Tuesday, October 9th, 2012...2:22 pm
The Fitness Myth
by Maren Hunsberger
Until recently, being aware of my body and how it looks has been a constant source of anxiety for me. I’ve noticed the same preoccupation in my friends: constantly worrying about how we look, how other people think we look, if we’re attractive. In high school our bodies changed and suddenly we weren’t automatically thin with super-fast metabolisms – we had extra baggage in places we didn’t even know were going to get bigger! As a track runner in high school I remember a schism that occurred around 10th grade, in which varsity and junior varsity shifted along the lines of who developed hips and who didn’t — some of us just couldn’t be as fast anymore.
This shocking and rather unexpected change caused us much angst over our bodies, and being desperate to regain control over something that seemed out of our hands, we started to look at what we could do to change it. Some dealt with it well, eating a bit healthier and contenting themselves with viewing track as a source of regular exercise, not really focused on the competitive side. Others tried to take back control by eating nothing and trying to keep up with their old times and competitors (this method usually ended up with someone in histrionics on the track in the middle of practice). Some, like me, just quit. We had given up, attributing this change in our bodies to a fault within ourselves — now that we weren’t as skinny or as fast we were worthless, an idea that made its way insidiously into our brains via our mothers, the media, or both.
Quitting track didn’t have quite the expected effect – not only did it fail to help us feel better, we gained more weight, felt worse about ourselves, and didn’t even have the endorphins or team camaraderie to help us feel better about it. This was just a slippery slope into self-loathing and possibly unhealthy ways of dealing — disordered eating or purging, which may have worked briefly but made us sick and even more insecure.
In college, with a little more perspective, many of us have decided to take back our lives, to become healthy people. The new barrage of “fitspiration” flooding social media sites like tumblr and pinterest have inspired many of us to be fit and strong, concentrating on measuring health versus measuring weight. The only problem with this change in outlook is that many of the paradigms by which we measure “fitness” have to do with appearance: having the sixpack, a completely flat stomach, no hips — that’s what got us into this mess in the first place! So what do we do when all of our goals end in unrealistic expectations that have been set for us? We have to make a change on the inside, in many ways.
As someone who has struggled with unhealthy weight fluctuations and who committed to a healthy lifestyle about a year ago, especially now that I’m a fitness instructor and need (and want) to set a good example of health for patrons and friends, I’ve learned that everything is about balance. Not such a startling revelation for a yoga instructor, huh? In food, we have to find that balance between the nutrients that our bodies need for fuel, the ones that make us feel healthy and clean, and the foods that make us happy (chocolate, anyone?). Neither deprivation nor overindulgence are the way to go with food. Exercise is something that keeps me sane, not something that I am chained to. It keeps me healthy in my mind and makes me feel strong in my body — even if I don’t look like the girls on the internet I know that I can easily run 5 miles and do a headstand. No sixpack is worth more than knowing what your body is capable of, that you worked hard to get it there, and that you’re proud of it.
The hardest balance for me has been in working towards not being so conscious of my body and my habits — there are so many things we could be doing with that energy and passion other than making sure we look good. If we take all the time and drive that goes into our obsessions with food or exercise and direct it outside of ourselves, we can do some really amazing things in the world. I like to think of fitness not as an unrealistic physical ideal, but of reaching a balance within ourselves that will allow us to finally turn outward and say, “What else can I do?”