Self-image and body attitude
There are many ways our personal self or body image can be a problem for us. The distortions that lead to anorexia are well recognised and acutely dangerous. There is anorexia’s mirror image muscle dysmorphic disorder where (typically) men feel that their muscles are smaller than they are.
These are extreme examples, but given the fact that our bodies are with us 24/7 it is not surprising there are more subtle traps.
I want to talk from personal experience about something less obvious, but still pernicious which the fitness industry glosses over.
I’ve worked with bodies and movement my entire adult life, either as a martial artist, a martial arts teacher, a personal trainer or coaching in gyms.
During most of that time barring injuries, I have been blessed by a body that worked pretty well. I enjoyed all kinds of training from Taiji (my ‘base’ I started at age 15) to CrossFit.
I was never especially driven by the desire to look a certain way. I was more driven by being able to do stuff rather than aesthetics, though I was generally happy with how I looked.
Working with others who liked neither their bodies nor exercise was cause for reflection. I did my best to model how they thought so I could help them be healthier and happier.
I am pretty non-conformist so I could genuinely poke fun at any social pressure to look a certain way. I despise those superficial aspects of the fitness industry, ab, ass and Instagram yoga.
So far so good. Until I hit 50. Or vice-versa, it hit me.
My body looks pretty similar but it is no longer the body that does what I want. Aches have accumulated. Exercise is no longer a default pleasure.
As a result, two things changed.
There was a kind of dread. What new ache or injury will appear during or after a session that stops me from doing what I want?
Second, my attitude toward the sensation of training changed.
This is significant.
As a trainer, I learned that one of the key characteristics distinguishing people who like exercise from those who do not is their attitude to the sensation of training.
People who thrive on exercise experience burning muscles and breathlessness as something that contributes to their fitness goals.
People who hate exercise interpret the same sensations as “I’m dying.”
Even in a simple session the sensations had changed meaning for me.
Movements I used to do with ease were out of reach. I’d battle with the same burning or breathlessness but with more ‘basic’ exercises. The gap between expectation and reality was so filled with painful uncertainty that the sensations now meant “what’s the point?”
Yeah, that’s an inspirational affirmation!
Less motivation meant less training which meant less ability which meant less motivation…
With the decrease in my physical ease, other parts of my life became harder.
Of course shit like this leads to the best lessons, some of which are wide in scope.
I cannot do some things that were easy a decade ago. That’s OK, even if it sucks. I cannot afford to give up. The strength that I can still foster is worth the effort.
To not get in my own way I had to give up my self-image as fit, agile, effortlessly physical. Not an obvious choice in an internet world of incessant positivity, of youth worship and shiny injunctions to achieve.
To get here I had to mourn. The way to acceptance is often painful. But acceptance is also the way forward.
I am moving more again. I train not to achieve some look, some posture, some weight or even to be healthy.
I train because having (or being) a body means that moving is the right thing to do. I have no choice but to dig into the process rather than the result.
I can be content with what I can do rather what I could do.