How to Build The Perfect Body: A Discussion on Body Image

This is a collective effort article, lead by NF Team Member Staci.

We get a ton of emails from people asking how to change.  How they can lose weight, change their body shape, get those elusive abs, etc.

This is not surprising.  Studies have shown that up to 97% of women and 80% of men are unhappy with their bodies and overall appearance.

One of the big concerns we hear from people is that they are so uncomfortable about their appearance that they are afraid to even step foot in the gym.

The “ideal” body is thrust upon us at every turn – from the doctor’s office, to movies, to magazines.  It brings up a lot of questions:

Should we be comparing ourselves to a particular image?  

Is there anything wrong with having goals that are purely physical? 

Is there anything to this idea that we should all be comparing ourselves to a collective image?

If not, what CAN we use? 

Let’s find out!

What is ideal?

joggers

Walk through any grocery store aisle and you will be greeted with magazines with phrases like:

  • “Lose weight without dieting!”
  • “Slim Down the Easy Way”
  • “Lose Inches All Over!”

For guys, it usually sounds like:

  • “HOW TO GET SIX PACK ABS”
  • “Gain Muscle Fast With these Moves”
  • “Bigger arms now!”

The media tells us that women need to be as tiny as possible, and men should be big, muscular, and have washboard abs.

AKA women need to look like Barbie, and men should look like He-Man.

Female models are photoshopped to “perfection,” removing any cellulite, blemishes, increasing bust size and often removing inches off of their bodies.  Having any sort of muscle tone is considered a negative, and when celebrities start to get fit, they are constantly put down by the media. When they are featured in magazines, their muscles often airbrushed off.  

And for men, of course, there are plenty of unattainable standards as well.  You should be tall, with huge arms and 6 pack abs, or you’re not a real man. So, all focus has turned to getting rid of your “beer belly” and “moobs” and how “to get shredded!”  Even video games can reinforce these current “standards” for men.

These standards pushed upon us from every direction, touting that one body shape and size is the “ideal” for everyone…that we should all strive for it at the expense of everything else.

The first question we should be asking is “why?” Not only are there naturally many different body types, shapes, and sizes, but the ideal they are pushing on us is actually only found in less than 5% of the population.

Now you might be thinking: “I thought this was all getting better!?”

Not exactly.

All over the internet, people are screaming things like: “Strong is the new skinny!”/” Strong is the new sexy” / “REAL women have curves!”

While we appreciate the sentiment that women should be strong, and that it’s okay to not be stick thin or have curves – all of these posts have one common theme: they are all still saying that one body type is better than another.

Here’s the truth: some women are naturally very skinny – and will struggle to look “curvy.” Others may be naturally “curvy” and will struggle to look skinny.  Some guys can pack on muscle, others are very, very thin.

We call that “genetics!”

Here’s the truth: strong is healthy, and healthy is sexy. You can be skinny and strong and you can be curvy and strong. It doesn’t matter what shape you are – health is what’s sexy and attractive and what we should be touting.

At the end of the day, efforts to thrust one body type forward as the be-all end-all physique don’t solve anything.

Instead, it just shifts the problem from one group to another.

Everyone likes something different

shapes and sizes

Magazines poll all the time on which body is the most preferred – both for males and females.

The results are never consistent and depend on the country you’re in and who is being polled. The only constant thing about these polls is that everyone likes something different – both in themselves and the sex they’re attracted to. When there is a consensus around average body type, it’s exactly that: an average of a diverse set of opinions.

So, the question again is this: “Why is this something we’re even discussing?”

We were all born with different body shapes and sizes – does it matter what others prefer?

After all, our standards of “perfect” and “ideal” are entirely fickle, dependent on the time and culture.   

Take a look at two major male sex symbols in their own time, Marlon Brando and William Shatner (Captain Kirk). These guys aren’t shredded, with waxed chests, and 6-pack abs like every cover of Men’s Health ever. Instead, in their time the “ideal” look was simply strong, without being too lean.

One of the best examples of this can be seen by looking at some of the actors playing batman throughout the years. Or James Bond.

