I was thinking a lot during this morning’s run. It was the last day of my eight-week Beginner 5K training plan, and it was my “race day” … the day I was supposed to run five kilometers, or about 3.11 miles. I’ve finally progressed past the point of having to concentrate on how I’m placing my feet, whether my shoulders and neck are tense, and if I can possibly get more oxygen in/carbon dioxide out. (Well, okay, I still think about that last one a lot toward the end.) Even with my obnoxious running music playing in my earphones, my brain still starts to wander and dwell on stuff that’s been going on in my world.
Today I thought a lot about an article a friend linked on Facebook. It’s about some images the author feels are six of the most irresponsible “fitspiration” images that get shared on Pinterest and other image sharing sites. I’m sure you’ve seen them or something like them — women or men with almost nothing on, sweat dripping from their ripped abs and defined arms, with some sort of hardcore slogan about endurance and persistence.
I hate a lot of fitspiration images. The reason I hate them isn’t as much the text about persistence and endurance, although I do agree that a lot of it irresponsible thinking. (Listen to your body. You do have an edge. Don’t hate your own self.) I hate the unrealistic imagery and the accepted sexualization in so many of these pictures.
Last week I linked my RunKeeper posts to this blog. After I finish a run, the run details, any notes I make, and a “featured photo” (if I have one) post automatically to Treacle.net. If you look at the posts on the main page, on Facebook, or follow me on RunKeeper, you’ll see a spectacularly lovely picture of me at the end of the run. It kind of started as a joke between me and my husband, who started a half marathon training plan around the same time I started my 5K plan: “Who has the worst post-run face?” We live in Houston, we’re running in the summer, and we both turn beet red at the slightest amount of heat. I did have another agenda with those pictures, though.
Earlier this summer, my five year old son didn’t want to wear shorts because he thought he looked silly. I’m not sure what made him think about it that way, but I do know that was my first big reminder about my kids’ body image. I’ve been really big on not getting clothes that I think will convey unhealthy images — super short shorts for little girls – I mean, really? I want to pay more attention to practices I don’t even notice but could affect how they view themselves, their standards of beauty and attractiveness, what they think is healthy.
So I take ugly pictures of myself after running, and I put them out on the internet for everyone to see.
I want my kids to know that sweat is SWEAT. It is not sparkling or glowing or dewing. It is not glamourous or in all the attractive spots at the right time. It is in my hair, on my arms and legs, it is dripping in my nose when I bend over for a cooldown stretch. It is healthy and it is evidence that I have done HARD WORK TO BE HEALTHY.
I have crazy hair and a red face. I have occasionally run in make-up because I’ve run after work or on a break. I’ll probably wear some level of make-up for the Disney race because it’s part of the costume. EXERCISE DOES NOT REQUIRE PERFECTION. You don’t have to look like a Disney princess to start exercising. You won’t look like a Disney princess after you exercise. But you will FEEL like you have vanquished all kinds of villains when you finish.
I have a mommy body. My once size 2 or size 4 frame is at least a vanity-size 8 or 10. I have a stomach that quite obviously (if you ever saw it) was stretched out to grow three babies. I have breasts that grew during pregnancy and extended nursing. There is nothing taut or cute … or is there? You will not know, because it is NOT ON DISPLAY. Exercise is for ME. It is work, and it is for MY BENEFIT, NOT SOMEONE ELSE’S PERCEPTION.
But I won’t hide my body. I will wear what I feel is comfortable and appropriate. I will take real pictures and put them on the internet. This is what my exercise reality looks like. Someone else may really always look like a Disney princess when she runs. I am proud of that woman. Not because she looks like a princess, but BECAUSE SHE IS RUNNING. That is the real achievement – she and I are both doing something for our health. What we look like is incidental.
I want my kids to know that healthfulness is habitual. It is hard. It is a choice. It is not usually glamourous. It is not about bottled perfection. It is about getting out there, doing your thing, and not being ashamed of who you are. It’s about making YOU better, not you into someone else’s ideal of you. I feel like the best thing I can do for them, body image-wise, is to model being comfortable with my own body and being real and unashamed. Crazy hair, red face, and all.