I DECLARE WAR
As summer comes to a close, I have been reflecting on some of the things I have seen, heard, and experienced both in and out of the studio. In a nut-shell, here are some highlights:
- An on-the-beach wrestling match with a good friend, sunscreen in-hand, who refused to apply SPF to her overly-tanned and peeling body
- A plea to a good friend who insisted on following a strict (and extremely under-nourishing) “bride diet”
- A trasher tug-of-war with a seasoned Lither attempting to wear them in a high-cardio class during our lovely July heat-wave
- A dressing room heart-to-heart with a gal pal re: her horrified reaction to sizing- up on a pair of high-waisted shorts
Ever heard of a Sunburn? Skin Cancer? Premature wrinkles? Orthostasis? Cardiac Failure? Edema? Hair-loss? Dehydration? Heat-stroke? Coma? Body Dysmorphia? Disordered Eating? Mic-check 1-2… IS THIS THING ON?!
The truth is… yes! We have heard of all these things but… nope! We don’t care. We are accustomed to focusing on our outward appearance, at the cost of stifling our inner-beauty, health, and happiness.
As females, we have become conditioned to be overly-concerned with how “attractive” we appear to others. We have the propensity to internalize others’ view of our own bodies, the phenomenon of which has been termed self –objectification. When we self-objectify, we become preoccupied with how the body appears to others while simultaneously disregarding how the body feels.
Mind over Matter?
The disconnect between our mind and body can be dangerous, though: losing touch with how your body feels means you could miss important signals it tries to communicate. This can have a variety of consequences from poor form in class, over-worked muscles, to even a Lithe-career-ending injury.
Rest assured. We aren’t crazy, superficial freaks. Paying attention to our outward appearance is innate and, I would argue, adaptive. From an evolutionary standpoint, it made sense to present the best possible version of ourselves to potential “mates.” Appearing attractive to the opposite sex was advantageous—and necessary—because it allowed us to procreate and carry on the tradition of the human species. But we are nowhere near in danger, as humans, of becoming extinct. Our abilities to survive are not questioned (except in the occasional Lithe class!) in the ways they once were, yet our focus on our appearance has evolved to create higher standards and a more narrow definition of what is “attractive.”
We are constantly comparing ourselves to others; we constantly encounter “body-image threats” when face-to-face with someone we perceive to be more attractive than us. This can result in a variety of deleterious effects including body-image concerns and negative mood.
As avid exercisers, one would assume the average Lither does not deal with these issues since we are shakin’ it on a regular basis, but research suggests otherwise: self-objectifying thoughts, also known as body surveillance, are often triggered in exercise situations. Of note, however, is that women who do this will engage in less physical activity than their peers who are able to avoid these kinds of thoughts and behaviors.
Further, this study out of the University of Birmingham found that, compared to women wearing baggy clothes, wearing tight, revealing exercise clothing heightens exercisers’ levels of self-objectifying thoughts. Being surrounded by mirrors and flanked by beauties in tight clothes (pretty accurate description of a class, from an Instructor’s point of view!) seems like a recipe for constant body surveillance, sure! But it doesn’t mean we have to give in to the pressure
A Call to Arms
It’s a war-zone out there: competing images and messages about inner-beauty are waging war against the attractive ideal portrayed by the media; disordered-eating, numbers on a scale, and living in the digital age of being constantly photographed… these things have also come to battle. Not to mention the inner term-oil within our own minds. In this battle-zone, where all weapons are drawn, are you going to triumphantly survive or passively surrender?
Your body is your biggest ally. Use it to help you win your battles, not create them. The sooner we can conceptualize our bodies as allies, instead of enemies, the sooner we learn to mend the split between what we want and aspire to be, versus what and who we are.
We need to focus less on ourselves as observable objects and more as people. We have extraordinary bodies that can do remarkable things (cue mental image of Melissa’s heel-stretch push-up on instagram). Have you seen Elizabeth blow through a 3 sets of penny pushers? Tiff rockette-kick at 7-months preggo? Ever witnessed Meg’s graceful out-in-outs or effortless flexibility? Watch Liz sprint it out? Ever seen Bari lunge at the barre? Danielle fights arthritis related joint-pain on a daily basis, but you would never know! God help anyone that comes between her and a set of plyos. Those girls are warriors, and I would gladly follow them in to battle any day.
One year ago, I couldn’t do a set of push-ups to save my life. Today, I blow through ‘em all yet find myself winded after that second set. Tomorrow, I’ll kill all three sets with a smile on my face. That is what I choose to focus on. And when I do, it makes the size of my derriere seem less-important.
So, next time you find yourself objectifying your appearance in class or comparing yourself to others, try to keep your head (and knees!) up. Don’t miss a beat of that CCS, but do take a quick moment for a check in: “did I come here to feel bad about myself and cheat myself out of a workout, or did I come here to FIGHT?”
So, dearest Lithe Army, please say you will fight with me. Let us slap on some baby-blue war paint. Together, let us rockette-kick our way up to the front lines of this battle, and prepare to kick some serious tail. Take a look at those biceps. Those are your guns, and the only weapons you will need in this fight. Let’s draw our line in the sand, if only just for one day or one class, and wage war against self-objectifying thoughts that weigh down our hearts and bodies. I already feel a little lighter, stronger, and lither… and I hope you do too.
Image of Lithe Instructor Kim Sauer wearing Lithe via Dom