Women are no different. In the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, a product called “Wate-On” helped women put on that last few pounds because “true beauty includes a full figure.” Or take these photos of dancers from the 1890’s, an ideal the mainstream media would no doubt consider “plump” by today’s standards.

And yet, in all these different times with all these different standards, the men and women of their time all sought to conform:

Vintage body modification and cosmetic devices show men of past generations struggling to adapt to their time.

For women, it was anything from corsets to binding their feet.

As far back as we can look, we have been willing to do whatever it takes, sacrificing our health to change our bodies to fit an unrealistic ideal.

So if standards change, and the Hollywood standards of male and female beauty would certainly be odd 50 or 100 years ago – what actually makes the perfect body?

What should you be setting your fitness and weight loss goals on?

Let’s ask the doctors!  After all, they would never steer us wrong, right?

Healthy Ideals?

tape measure body image

When you step into your doctor’s office, you’re presented with two charts: an ideal body weight chart and a BMI (Body Mass Index).

There are many different calculations for ideal body weight, but they all look something like this:

  • 115 lb (52 kg) + 4.2 lb (1.9 kg) per inch over 5 feet (man)
  • 108 lb (49 kg) + 3.8 lb (1.7 kg) per inch over 5 feet (woman)

Perhaps the most popular “ideal” calculation used in the medical field is BMI. This calculation isn’t rocket science, but rather taking your weight and dividing by your height.

With BMI you get a number, and in the United States, “healthy” is considered 18.5-25.

Here are Staci’s stats: I’m around 5’5” tall, 150lbs, and around 17-18% body fat. I wear a US size 2/4, or an XS/S in most brands of clothing. Yet, if we plug my numbers into these calculations, I’m at the very top of my BMI (BMI recommends 111.2lbs – 150.2lbs), and my “ideal weight” is around 123 lbs. Not only am I almost considered overweight, but to hit my ideal weight, I would have to lose 27lbs.

The last time I hit a weight that low, I was wearing a child’s size 12 and was told I’d be admitted to the hospital if I didn’t gain some weight immediately. While 123 lbs is a good weight for a lot of women who are 5’5″, my frame size is too large to support that little weight.

So how are these numbers so off if they’re used so frequently as the “ideal” by our doctors? If you look at the calculations, they only use two main variables – height and weight. You can’t possibly tell me that every single person on this entire planet that is 5’5” tall should weigh the exact same.

We all have different body types, frame sizes, body fat percentages, etc., and will look different even at the same weight.

Simply put: there’s no easy way to create a standard for what a human should weigh because we are all so very different in so many ways. Yes, if you are overweight and don’t exercise then BMI is a decent starting point for determining level of ‘health,’ but it’s fractional at best.

So why are they used? Because there’s no overly accurate way to calculate body shape and frame size (there are a few methods, but they’re about as accurate as BMI), and this is something a busy doctor can quickly calculate and measure in seconds.

We address BMI (and how to calculate your body fat percentage, a far more accurate method for determining if you’re “healthy”) in this epic post, if you’re interested in nerding out on the subject 🙂

who do we listen to?

listening to others

It’s always funny to see a picture of a strong woman (with you know, a bit of muscle) posted on Facebook or Twitter.

It usually doesn’t take long until there are a few comments about how girls shouldn’t have muscles because they prefer their girls to be either skinny, curvy, or whatever the “ideal” happens to be.

But for some reason, instead of just not dating girls with muscle (because there are plenty of guys who DO like skinny girls, curvy girls, or girls with muscle) – they need to make a comment and to tear down the person in the photo.

For guys, it’s often the same story; you will see comments about how they are too scrawny, that they have chicken legs, or the exact opposite, how they MUST be using steroids and that they are vain.

When Hugh Jackman posted a photo of him at 44 years old deadlifting 400+ pounds on twitter, the internet immediately started making fun of him and telling him “don’t skip leg day, bro” because his legs weren’t tree trunks, or that they could lift more than him because, it’s the internet.

Sigh. As a skinny nerd with chicken legs who never skips leg day, Steve can sympathize with Wolverine.

