Friday, December 7, 2012

A Skinny Girl Weighs in on Weight and Body Image

Here's are couple simple questions to see if you have a healthy attitude toward weight and body image:

You see a thin, athletic girl running down the road. You think, a) Doesn't she know she's thin enough already, give her a doughnut. b) Wow, I wish I were her, but I'll never be. c) Good for her, she's got goals that aren't just about weight and she's working hard toward them.  

You notice an overweight woman in your yoga class who happens to be very flexible. You think a) Honey, it'll take a lot more than yoga to lose that weight. b) Wow, she's really brave to be here doing poses like that. I don't think I'd have the guts to show up if I looked like that. c) Good for her, she's obviously not going to let body image stand in the way of good health. She's working with the body she has in a positive way.

OK, so if you didn't answer "c" to both questions you may, like so many people, have some negativity toward weight and body image.

The above statements are all generalizations that I've heard as a yoga teacher about weight and body image. I've also noticed a lot of interesting posts on Facebook lately relating to weight and fitness. Some are meant to inspire and some are obviously backlash against society's portrayal of beauty. Some are healthy and others are downright scary.

For instance, one post shows a rhino running on a treadmill with a poster of a unicorn next to it. The rhino appears to be trying to run herself into the shape of a unicorn, something she can never be. Another shows Marilyn Monroe with her dimensions list on it, noting that she was not a size 0. Unfortunately, it's not the famous photo of her lifting weights.

For the record I've never been overweight and I'm genetically predisposed to being naturally thin. I wear size 0.Yep, I'm that skinny girl that everyone hates.

I'm also that skinny girl that everyone judges. If I run down the street, it's assumed I'm trying to make myself thinner than I am. If I eat a salad, it's assumed I'm anorexic. I'm not exaggerating here in the least. These are all true things that have been said to me. Just as overweight people are judged when they eat dessert and take the elevator, thin people are judged when they don't.

What I'm trying to say here is that we are all in this together. No matter what your size you will never land in that imaginary land called "Accepted by Everyone." You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Let go of size and focus on health and well being for a change.

Let's get this straight once and for all; fitness and exercise are not about weight-loss. If that were the case, I'd never bother to get off the couch because I wouldn't have to. Weight-loss can be a bi-product of exercise, a side effect if you will.

Sometimes it's not. In my case I gain weight and finally have hips from running. Some people find that though they exercise till they're blue in the face, the scale doesn't budge. There's a joke that goes, "I spent a whole month at the gym but all I lost was a month." But it doesn't mean that exercise didn't do them any good. Too many people refuse to make an effort to exercise because they claim they don't care about being skinny, as if that were the only benefit of exercise.

Pick a disease, any disease, from cancer to mental health and I'll bet you that exercise can either help prevent it or lessen it's effects. Exercise makes you feel good both mentally and physically. When I finish a run I feel like I can take on any challenge. I feel calm and centered in myself. When I practice yoga I feel I'm offsetting the muscle tightening effects of running. I slow down and care for my body in a more gentle way with yoga. 

Exercise, especially yoga, can help with body image issues too. Yoga teaches you how to work with your body and not against it. It teaches you to love and care for it and give it the respect it deserves. It shows you that though you might not be a particular size, you are still capable of moving well and have physical and mental strength.

As a yoga instructor, I've seen plenty of heavy people who are much more flexible than their lighter counterparts and stronger too. It's fun to watch a heavy person hold plank while a thinner person struggles beside them. I've also seen fragile looking people accomplish challenging poses with ease and grace. It just goes to show that the "package" or body type doesn't dictate the capability of the student.

Exercise takes guts. It takes a willingness to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It also takes a certain amount of self acceptance to say, "This is the body I've been given and I'm going to take care of it, not force it into a shape it was never intended to be." It takes dedication and commitment to your whole well-being, not just your butt and gut. Accept your body but don't neglect it just because it's not the body you want. 

And while we're at it, let's stop judging each other and ourselves. Let's get rid of this culture of us vs. them, athletic vs. curvy or whatever you want to call it. We all need support and kindness from each other and ourselves if we are truly going to be a healthy society.

No comments:

Post a Comment