Anyone who has ever picked up a fitness magazine, turned on the TV or browsed through Pinterest has surely felt the pressure to be in perfect physical shape. In recent years, more and more people are jumping on to the ‘strong is the new skinny’ bandwagon, and it’s easy to feel like an outlier if you’re not in pursuit of tightly sculpted muscles and a rippling six pack.
I joined Instagram less than three months ago and in a short amount of time, I’m already shocked by the healthy living obsession that seems to dominate this social media platform.
I can’t tell you how many times I cringe reading someone’s crazy diet or workout routine. In the past I would have felt pressure to be like these men and women, who brag about sacrificing social outings, bringing their own tupperware containers to restaurants and waking up at 5am to squeeze in their two-a-day gym sessions. I would have told myself my routine wasn’t good enough, and I would never be in peak physical condition unless I stepped it up a notch (or 10).
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to look like a fitness model. I wanted the perky butt, capped shoulders and the ‘V’ of a chiselled abdomen. Even when I found out I had PCOS and subsequently shifted my focus to become more strength-related in order to put my health first, I kept an aesthetic target in the back of my mind.
A few months ago something amazing happened: I stopped wanting a six pack. I finally felt completely confident in my own body, and I was content with the thought of never becoming leaner than I am right now.
I then started to worry. Does not wanting a six pack make me a fraud? Shouldn’t my goal as a personal trainer to be in optimal physical shape? Am I not meant to inspire and simultaneously dazzle my clients with washboard abs?
Fortunately, I know there is more to being a good personal trainer than having a six pack. At my job, I see about 40 trainers a week in action. I can promise you that just because someone has low body fat does not mean they have a clue what they are doing, or know how to get their clients to the same level. Of course, I think it is important to ‘walk the walk’ to a certain extent, but some of the best trainers I know aren’t necessarily in the best physical shape.
Unfortunately, just because I know this, doesn’t mean other people are not quick to judge. Last month I received some criticism on a blog post for apparently not looking fit enough. Here I was, the happiest I’d ever been – I was preparing to compete in my first strongwoman competition mere months after being told I would never lift weights again, I was completely at peace and comfortable in my own skin, and I felt completely free of any food-related issues I’d had in the past. Yet someone chose to ignore all of those achievements and instead focus on my body fat percentage.
I won’t lie and say that it didn’t hurt. I again started to doubt myself. Maybe my goal shouldn’t be to get crazy strong and instead I should chase that elusive six pack I’ve never had. But do I really want to become one of those people on Instagram whose lives revolve around morning cardio, dry chicken and endless gym selfies?
The answer is no. I love the way I live my life. Training in the gym is a highlight of my day and never a burden. Nothing makes me happier than feeling strong, and if I had to choose between that and a six pack, I know what I’d pick. I am happy at the (healthy) size I am, especially knowing I can eat what I want when I want (within reason. I obviously don’t eat junk food all day long as that would not fuel my body for optimal performance), without counting calories or macronutrients.
I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with wanting to look like a fitness model, but I wish more people knew the truth about what it takes to get there, and the fleetingness of the results.
The bodies I admire have changed, although I like to think that I am accepting of all bodies. It’s funny how the more comfortable you feel with your own body, the less you want to judge others.
I love the figures of the Lift Big, Eat Big women who brag about being thick and strong. I have a massive crush on Streaky, pictured above. I mean, how perfect is she?! These women are badass mofos who don’t care what anyone thinks.
That kind of self-confidence is completely inspiring, and far more impressive to me than a six pack.
What do you think? Have you ever felt pressure to be lean and ripped, even if it’s not what you truly desire?