When Staci’s success story came out, there were discussions on a few different sites on whether or not she should have lost the weight at all. Some argued she was more attractive at one weight, while others argued for another. Sometimes they even critiqued specific body parts.  Other’s emailed Nerd Fitness letting Staci know exactly why she was wrong for losing weight and altering her physique.

So, Staci took an important next step: She quickly stopped reading any discussions about her outside of Nerd Fitness. She didn’t change her body and lifestyle to make herself more attractive to some random dude on the internet – she changed her life for HER health and FOR HER.

The truth is, when you listen to polarizing comments and opinion articles on the internet about body shape and size, you’re letting some random person you don’t know dictate what is arguably the most important part of your life: your body.

For example: one of the biggest trends in women’s body image right now is the “thigh gap” – which is better known as “feet together, thighs apart.” On sites all over the internet young women are told that this is the ideal look.  But in all reality, many women are physically incapable of achieving this due to their natural body size without being deathly thin.

So why do we let trends like this influence our bodies?

And why are there even body shape trends at all?

Hell, even Olympians – the worlds BEST athletes – don’t fit into the same ideal – some of them are smaller and others larger. Some of them have more curves, while others have more lean muscle. Who is to say that the basketball player has a more perfect body than the marathoner? They are both healthy and using their bodies to do what they love.

I’m sure many people would tell you that they personally preferred the look of one over the other – and that’s great.

That’s a part of being human! We are supposed to all like different things. How boring would it be if we all liked the exact same thing?

Going too far the other way…

Going the other way

Just as comparing yourself to those you can’t possibly live up to is dangerous, so too can it be dangerous to compare yourself to those who are unhealthier than you.

If you are 300 pounds and incredibly unhealthy, it’s not wise to simply find a 350 pound guy to think “welp, it could be worse! At least I’m better off than that guy!”

We’ve all done it.  Whether its justifying a bad decision we made, staying in a situation that we should have long gotten out of, or simply choosing not to improve ourselves in some way, we justify our behavior by finding those worse off than us and saying “at least I’m not him/her.”

We call this “good enough” syndrome,” and it can be equally detrimental.

What it all means: The only person whose opinion on your body matters is you.  The only person you can accurately compare yourself to is YOU from yesterday/last week/last month/last year.

A better version of you is all that you can strive to be.

The pursuit of ideal

Ideal

So if we can’t use the media, doctor’s charts, or other people to tell us what is perfect, then what DO we use?

Sit back and ask yourself two questions:

  1. Are you healthy?
  2. Does your body allow you to do the things you want to do in life?

If you answered yes to the above two questions, then your body is ideal.

Ideal is when your body is built for doing what you want to do, to the best of your abilities. You are always going to be switching “ideals” depending on what you are doing in life and as your goals change.

  • If you want to be a marathon runner, your ideal would be building a body that is optimized for endurance.
  • If you want to be a power lifter, your ideal might be a body with more body fat and muscle than you currently have.
  • If you want to be a martial artist, your ideal might be a very low body fat percentage and muscles built for power.

Steve’s physical goals constantly change depending on the ‘version’ of Steve he’s trying to build.  These changes are a result of goals that he has set for himself, not to live up to somebody else’s standards.

Look at someone like Ali McWeeny – a powerlifter who lost one of her legs in an accident. Despite her misfortune, she does what she loves, is healthy, and is kicking more ass than ever. This is her ideal.

What if you answered NO to one of the questions each week?

Then it’s time to make some changes.  

And that’s what we’re here for. To help you understand how your body works, and how you can improve it to achieve your desired results.

In the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, health is number one above all else.  Don’t worry about numbers on the scale and focus on small changes that add up to big changes. Start making small changes today, not tomorrow. Get moving now.

How to define your own ideal

Rebel

Let’s face it, even if you didn’t answer “no” to one of the questions above, statistically almost all of us are unhappy with our bodies in some way. We’re Rebels in the heart of the Empire.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can fight back and level up your life without following the herd off the cliff:

Focus on performance goals, such as reaching a 300 deadlift or doing a handstand, instead of adopting purely body shape and size goals. When you adopt only physical goals that reinforce the false ideal, you’re selling yourself short and focusing on one of the least important parts of your transformation. Instead, focus on doing new and awesome things, and that “ideal body” that you want will follow.

