I have been that person. You know who I mean. The young 8 year old girl who wears sweatshirts in 90 degree heat because she doesn’t want anyone to see her new shape underneath. The teenager who is picked on for having short hair and being boyish. The young woman who covers up at the beach because she doesn’t think she looks like everyone else. The new person at the gym who is nervous and uncomfortable because she doesn’t know where the equipment is or how to use it. The young mom who looks at Instagram and Facebook photos and wonders how everyone else got their body back so fast. Yes, I have been that person.
I was active my entire childhood, participating in numerous sports and activities. I was naturally skinny, but that didn’t necessarily translate into a lot of confidence. Between an ankle injury and grad school in my early 20’s, I had stopped most physical activity and filled my days with studying and late night eating. It took a step on the scale and a random picture of myself to make me wake up and realize I was overweight and messing around with my own health.
I started running (actually we should just call it jogging realistically) and joined a gym. I used the free personal training sessions to learn the machines and took my time figuring out the layout of the gym. I took any fitness class that looked fun, and I found one of my true loves when I became Pilates trained in 2001. I lost 20 pounds and gained muscle tone where I had previously never even seen a muscle! Between that and my eating changes, I had increased energy, better digestion and all those wonderful things people say about being healthy.
Those things are all great. Yes I love feeling physically healthy and of course I like fitting into my clothes and feeling comfortable wearing a bikini to the beach. But that is not why I workout. It might have been my motivator 15 years ago, but that is not what makes me workout on the days I am tired, bloated, feeling sorry for myself or low on time. What makes me workout on those days is how working out makes me feel on the inside. I gained a self-confidence 15 years ago I had never had before. I walked taller. I felt more in control. I developed strategies in negotiating and work environments I previously had trouble with. It made me feel less reliant on other people and more able to deal with what came my way. I simply felt stronger.
I think anything that gets you to workout and be active is awesome, but I can say with experience that working out only to burn off the doughnut from the day before is not a long-term motivation (the doughnut will always win in my world). If you don’t truly believe in yourself, just losing weight won’t necessarily help you believe in yourself more. It’s the steps you take to get there that develop your confidence and show you what you are really made of. It’s walking in the gym when you don’t know what you are doing and asking for help. It’s walking into a store to buy workout clothes and actually trying them on to make sure you feel good in them. It’s telling your spouse/friends/kids “I’m sorry I can’t volunteer that morning because I have my Pilates/yoga/weight lifting/Zumba class, but I can help in the afternoon!” Those things take courage and they take strength. I don’t have more confidence now just because I lost weight. I have more confidence because I hang out with myself every day and make myself do sometimes scary, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes stretchy weird things that ultimately make me better. When I can do one more push up than I could the week before, I know I’m making gains, and I’m having fun seeing what my body can do!
Working out should make you feel better about yourself, not worse. Yes there can be growing pains when starting something new and yes you might feel funny or weird or have some muscle soreness. But those feelings shouldn’t persist, and there should never be any shame or regret associated with it. If you find yourself feeling worse about yourself after watching workout videos or attending a fitness class, go somewhere else! Find activities that bring you to life. That make you smile (even just a little teeny bit) while pushing through that extra set. That actually make you want to get up and out the door. That make you want to dance! That is what exercise should do for you.
While I know and remember what it feels like to be uncomfortable and scared and unsure of all of this working out stuff, I also know what it feels like to be confident. To learn new physical skills and be really good at some and really bad at others. To workout so hard that sweat is dripping in my eyes, so I can’t see if everyone is really looking at me. I don’t CARE if everyone is looking at me, because it feels good to work so hard. I know what it feels like to love my body – flaws and all. I know what it’s like to look in a mirror and lose all confidence with a single glance at the wrong angle or in the wrong lighting, and then to notice my young daughter watching me and catch myself before I say anything negative. Instead, I laugh and give her a kiss and pick her up and swing her around, because I am STRONG.