Amongst osteopath appointment updates and sharing the exciting news of the arrival of a friends baby, one morning this week I sent Dave an update about how the number on the scales was the smallest it has been since Everly was born.
Fast forward a few hours when a few of us new mums got together to watch Taryn Brumfitt’s body love documentary “Embrace” where woman after woman shared with Taryn the things they disliked about their bodies. They described their bodies in one word as “wobbly” or “disgusting”. They explained how they had never swum in the ocean with their children out of fear of pulling on bathers or they hadn’t been intimate with their husbands for years because they couldn’t stand to see themselves naked. It was hard to watch. I had tears in my eyes and I don’t even know these people. But those women are representative of our girlfriends, wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. Body image issues are an everyday reality for so many of us, men and women alike, and it’s heartbreaking.
Why is what we look like so important and at what cost are we prepared to pursue our dream bodies?
This is my personal experience.
Back in 2013 I signed up for a body sculpting competition. I needed a new fitness challenge to keep me motivated and thought dropping the treats and adding in a couple of extra workouts a week would get me stage ready. 12 weeks in to an intense 6 month programme that overhauled my diet and exercise regime and I was the leanest I had been since I could remember.
I look at this progress photo 5 years later, post-baby, and think “holy shit I was trim”.
It’s what I don’t think when I look at this photo that gets me. I don’t think “holy shit I was happy in myself then and my career and relationships were flourishing”. It was quite the opposite really. In this photo, all I could see was where there was room for improvement. Additionally and more importantly, my career remained unaffected and my relationships with my family and friends either remained the same or actually suffered as a result of my quest for a perfect body. I would wake up in the morning thinking about food and stress about food when I was invited out to socialise, it became easier to turn down invitations altogether. If it wasn’t food I worried about, it was anxiety about whether I’d have time to complete my prescribed workout that day.
The process consumed me, I became obsessive about calories, macros and my physical appearance. I became socially isolated – High Tea wasn’t an option! My mindset and attitude was dictated by my body fat percentage and I was increasingly uncomfortable with what I was learning was required to be stage ready. Supplements were recommended to me that altered my core body temperature and later on, a form of laxative would be required to rid my body of additional fluid to achieve that “ripped” look under the lights.
If that was just the beginning, it sounded like a slippery slope to a very dark world in pursuit of something that was unattainable. Unattainable in my mind, simply because at what point does it stop? Can you ever achieve a physique that you are content with? That measures up?
This experience completely altered my perception of the physiques that are splashed across Instagram, advertising and billboards. No longer do I crave a body that looks a certain way, I am not willing to pay the price. I am much more interested in finding out what my body is capable of.
I took up triathlon in place of body sculpting. My fitness goals went from being about achieving a physical appearance that would be subjectively judged to a challenge that would test my stamina and endurance, and had nothing to do with what I looked like. I started with a small beginners triathlon in April 2015 and went on to complete the Wellington Half Ironman distance triathlon in January 2016.
This is my favourite photo from the race, I had worked so hard to be fit enough to complete it and there I was on the final leg. I had nearly nothing left in the tank on that run and burst into tears out of relief and exhaustion as I crossed the finish line.
To me, that overwhelming emotion experienced achieving something that is for nobody else to judge other than myself is what success feels like.
I am now out the other side of having my first baby and with that comes a multitude of body changes. Aside from horrendous heartburn and the emotional roller coaster that was the first 12 weeks, I enjoyed being pregnant and loved the miracle that was my growing, wriggling bump. My post-pregnancy body on the other hand, has been a lot to get used to.
For those first few weeks postpartum, everything is squishy and leaky and uncomfortable and our mid-sections look very different to before. Adjusting to and accepting the physical changes is difficult and led me down the path to almost daily weigh-ins again, the exact behaviour I had battled to reverse once before. It was timely watching Taryn’s documentary and remembering my own experience through writing this post to bring me back to a better place. We are so much more than what we look like and we shouldn’t spend precious energy, that can be used to enhance other aspects of our lives, dwelling on the things we dislike about our appearance.
I wish this change in mindset upon the women in the documentary who were on the brink of tears, baring the rawness of the emotion they experience beating themselves down with negative self-talk on a daily basis. I wish more women understood the price of achieving the physique of a fitness model and I wish that it wasn’t so glamourised. I wish my teenage sisters could scroll through their social pages and be inspired by the capability of women all shapes and sizes. I hope and pray that I manage to model positive behaviours, and David and I raise Everly to have a healthy relationship with her body and with food.
My body is not an ornament. I am strong and capable. I am passionate, creative, loving and determined. My body deserves love and respect, just the way it is.