REMEMBER: Appearance is a consequence of fitness! 

Do what you want to do, and enjoy every second of it. Seek out activities that improve your health THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY. If you hate your workout, you are doing something wrong. Find something that can be a reward in itself, not just a means to an end. Turn the attention away from the “perfect body” you are striving for, and instead focus on the here and now.

Enjoy each new level, rather than just scrambling to get to the end-game “credits” screen.

Be proud of your achievements as they come. Put a focus on celebrating achievement and hard work.  That’s what the W00T Room is for! Make your victory about the obstacles you overcame and your new capabilities, not only about your improved appearance. Recognize that the level 50’s you see didn’t go from sedentary to awesome over night. Be proud of each and every small step.

Surround yourself with Rebels. No matter how hard we fight back, the “ideal” is all around us. Magazines, commercials, movies, and even ingrained in friends and loved ones. Counter this effect by bringing some balance to the force: surround yourself with Rebels. This could mean actual Rebels over at the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, or any group of people who value health and performance over random ideas of appearance.

Realize that you can’t change certain things about your body.  We get many emails from people asking how to get rid of stretch marks, cellulite, or how to get rid of loose skin. The truth is, there’s no magic pill or cream that can make any of these go away. These are all natural things that happen with our bodies and nothing to be ashamed about. Yet people will not go outside wearing shorts or take off their shirt at the beach because they are afraid of what other people will think.

If you have stretch marks from being pregnant: YOU CREATED A HUMAN with your body – be PROUD of those stretch marks.

If you have stretch marks or loose skin from losing weight: be PROUD that you won the battle and lost all of that weight.

Wear those battle scars like badges of honor: not as imperfections or problems, and be proud of your journey.

Realize that nobody out there is as critical about your body as you are – and that things that you consider negatives about your body could be the goals that others are working their butts off to try to achieve.  The things that Staci used to hate about her body are the things that she get complimented on the most.

Try this: When looking in the mirror, think/say one positive thing instead of something negative.  As soon as you think anything negative, step away.

Instead of saying “my hips are so big” or “my arms are so scrawny,” say “I love how my body curves” or “I look really strong today.” I know it sounds silly, but simply saying something positive about your body out loud every day can gradually change your perception.

The most attractive thing about any person is a combination of health, confidence, and happiness.

If you ever hear someone talk about a child when it is just born – one thing you will hear over and over again is that the child is perfect in every way because it’s healthy.

Despite what we might think, this doesn’t change as you get older.

Be you

be you

At the end of the day, the only thing you can work on is becoming the best version of yourself.

“Ideals” can’t be trusted, who knows where they’ll be in five years or ten, and they are unrealistic for the majority of the population anyways. Sheesh, the models you are looking at don’t live up to the photoshopped versions of themselves!  Even Cindy Crawford says that she wishes that she looked like Cindy Crawford.

There’s a drastic difference between reality and the idealized “reality” that’s put in front of us. Never forget that.

Don’t fall into the trap of letting others set the standards of your health and beauty. You can spend your time on this planet changing yourself to meet the standards of others, or you can realize your own beauty and be proud of it.

Constantly push to better yourself, to become your own ideal.

Rebels come in all shapes and sizes. We like weightlifting, marathons, strongman competitions, gymnastics, parkour, swimming, yoga, live action role-playing, and everything in between.

We’re a community of diverse awesomeness, and we’re glad you’re here.

Just by being here and seeking a better life, you are ahead of 90% of the population.

Stop worrying.

Let go of the anxiety, let go of the constant struggle, enjoy being who you are, and start leveling up your life today.

Let’s get the discussion started:

How have you been able to block out unhelpful comments and comparisons?

What are your thoughts on body image?  

Are things getting better?  Or is it more of the same?

Is “strong is the new skinny” inspiring, or detrimental?

Words of advice for those struggling with this stuff?

-Staci

###

photo source: belly, statue, Mona Lisa, characters, tape measure, ideal, sleeping animal, rebel, runner

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  • David

    Just wanted to say great article Staci, thank you.

