by a friend on Facebook from Precision Nutritionaccompanied by incredibly eye-opening infographics. Eye-opening perhaps for a reason not immediately obvious. It showed a break down of the benefits and tradeoffs for both male and female bodies depending on body fat percentage (see below). At that point in time in my self-care journey, it was incredibly interesting to me because it really helped me to see the progress I had made so far:

beva

But the real game-changer for me was the next infographic looking at, essentially, the behaviours and habits people in these groups exhibit (see below). For me, reading this not only reinforced the healthy habits I had been practicing, ones that were starting to feel like second-nature, but this also clarified for me what my long-term goals would be for the foreseeable future based on what I knew about my work-life balance and my desire for further change – I’m probably always going to be between 20-30% body fat percentage, I probably wouldn’t get to the visible 6 or 8 pack that a typical <16% body fat female has, because I’m not prepared and/or able to do more than that, and I’m ok with this decision:

bevb

Being 20-30% body fat doesn’t mean I can’t run or do anything else I want to do:

Eliza Middleton on Measuring Up:
“A six pack doesn’t mean you’re fit. A toned body doesn’t mean you’re fast. Just like a bit of extra body fat doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy.”

I’m probably always going to have my pot belly, jiggly thighs, love handles, stretch marks, and eventually get wrinkles and a bit of jiggle on my arms, and there’s nothing I can do about that – exceptmove, do my workout, whatever I choose, everyday. You see, you can’t target weight loss, you can only move your body to a point where it starts to burn energy and fat, but where those materials come from depend entirely on your body and its blueprint – your genes.

When this penny dropped for me it was uplifting in a that ‘burden-of-expectations now being lifted’ way. I couldn’t obsess about my thighs and pot belly any longer. All that I could control was whether or not I moved, everyday. As Mish said, every round of the 12 Week Body Transformation (12WBT) that I did, ‘consistency is key’.

Whenever I messed up – choosing to eat poorly after I let my emotions steer my decision making, missing a workout from #paralysisbyanalysis, etc. – I used to beat myself up to the point where I would be so down on myself it would result in another day of eating food that was not nutritious for my body and missing a workout. Eventually, I realised that I was not being fair on myself, it obviously wasn’t helping and that it’s not really about achieving the goal – that fleeting moment out in the distance – but really finding ways to enjoy every moment, the process; so I should be kind to myself, forgive the slip as Harry from Goals on Track said in one of his lovely emails, and remember what you already have and what you have already accomplished:

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This is part of reason why I now keep a gratitude diary within my journal / diary / schedule / habit tracker / bullet journal. At the end of the day, as part of my wind down routine, just two or three things I enjoyed that day – whether it was kisses and cuddles with my furbaby, having my freshly cooked favourite salmon lunch, writing about x topic for my thesis, catching up with girlfriend, saying hello to the older lady who always wears pink during my morning run, or reading in the sun.

I’ve also come to view my workouts, that I prefer to do first thing in the morning, as a very special time just for me. After the workout is finished whatever the day is to bring – a fairly unproductive thesis writing day, an annoying work email, a rude encounter with a stranger –none of it matters because I’ve already completely exactly what I wanted. That feeling, that perspective, that mindset has made a big impact in my life. I cannot be brought down (as far as I had previously) but anything that goes wrong or anything that makes me feel wrong, unworthy, stupid, ugly, unlikeable.

And on the days when I don’t feel like doing the set workout (i.e. Monday intervals, Tuesday lower body strength, Wednesday fitness test and tempo run, Thursday recovery run and upper body strength, Friday core, Saturday long run, Sunday rest day), I will still do something, whether it’s another day’s workout, take my furbaby for a long walk / jog, do my Rodney YeePower Yoga DVD (FYI – I live for upward bow pose).

Michelle Bridges 12WBT mindset lessons taught me many things. Maybe the most influential was#JDFI (just fricking do it) – a sort of aggressive command which normally doesn’t work for me, but in the context of her explanation, you gotta shut down the thoughts and anxieties (i.e. #paralysisbyanalysis) and get into robot mode: you get your workout clothes ready the night before, you go to bed on time to get enough sleep, you get up, you workout, you eat tasty nutrition food to fuel your body. All I can do is give my best everyday. That’s why Mish is always harping on about being ‘the best version of yourself’!

Somedays you’ll feel like you don’t have the energy and that your workout was craptacular; you’ll be incredibly disappointed because you were looking forward to cracking out a stellar fitness test (distance test in 12mins), or just going full tilt in your intervals. Whilst disappointing to you personally,it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things, because you consistently showed up and you did the work.

I’ve either not known that or forgotten that many times. When I was coming back from a small injury after some time off, I was very hesitant to just even try to get back into running, reaching that 10km. I thought it was impossible. I was worried I’d have to stop at some point in the run, to take a break – and I have this thing about not stopping during long runs. But a very kind friend from work, who thoughtfully listened to all my stories as I progressed said, “it doesn’t matter if it’s the slowest 10km, it’s still 10km”. How did I not think of that?!?! Listening to her advice helped me not only reach the 10km mark for the first time, but I found the slower pace I needed for longer runs and the best way to do it – lip syncing to my playlist! #winning

Awesomeness doesn’t happen over night, it doesn’t happen at one point (when the goal is achieved), it happens every day, every time your put on your workout gear. We really need to focus on the endorphins, the feeling of moving your body – not dwell on the shape and size – and that bloody Aristotle saying we’ve all heard:

“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

And that’s an achievement that is defined by each of us – however you so choose to move. It has taken me a long time to get to this point, so I hope that if you are reading this while your self-care journey is just starting out that you will be patient with yourself.

Reflection (Im)perfection

At the end of the day, if ‘tall, skinny, white’ is the ideal, is the perfect woman, then I don’t want a piece of any of that. And it’s not just that I physically, genetically, can never achieve that (#WOC), but because I believe in a different take on perfection, one touted often by Jillian Michaels: “It’s boring!”

So-called imperfections – acne, stretch marks, cellulite, crooked teeth, wrinkles, all the hair (from greys, and armpits to pubes), curves, lumps, sagginess – are all markers of my journey and my unique self. We should relish embracing each remarkable feature because life’s too short to waste trying to be someone else or worry about what other people think.

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And you can tell anyone who tries to convince you otherwise:

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To expand even further on this whole topic, I highly recommend the doco Miss Representation(2011).

For more, follow Gentle Paws on Tumblr and Twitter

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