Body Image : Building Confidence
Posted on July 24 2019
It took me a long time to learn how to love myself; to find confidence in my own self and in my abilities. Some days are easier than others for me, but it has been a long road to self-acceptance and self-love. It took me years to find my passion and purpose in life, and most days it takes active work to remind myself of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come—mentally, emotionally, and physically.
On any given day, I would say that I am a confident individual. What most people don’t know or see is that I have a complicated relationship with my body. So much of my experience in dealing with my own body image has been perpetuated by the influence of outside sources—the media, other gym goers, family members, friends—those who celebrate every time I lose weight or criticize every time I gain weight. This toxicity builds up over time, with small remarks people probably don’t even realize they are making; all the “You look great!” or “You’d look better if...” comments on my physical appearance. Not to mention the inevitable: comparing yourself and your body to others in the gym or on social media.
There are a lot of areas in my world where I don’t necessarily fit in; but deep down, I think I was always meant to stand out. I’m black. I’m six feet tall. I carry over 200lbs of lean muscle mass on my body, and I have a BMI that is considered high. I participate in a strength sport as a female. I’m a personal trainer and coach, and I don’t have abs. Standing out, we’re told, is a good thing; but it can also mean feeling isolated or unusual, and at times—insecure.
Don’t get me wrong; I am incredibly proud of my body for all that it has gone through, and all the work it continues to put in for me every single day. I am not skinny; and I never will be, no matter how badly society wants me to be. I wear spandex, booty shorts, and legless singlets. I love my body and I will always embrace the skin I’m in—even if others have a problem with it.
While most people may never assume it, I’ve spent a lifetime struggling with body image issues. Most don’t know about how out of place I always felt, as the biggest and tallest kid in all my classes growing up. They also don’t know about my teenage years where I skipped meals for days at a time, ran miles on end every day to burn off the very little fuel I was running on, or stepped on the scale obsessively multiple times each day; all in a desperate attempt to fit in and not be “fat”—because I thought that was what was going to make people accept and like me.
I remember going over to a friend’s house and passing out in the middle of her bedroom. I hadn’t had an ounce of food in days, but I was losing weight and that gave me validation. There was also a time where I could sense the disgust and disappointment in a family member’s tone when they were telling someone that I was a beautiful girl, but I had put on some weight. By the end of high school, I probably looked like I had it all. I had lots of friends, a busy social calendar, I looked happy, and I was finally at a body weight that others felt more accepting of. All anybody ever saw was that I was shrinking before their eyes, and everyone applauded my weight loss. With the continued praise, came continued efforts to alter my body to impress and please others.
The fact is, we live in a society that has created such a sickening culture of obsession with bodies, beauty, and diets. This society that WE have created and embraced is the reason girls like me spent their developmental years incredibly damaged, left to struggle with the scars and the emotional baggage of constant dieting and a distorted body image—years later.
We live in a society that places so much emphasis on the perfect body and sex appeal. Society tells us which type of bodies we should consider “beautiful,” “sexy,” or “normal,” as if one body type is of lesser value because it doesn’t fit that mold. These days, we celebrate being “thick,” but being “fat” is a totally different thing. But is anyone actually measuring any of the body compositions of the individuals we so desperately want to judge? Or better yet, are we taking into account their quality of life, their overall health, or their personal happiness when we critique their weight or body? Who are we to determine what the best body type or weight is for another? How do we get to determine which body type is the best for someone else, and who are we to judge what someone else’s version of beauty or health is anyway? The body of anybody else is completely their business, and their business alone. You absolutely cannot tell a person’s health status by simply glancing at their body; you are not their doctor and you don’t know anything about their emotional or physical health—regardless of what they portray on the outside.
Here’s the fact of the matter: this vicious cycle has to stop. We have to take accountability for our own thoughts and words; and we have to start appreciating, loving, and celebrating ourselves and others. Whatever your ideal for happiness, health, or strength is could be very different than the person next to you at the gym or in the grocery store.
So how do we break this cycle? First and foremost, we have to start celebrating ourselves and our own bodies. We have to love every inch the body that allows us to accomplish incredible things every single day. Regardless of what your body looks like, it can be hard to love it—let alone even like it from time to time; but it’s important to make the effort to show yourself love, before you can expect it from anyone else. Furthermore, let’s make it a point to celebrate and respect each other. Some days are harder than others, so on those days we can’t seem to find a way to like our bodies, we may need a little extra love from the people around us—always try to be that light and love for others.