  • Hannah

    Great article, Staci! I find “Strong is the new skinny” disturbing because in promoting it many women erroneously believe they are fighting back against unhealthy emphasis on thinness. In reality, the underlying mindset for “fitspo” is identical to that of “thinspo” – women finding their worth in their physical bodies. Unhealthy obsession is comparing yourself to others and using guilt to motivate yourself. Our physical bodies are a critical part of our identity, but they do not define what is inside, which is what really counts. A healthy, active mind will often manifest itself in a healthy active body, but a good-looking physique may equally be the manifestation of narcissism, insecurity, and misguidance. I absolutely love how nerdfitness consistently emphasizes that human value rests on something much deeper than physical condition.

  • staciardison

    ha! for real. no one is better than that! don’t discount his compliments and try to see your body as what he sees! 🙂

  • k61

    absolutely love this!!

  • Wiredwisk

    I get what you are saying. When I was younger I was always worried about my weight, thinking I was fat when in reality I was ridiculously underweight. And then I gained a bunch of weight and finally grew comfortable with myself and how I looked. In July I decided I needed to lose weight, not because I was unhappy with my appearance, but because I didn’t want to get diabetes like my mother. I find that now that I’m losing weight, I’m critical of my appearance again, thinking that I’m not working hard enough of moving fast enough. I worry that the more weight I lose the more pressure I’ll put on myself to meet an ideal that I haven’t even actually defined. To lessen the stress, I keep trying to focus on the actual reason I’m on this journey; I don’t want to get diabetes. Anything that changes with my physical appearance is really just a bonus.

  • CindyM

    You are truly an inspiration!!!

  • James Parker

    yeah. it turns into a nasty spiral of awfulness.

    and thanks for y’all being so great. it’s a very welcoming and supportive environment.

  • staciardison

    completely agree 🙂

    and the models in the “fitspo” are often airbrushed and have a look that is just as impossible to achieve as any other media outlet!

  • Candice Brothers

    Great article! Body image for men and women is certainly a huge issue. My boyfriend struggles with that a lot. He’s lost 200 lbs since we first got together 3 years ago. He looks amazing, but still struggles with seeing his older self in the mirror. Any advice for helping him see what I see or at least give meaningful encouragement?

  • Candice Brothers

    Congrats on losing 100 lbs! Great quote from Bruce Lee by the way.

  • Pingback: Practicing What I Just Preached: Writing Down My Goals | Following Fit()

  • Trent

    Great stuff! Of course, since I already have a perfect body, it doesn’t apply to me (ha! ha!). I spend a good deal of time fretting about my gut and not enough time celebrating the amazing progress I’ve made as a runner. Thanks for the uplifting, intelligent post.

  • Trent

    You didn’t even mention the hairy-chested Burt Reynolds, Tom Selleck and other hairy chested heart throbs form the 70s and 80s that kids find disgusting today.

  • Abby

    I used to be really critical of my body, even when I was less than 100lbs (regular 150) and literally dying of illness, I still felt like I was fat.
    People would complement me and I’d think, oh they are just being nice, or I just complemented them, so they have to.
    Eventually due to different insecurities, I decided that I was going to be myself whether people liked it or not! I say what I want (It’s not like I’m mean) and I’ve stopped hanging out with people who are toxic to me, or lead me to make bad decisions. Once my confidence in the person I was built, I realized that I was less critical of my body, and could see good things about myself in the mirror.
    A friend of mine mentioned how confident I was, and I replied No, I have no confidence. But when I thought about it I really am confident about who I am, and who I want to be and the choices I make that what I look like confidence followed along…

  • ErinLaurel

    This just reminded me of an article I saw in Oxygen Magazine once of some fitness models and they actually accidentally airbrushed off one women’s belly button! It was so funny looking and obvious and just goes to prove that airbrushing whether it’s to make people thinner or fitter happens everywhere.

  • KiKis Pole Blog

    Aw thank you! That is exactly why I wrote it, I hope you start dancing again!

