As a topic that is near and dear to my heart, I could not help but to reflect on my experiences as a collegiate athlete and the body image issues that consume many young women on a daily basis. The article “How I learned to Love My Body As a Female Athlete” by Victoria Garrick highlights the stark reality that young, female athletes experience day in and day out, and the existing societal pressures for women to fit a certain “mold” oftentimes does not align with the responsibilities and physical demands required for sport performance. As a impressionable young woman, I felt like I was always fighting the battle between trying to look like the “skinny, sexy, delicate, gentle, soft” woman society wanted me to be and the “strong, confident, competitive, tenacious” woman athletics required me to be.
As an athlete, I needed to be able to squat more than 200 pounds, jump higher than 30 inches, and produce enough force with my volleyball swing to attack the ball hard enough to penetrate two blockers and hit the ground within the 30-foot court. As an athlete, I needed to be able to lift weights and practice anywhere from 3-4 hours per day (burning approximately 1600-2000 calories) and to fuel my body with the appropriate caloric intake to complete my workouts and to replenish my glycogen stores (requiring me to eat approximately 3500-4000 calories per day). But as a woman trying to fit the mold of society, consuming 3500-4000 calories per day was surely going to make me “fat,” and it was not “sexy” to lift over 200 pounds and to bulk up so much that my jeans would not fit over my thighs or my booty. Thus began my internal struggle between athleticism and feminism, a struggle that continues to haunt me more frequently than I wish to admit.
To conquer the body hate-fest that ensues with most collegiate athletes and young women alike, the best way to start is by shifting your focus from external to internal. The following steps have helped me quell my internal battles and have instilled in my mind that feminism and athleticism do not need to be mutually exclusive, but rather they can co-exist harmoniously if the right mentality is fostered.
- Focus on health and feeling well.
Stop obsessing over external appearances and obtaining an ideal body, and instead focus on the way being healthy makes you feel and what it gives you. You will find a deeper sense of gratification and more motivation to stay on track with this shift in mentality, and you will also begin to lose tolerance for the way unhealthy choices make you feel.
You can also reframe the way you look at diet and exercise as something wonderful you do for yourself rather than a way to punish your unhealthy choices. Feed your body nourishing food so you always feel your best, and remove the worries of disease and poor health. Exercise to relieve the daily stresses of life, to release endorphins, to fight anxiety, and to feel good. Meditate to get in touch with your emotions, to connect with the bigger picture, and to feel at peace with yourself and where you are at in life.
- Treat yourself the way you would treat someone you love.
Stop talking to yourself that way you would not take to one of your loved ones. If is powerful to recognize that the self-hatred you harbor toward yourself is not only unproductive, but it also begins a spiral that takes you further and further away from the things you want. How motivated would you feel to perform well for a boss who constantly demeaned you? Now imagine a boss who supported, encouraged, and nurtured you: how motivated would you be now? Our subconscious mind hears the self-talk and responds to it in a similar way, so make sure your self-talk is loving, supportive, nurturing, and forgiving. I challenge you to repeat a positive affirmation to yourself every single morning when you are getting ready to begin your day. Although it may take some time to believe it, in a short period of time you will retrain your thought process to be more positive and optimistic. When a negative thought about yourself enters your head, take a deep breath, release it, and repeat your positive affirmation in its place. Treat yourself with the utmost respect, and you will want to give your body the healthy choices that it deserves and needs to function in the best possible way.
- Stay positive and be grateful.
Do not waste time and emotions staring at pictures of perfect bodies and wishing to be one of them. If you need visual inspirations, find photos of yourself at your best, not someone else at their best. Learn to release negative thoughts about your body and to focus on the good that it brings you every single day. Rather than fixating on not having lost that 5 pounds yet, or not fitting into that dress yet, make a daily list of your accomplishments and your gratitude. Just like in the rest of life, when we focus on what we do not have or what we have not accomplished, we feel frustrated and ready to give up. Listing your achievements instead puts your focus on what is going right, which in turn motivates you to do more. No accomplishment is too small to be grateful for, because it has taken you one more step in the right direction. There is now no reason to give up because with this attitude, you cannot fail.
- Love yourself first and the rest will follow.
Learn to love yourself by catching and releasing negative thoughts, acknowledging your efforts and achievements, making positive daily affirmations, and seeing perfection in your so-called ‘imperfections.’ Ironically enough, focusing on loving and caring for yourself first will most likely lead to the external transformation that you have always wanted. Once you begin to treat yourself with the respect and care that you deserve, the habits needed for physical transformation develop naturally. You will want to nourish your body because you are grateful for it, so healthy choices will come with ease. When an unhealthy choice makes you feel awful, you will not stand for it because you know you deserve better. Before you know it, you will see your body transform physically, mentally, and emotionally and you will experience a healthy glow from the inside out. You will finally be at peace with yourself, and that inner beauty and peacefulness will translate to all avenues of your life.
For more information about the article that inspired me to write this blog post, I have attached the link to the article, “How I learned to Love My Body As a Female Athlete” by Victoria Garrick. Stayed tuned for more blog posts including ways to improve one’s body image with our new business venture MuscleSound! Stop by T.O.P.S. Physical Therapy and Osteopractics for more information on this innovative technology.
Written by Jordan Schaffer