Be fit but don’t work out for vanity; be slim but love your curves and your stretch marks; be healthy but don’t track calories; get the right nutrition but don’t go on a diet; be motivated but don’t let it consume you; don’t be overweight but never weigh yourself.
We think we have come a long way from the days of size zero models and airbrushed photos, but it’s now almost harder to fit into the world of women. Everywhere you turn, someone tells you you are doing something wrong. It’s wrong to track calories but it’s also wrong to overindulge; we should work out for our mental health not our physical health, but we also need to get in our 10,000 steps and make sure we retain muscle. How can we love our bodies exactly the way they are while simultaneously gaining muscle, improving our cardio, getting the right nutrition, and staying within a health BMI bracket? Am I the only one so overwhelmed by the constant shift in society’s opinions and advice that I have no idea which way to turn next?
I have always been an active person. Having danced my whole life, I have, for the most part, stayed slim and fit without trying too hard. When I graduated from Uni and the four hours of dance rehearsal, combined with hours of drunk dancing in the SU several nights a week, came to an end, I realized I wasn’t going to stay a comfortable size 10 unless I put in some kind of effort. So I joined a gym, downloaded My Fitness Pal, and went tumbling down the diet culture rabbit hole.
I tried everything. Keto, Paleo, high protein diets, low carb diets, no carb diets, and whatever else that week’s favorite Instagram guru was swearing by. I was not overweight, but I also wasn’t skinny. So for years I flip flopped between loving my curves and finally succumbing to buying the size 12 jeans instead of squeezing into my 10s, then next month desperately wanting abs and a thigh gap, willing to do whatever it took. I’d follow fitness fanatics on Instagram and hang on their every word as if it was gospel. I’d watch their “what I eat in a day” YouTube videos and try and copy it down to the last letter.
I was overwhelmed and constantly conflicted. I’d scroll to an Instagrammer with chiseled abs and read a caption about her new workout routine that’s made her look like a cheese grater, and I’d scroll a bit further to someone wiggling their thighs captioned with some long paragraph about loving ourselves and embracing all our womanly bits. I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing something wrong if I still wanted to look like the cheese grater.
Movement for change or rebranded fads?
Over the last few years, the social media world has massively shifted to the age of body positivity. People filling in their stretch marks with glitter, renaming them tiger stripes, dancing around in their underwear, wobbly bits flying everywhere, unbuttoning their jeans and letting their rolls spill over the top. It’s refreshing to see real women rising to the surface of a world previously dominated by thigh gaps and protruding rib cages. But now I notice I am slowly inching my way into another kind of rabbit hole—arguably a much better one, but equally as all-consuming.
We are not only being told to step off the scales and stop fixating on a number, we are actually being encouraged to smash them up! A recent Instagram trend has influencers and women all over the world taking a hammer to their bathroom scales, swearing never again to let a number define their worth. People are ditching the calorie-counting, the macro-tracking, and anything else that has branded itself a diet. Instagramers are even changing their names and their entire brand to completely disassociate themselves with the diet world. Clean Eating Alice, Healthy Chef Stef, Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide renamed SWEAT. Whether it’s because of their shift in beliefs or the criticism and hate they will endure if they are seen to be promoting restrictive diets and bikini body mentality, we will never know. Women are now demonized if they dare mention scales, calories, weight loss, or anything else that we previously lived for. Saying “diet” is like saying Voldemort. Because, apparently, you can’t love your body if you’re trying to change it.
Perhaps my mindset before wasn’t particularly healthy. Tracking calories is exhausting, spending hours in the gym is exhausting, but most of all, constantly thinking about food and fitness is enough to drive you crazy. But this new rabbit hole I find myself peering over the top off seems just as all consuming as the last. There’s so much contradictory advice; how on earth are we supposed to sift through the noise and decipher the pearls of wisdom from the new but rebranded fads?
Yes, maybe it’s not healthy or sustainable to track calories, but it’s also not healthy to be overweight. And the only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit, which we can’t achieve unless we know how many calories we are consuming. And yes, your weight is just a number, but how do you track progress and set goals if you have no idea where you started? And yes, curves are great and we all have stretch marks and cellulite, but is it so terrible of me to want to be a little slimmer, a little less wobbly, have a few less rolls?
Striving for our own perfect
My most recent podcast told me that it’s completely wrong to track your workout. We should work out to feel good, to get an endorphin high, and because we love the way sweating makes us feel. We shouldn’t work out so we know how much we can eat at dinner time. I track my heartrate every single time I work out. I don’t set goals and beat myself up if I don’t reach them, but I like to know roughly how many calories I am burning and see if I can push a little harder next time. And if I’ve worked extra hard, yeah, maybe I will have an extra helping of pasta at dinner. Does that make me a terrible person? A terrible woman?
Can’t we love our bodies but still want to change them? Can’t we weigh ourselves every now and again but not be completely defined by the number on the scales?
Sometimes I don’t love my body. Sometimes I put on shorts and wish my legs were smaller. Sometimes I track my calories for a few weeks and try to shed a few pounds. Sometimes I eat cake and pizza and drink wine with my friends and have no regrets. I sit in my bikini, not a care in the world; other times, I hide in high waisted shorts. Isn’t that more healthy than tumbling violently into either rabbit hole? Do I have to love every inch of my body to be classed as the ultimate healthy body-positive woman?
Women are so often defined by how much or how little we live up to the latest “ideal woman” fad. We used to sip on green juice all day and want skinny legs. Now we smash up our scales and color in our stretch marks. The new image of the ideal woman is definitely better than the last, and thank god we have finally turned a corner and started appreciating women in all of their glory. But I can’t help but think we are still being defined by someone else’s idea of perfection. It just so happens that today’s image of perfection is to be fully accepting of our imperfections.
Can’t we strive for our own idea of perfect without feeling like less of a woman? I’m not ashamed to admit that I work out to get abs; I’m not ashamed to admit that I want to lose weight. It does not mean I hate my body and it does not mean I judge anyone who has and loves their stretch marks and wobbly bits. But it shouldn’t mean that I’m a terrible woman for wanting to get rid of mine.