  • KG

    Doctors use BMI as a screening tool as well as to evaluate the risk of obesity-related diseases, but do so in the context of a physical exam. Obviously if a doc sees a patient with a high BMI who has a normal amount of fat tissue and lots of muscle or a larger frame, they won’t tell the patient that he or she should lose weight. I’m a medical student working in a pediatrician’s office and have seen that exact situation. The numbers are helpful but are meaningful only when taken in context with the rest of the person.

  • Taylor

    Ha 🙂

  • Elise

    Great article.
    I grew up as the “fat” sister, in the middle of my two lovely sisters. Each of us were about the same height – 5’7″ to 5’8″, yet one weighed 135 lbs, another 145 lbs, and I was eventually between 165-185 lbs. I have the largest frame by far and did very physical work, lifting, pulling, bending, etc. I heard a lot of negative commentary about my body over the years and it took a long time for me to realize that most skinny people simply don’t understand.
    I’m now content with my 170-ish lb body size, and am glad to understand and relate to those who are not built skinny. A little bit of kindness and encouragement goes a long way. An exercise enthusiast saw my flexibility a couple years ago and remarked with surprise, “you’re really NOT overweight, are you?”
    The phrase “strong is the new skinny” is somewhat brushed aside for me right now, because I’m frankly NOT strong, not as I used to be anyway. Injuries have a way of humbling you. Waiting to heal is hard. I am learning to accept myself in this phase of life and do the things I can to take responsibility physically, mentally and spiritually to heal and grow.
    Accepting yourself is a big step toward accepting others just where they are. It’s easy to condemn and try to change others. I like the old 1970’s song, “Walk a mile in my shoes, before you criticize and abuse, walk a mile in my shoes.”

  • Beemer1119

    Just discovered NF before Turkey Day and am so inspired by Staci that I’ve finally written out my weightlifting and life goals for 2014 and posting them on my fridge. Instead of just committing myself to exercise regularly. Top of the list: Squat 180# or more and do 20+ pull ups… and do a hand stand!
    I’d also like to get pregnant in a couple years, but it’s never to EARLY to focus on fertility! Something that’s often overlooked when it comes to women’s health. So bring on the avocados and grass fed butter!

  • Rachel

    I was a runner for 15 years as an adult and completely sucked at it. I never had the runner’s body–not by a long shot. The only carryover for me has been the discipline to train which I now apply to weight training. I have gained about 10lbs and finally feel physically and mentally better. Yes, my bodyfat is a little lower, too. I never thought I’d see the day when I would want my legs to hypertrophy, but I desperately do!

    I am not a big fan of mantras such as “strong is the new skinny”; there are plenty of “skinny” athletes who excel at their sport. We all have different body types and it takes time for us to realize how to make the most of our type instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole. In retrospect, I probably should have been a thrower in high school. 🙂

  • Anisa

    I loved this whole post:) it was the best thing I have read today and I read a lot lol (nerd thing^_^) it reminded me of how the only person who has the right to change you is you. a few years ago i was trying to get healthy and worked extremely hard to put 10 healthy pounds on my frame. i felt better and i was excited and proud of what i accomplished only to be told i was getting fat and should lose a few pounds…as if all my work was nothing. needless to say a part of me died that day.. the part of me that cared what everyone else liked. I liked my body 10 pounds heavier and i worked hard and felt better for it. What right does any person, show, picture or magazine have to tell you how to feel good or beautiful? They arent you. I smiled reading this post:) made my day!

  • kre8iv1

    Just over three (3) years ago, I was at my most depressed and my most physically unhealthy. I got angry at GOD – not God’s fault, thank you very much, but…. I asked God for help. I was TIRED of struggling against the tide of society. I stepped into my body-centered-psychotherapist’s office and never looked back. I shed over 70 pounds of undesired “cobwebs” of emotion and didn’t have to kill myself in the gym to do it. Yes, I did change my eating trends. No, I don’t use artificial sweeteners or “fat-free/low-fat/reduced-fat” products. I eat meat – especially BACON. Veggies. And whatever else I want – coffee and chocolate included. However, I have found that I only eat when I am actually HUNGRY. Wow. What a concept. Find out what is best for YOU. Go from there.

