Body Image & Fitness
The Struggle to accept and feel accepted
The internet is a frustratingly conflicted place. It will inspire you with meaningful messages and stories, entertain you with endless puns, and revile you with hateful rhetoric. And we will willfully experience these emotions since it is oxygen for us.Which brings me to a place where i am constantly struggling; Body Image and Fitness. A lot can be read about these things on the internet, but most of the ideas are independent and contained for themselves. I have personally never considered these two things to be different. In my mind, your level of fitness decides how confident you feel with your body. And personally, i have never felt confident.
Dealing with Body Image
For most of my life, i have been overweight. During school years, it can be especially hard, since confidence is the only currency when there is no real pedigree up for grabs. During the years that follow, it can be worse, since you are out there fending for yourself, and appearance & performance go hand-in-hand. I have dealt with my fair share of bullying and verbal (sometimes physical) abuse. It is a shitty feeling, and you start accepting the narrative if you face it long enough. As an individual, you start identifying as the fat kid. Which is where body image takes over. It is the mind’s response in trying to find peace and comfort, despite the lack of confidence. And the internet exemplifies the pros and cons of this frame of thought excessively. While it is good to not shame people for their body structure, it is also a false lie to feed when the matter comes to overall health. Personally, the more confidence we can instill in people, so that they are more comfortable about themselves, the better. A happy individual is more willing to listen and learn. But as is the case with everything in life, in excess it can turn harmful. A person’s confidence should not be built up to the point where they are ignorant of the health issues that come with obesity (or malnutrition). However, on the internet you will never find a safe place to speak your mind.
I have only recently started to understand the true nature of fitness. For me, it started in the year 2010–11, when i first underwent a certain amount of weight loss (back then i measured fitness as the scale reading; not an ideal approach, but a good enough place to begin) i realized that it shouldn’t have been that difficult for me to begin in the first place. The general sense of self takes a massive boost, as you feel lighter and fitter. And the numerous compliments on your weight loss, definitely helps your confidence levels. However, i was still very ignorant to the reasons as to why i had managed to loose so much weight, and soon enough, most of it came back. Around the time when i first started working, it never occurred to me that i might regain weight. But it came back quickly enough, before i could realize what was happening. Fortunately, it also came with a surprisingly succinct lesson. Weight loss and exercise can never be taken for granted. And with a renewed sense of purpose, i started exercising, and participating in sports. And while my weight stayed the same, i definitely felt fitter and sharper. Which lead to a better understanding of what defines fitness. Here too, there are many extremes to be found on the internet regarding the subject matter. It is wonderful to see all the available content on various regimes and programs, mixed with brilliant stories of accomplishment. It gives both inspiration, and direction. However, the other extreme comes with the excessive celebration of the physical aesthetic, and the get fit quick click bait schemes, that sooner or later creep into our content consumption.
The biggest challenge is finding the connection and balance between the two ideas. Body image is dependent on fitness, as much as fitness is dependent on body image. However, for both, it is a matter of cutting the toxic content in our consumption before we can rectify. For body image, we need to avoid the comfort of excessive confidence, and the pitfalls of unattainable physique and aesthetic. For fitness, we need to plan better, and avoid the ever-ready five minute solution.
What to Keep
I am fascinated with fitness in all forms. It offers peak performance, general betterment of physical movement, and life lessons that interlace the how with the why to provide wonderful philosophical snippets. But all this requires a certain amount of education, and awareness of what is needed. Which means that a certain amount of time has to be dedicated in educating the self, to understand all the aspects that pertain to fitness, as well as the type of changes that are needed. For me, it means focusing on better eating habits (a concept that is seriously overlooked, while being the most important). In the simplest of terms, your body will not perform the way you want it to, if the nutrition is incorrect. This is something i am failing at miserably. For all my awareness of correct diet and eating habits, this is something i have not been able to inculcate. However, it is extremely important in trying to push the body to perform better. Much like this, there are other aspects of fitness that must be focused on, in order to move towards better results. It also means learning to figure out the good and the bad. All information will generally push you in the right direction, but isolating yourself with quick fixes, and unrealistic standards won’t guarantee results. For the sake of sanity, it is advisable to avoid whatever you think constitutes a negative input or idea (That is everyone’s personal choice, so i cannot state with certainty what should get cut).
And the same principle applies to body image. I have never truly been happy with the physique i have, but i also realize the importance of not letting it affect me too much. Some levels of self-loathing are necessary to give ourselves that added push in the right direction. But the smallest of overdoses can consume one with anger, frustration and despair. I deal with minor bouts of anxiety, where i curse myself for not doing more. But i also accept the fact that change is possible, and it is mostly in my own hands. It is not a perfect balance, but its one i remind myself of consistently whenever i end up consuming too much social media. Heavy consumption can lead to ridiculous expectations. I’ll browse profile after profile of celebrity/trainer/model, looking for what i consider an ideal physique, with little consideration for the potential effort involved. I’ll see stories of people travelling, exploring, and being active, and fill myself with anger at not being able to do anything like that for myself. But i also realize that sometimes the content just needs to be cut, and thoughts need to be refocused. It does not dissipate the anxiety, but it helps prioritize the goals. And maybe one day when i have mastered that balance, i will have a better understanding of self.
Till then however, i will tell anyone who listens, what i tell myself. Body Image and Fitness are interlinked. Your body image is a projection of your confidence at your fitness levels. So try and stick to the basics. Stay aware, keep yourself educated, and reduce the consumption of the toxic extremes the internet offers (Once i figure out the how myself, i will be more than happy to share). You are not alone, but neither will you always be surrounded with the correct channels. Your ability to process and adapt, will ultimately decide how fit you are, and how you feel about it.