One of the most crucial parts of this solution is that we have to stop placing such an emphasis on physical beauty or aesthetics and start focusing on the aspects of a person and their character that truly matter. In the strength world, we are all chasing something—a new PR, qualifying for an event, a medal or certain placement in a competition, a weight loss goal, a personal goal or accomplishment, working past a mental barrier, etc. Remember that we all got into this for our own reasons, and we all continue to stay here for our own reasons. Just because my goals or my reasons are different from yours, doesn’t mean either of us are wrong.
We also need to remember that we all started our own journey somewhere, and we are all in different places along that journey. We always need to respect wherever others are in their own journeys. Nobody woke up and set a personal or world record, built massive muscles, got their Pro Card, or lost 100 pounds overnight. Every journey begins with the decision to take steps each day toward an ultimate goal, so it is incredibly important for us to encourage and support others in the lifting community on their own journeys—regardless of what our personal path looks like.
Support those around you, love those around you, and celebrate those around you for ALL that they are. Don’t ever judge someone by their physical appearance or project your own insecurities onto them. Be kind and polite to others on their journeys and respect the fact that each of us are on our own individual path. My journey looks different than the person in the squat rack next to me, and that’s completely okay. As strength athletes, we are all equals; and we are all worthy of the same respect and love, regardless of the body type we walk around in. We all know what it’s like to put in the work—to struggle, to fight—and that fight to become better, stronger versions of ourselves looks different for everyone.
You never know the battles that people are facing or have faced. Always remember this; both when you have an opinion about someone else, and when someone else judges you. Put yourself in the shoes of another, and consider the fact that their version of happiness, health, success, or progress, could be the exact opposite of your own version. Celebrate the little victories—your own and those of others on their personal road to bettering themselves. Know that your body is your own, and it is your business; but also know that the body of another is not yours to have an opinion of, or to be judgmental of.
The truth is, I’ve been heavier, and I’ve been lighter. I’ve been called fat and I’ve also been told I look too little. I’ve heard it all from people both inside and outside of the gym. It always stings, but it’s unfortunate when others within the strength community judge another’s body or put someone else down because of the way their body looks. We all know how hard it is to do all that we do, and we each travel such different roads to get us to where we want to be. Accomplishing physical goals is no easy task. It can sometimes hurt a little more to have someone who knows just how hard it is, making it a little harder for you by being unkind and judgmental—simply because their circumstance looks different than yours. And while some do this for aesthetic purposes, some of us are simply looking to accomplish personal goals or numbers that don’t always have to do with the number on a scale or the way our bodies look to others.
Participating in a strength sport comes with exposure to dealing with topics such as body image, weight class, and the blatant judgment of another’s aesthetics and personal appearance. While this can be difficult to face, I do know that participating in a strength sport saved me. Lifting weights has given me a sense of confidence I could have never even imagined, and it has empowered me to embrace the strong woman I am today. My body and my mind are now a reflection of what lifting has molded them into. I can’t always walk into a store and find jeans that fit well or shirts that accentuate my body type, but I truly don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t participating in a strength sport. Sometimes people comment on my aesthetics, and some tell me I shouldn’t lift heavy because it will change my body or make me look bigger. Some people tell me I am too big and should lose weight. This can all be difficult to deal with, but I know who I am, and I am proud of who I am. I am proud of this body of mine, that continues to thrive and continues to allow me to accomplish amazing feats of strength daily. I am also proud of so many other things that I have accomplished, outside of anything physical or aesthetic.
My body was built from a lot of heavy reps; a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and effort went into making this body my own. My body is a physical vessel that allows me to do what I love to do—lift heavy weights and teach others to lift weights. While I accept my body the way it is, I also know that I am so much more than just my body. I am an entire being, a soul, a personality, a brain, a wealth of knowledge and kindness, a compilation of accomplishments; I know I am not just a body, and my value lies within so much more. No one deserves to be hurt by another’s negative opinions or judgments on their body. No one deserves to feel less than, just because they may not live up to a physical ideal or standard that is simply unrealistic for them, for whatever reason. It is up to us to break the cycle. We must acknowledge that because others have not always been kind to us, we must be good to others.
I hope that by sharing my story, others learn to embrace who they are and unapologetically love themselves; regardless of where they are on their journey or what it may look like to outsiders. I also hope that by sharing my story, others can think about and talk about ways to prevent judgment and hurt—particularly as it pertains to our brothers and sisters within the lifting community. To those who have struggled or continue to struggle, you are not alone. It is a difficult road to walk, and often times daunting, but your story is meaningful and powerful—and you are the sole author of it. I hope you look back on your journey with pride and a smile and know how brave it is to challenge an ideal that society has so deeply engrained into our minds and culture. To each of you on a strength or personal journey, I hope that you encourage one another and work to love yourself each day; and that you lift everything you want, eat anything you choose to, and live your happiest, healthiest, best life—whatever that means to you, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.