  • http://www.prettyawesomefitness.com/ Aqilah Norazman

    Great article Staci! I’ve always relied on measurements and how my clothes fit rather than weighing myself and listening to others. Sometimes you just got to block your ears from these people who don’t really know what they’re even talking about. Coming from an Asian family, I am naturally bigger than everyone else especially if I go back to Singapore for the holidays. It does get frustrating but keeping it on my stride helps.

  • QoB

    Too right – it’s not our job to be attractive to every man in our vicinity 🙂
    A friend of mine got told by guys in her gym not to lift so heavy because if she had kids they’d be “damaged”. I mean… really…!

  • mevre

    i have to say, when i started my fitness journey, it was for all the wrong reasons. well, maybe not ALL, but it was definitely more superficial than it ought to have been – more for looks than anything else. however, the more i exercise and eat right, the more i enjoy being stronger, healthier, and happier for their own sake, instead of focusing on getting “sexier.” and of course, in the end, being strong and healthy and happy do* make a person sexier. ; ]
    of those three attributes, i always get particularly excited about the “stronger” bit. i’m amazed at how much i can do now with my muscles, and i’m amazed at how much i appreciate it. i never really gave a second thought to my strength before, but it’s now one of my favorite things about myself.
    really appreciated this article. everyone needs to be reminded that there’s no universal timeless “perfect” to be reached, and to enjoy the journey for the sake of the journey. cheers!

  • Patrick

    This is actually very timely for me. I’m working on the comparing myself to myself instead of others. It’s a tough thought process to break out of.

  • David Prochaska

    Yeah I compare myself to others all the time instead of actually comparing myself to how I use to be.

  • Chrissy

    I used to be one of those girls on the search for the elusive “thigh gap” and it was a really bad idea for me. I eventually became underweight and worried my family. It was only then I realised that to have a “thigh gap” I’d have to become really unhealthy because I just didn’t have that body shape. And it made me really sad that I had put so much time and effort into making a body I couldn’t have. It was also at that time (with other life factors included) that I developed clinical depression. I gave up on myself; one of the reasons being because I thought that no matter how hard I tried I could never have the “ideal” body that I required of myself. I ended up putting on A LOT of unhealthy weight in a very short amount of time after those thoughts flooded my head. It’s been about 6 months since then for me and I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family and I’m finally able to come off of the depression medication. Now that my head is in a better place I can see how my thinking was wrong and I’m working on building MY ideal body, instead of trying to make it look like someone else’s. And I’d like to report that I like what I see in the mirror; no thigh gap needed. Strong looks better on my build than skinny ever will 🙂 If I could give another person any advice it’d be to ignore the images you see in the media, because you can’t be that person, you can only be you, so work on building the best YOU you can make 🙂

  • Joe Auerbach

    I actually JUST wrote a blog post about this very thing. Basically my thought is that the strong is the new skinny thing is basically more of the same body image ideal, but at least it’s a healthier ideal. That said, if people would just decide what the best body is for their goals and themselves, we’d be a lot better off.

  • Tara Windels

    One thing that I’ve found very useful is to load up on berries in the days before hand. The antioxidants help keep down the nasties that come from muscle breakdown, and reduce overall pain. In addition, the carbs help with quick access energy. Right after is when you want to do the protein, to help rebuild the muscle. Above all, do NOT eat within the two to three hours right before hand, because you risk throwing up with that much going on (in addition to nerves).

    Training wise, it’s better to make sure that you prepare for more than the test, that way your body is still hitting peak performance when you get to sparring, and your mind isn’t distracted by the prospect of “the end.” Also, the more you practice exactly what is on the test, the better you will be for it. So if you give yourself a fake test once every other week, the actual test will seem like routine, and you won’t wear yourself out and lose focus.

  • Dora Heslip Grote

    EXCELLENT article – I have spent way too much time comparing myself to others.

  • Jeff

    “How have you been able to block out unhelpful comments and comparisons?”

    I don’t always block out comparisons, but when I do, I do it by simply doing what I love when I want to do it: reading, doing art, jogging, basketball, drinking tea, meditating.

  • staciardison

    right – my doctor hasn’t told me to lose weight because of my high bmi. unfortunately there are lots of sites that say “calculate bmi” that will tell people they are obese when they’re not even close, and tell people that they are healthy when they’re really not!

    and clearly, if it’s on the internet, it’s right 😉

  • Alex Mertz

    Thanks for the tips. I have a thing at my church on Saturday night and we’ll be having pizza there, so I’m going to have to bring something else to snack on… haha.
    I like the idea of running a mock test every other week. I think I’ll start doing that.

  • Teri Eckhoff

    I loved this post. I have been working on changing my lifestyle since 2004. Some months things go well and other months not so well. I started out wanting to change the way I looked and to do that I had to be more healthy. In the last 18 months I’ve noticed a shift in my thinking and now it is all about getting stronger and being healthy. If my waist size never changes I’ll be okay with that as long as my body fat % goes down and I continue to make progress in my workouts.

    On a side note, I’m a teacher and as I was reading this the thought about what is considered normal or average in our society invades everything. In education the belief is that all 8-9 year olds should learn the same things at the same pace. Who decided this? Any teacher can tell you all kids do not learn at the same pace and some kids will never learn everything they are supposed to, just like some will learn more than is required. God made each of us with our own INDIVIDUAL characteristics and we should not all be shoved into a box and told that we should be like this ideal person whether it is regarding what we are learning or what we look like.

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  • Larry Carlton

    Great information that is very
    helpful for me. Thank you for sharing.

  • Alex Mertz

    Hey Tara, Thanks for all the advice. I loaded up on carbs and passed my test yesterday. I felt miserable and just dead exhausted afterwards, but after I took a nap and drank some water I got some food in me – lots of nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts) and hummus primarily – and felt loads better. A little sore today so I did a 20 minute interval cardio session this morning to start my prep for the next test – my black belt.

  • Elizabeth Taylor Nam

    I loved this post, thanks for sharing. Honestly, I was just like this back in high school (Thank goodness we didn’t have Facebook/twitter when I was in high school). I took dance classes 5 days a week and I was thin, and very toned, but you know what sticks out most to me, one of my boyfriends telling me that I had chubby cheeks. Yep, I had a six pack of abs legs that most girls would kill for (hell, that I would kill for now), and what was my self image revolving around: chubby cheeks. What scares me is that my daughter, who is 6 by the way, started talking to me about calories yesterday, and how she thought she should skip dinner because she was FAT!!!! She’s six, and not fat by any stretch of the imagination, but it really made me think about the way “society” is teaching my daughter how to feel about herself and her body image. After that we had a nice long conversation about eating healthy and that she wasn’t fat, and why she thought she was fat, I finally found out that my daughter was weighed at school and she was “heavier” than some of the other children. I then explained to my daughter that she was taller than most of the other children, and she could do push ups, which means she has muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat. I know this is not the end of conversations like this, but I never thought the beginning would be at 6.

  • Tara Windels

    Congratulations! I think immediately after any belt test, it’s pretty hard to feel peppy. And good luck on the black belt! The more you do now, the easier it will be.

  • lexy

    great post!
    I’m not a huge fan of the ‘strong is the new skinny’ thing, mostly because of the photos behind the ‘fitspirational’ posts. it’s gone from “if you aren’t 6’5″ and 100lbs, you’re ugly” to “if you don’t have a 6 pack of abs, and an ass that could crush coal into diamonds, you’re fat and should be ashamed.” I do crossfit. I have abs. But they aren’t visible, and aren’t likely to be. I am stronger for the exercise I do, but the fitspiration stuff seems to indicate that I’m not good enough because, based on my appearance alone, you wouldn’t assume that I could do pullups, or deadlift a pretty good max rep.

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  • Nicole

    I loved this article and I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the past week. I’ve struggled with my body image since I was a teenager competing high school gymnastics. When you’re in a leotard surrounded by others in theirs, everybody’s body “imperfections” are out there for all to see. Even though I have one of the 2 classic builds for gymnastics (short with broad shoulders and back wih the propensity for putting on muscle), I’ve always felt fat because I don’t fit the societal ideal. For years now, I’ve rationally told myself that there is no way I will ever have a tiny waist or an hourglass figure because I’m not built that way, but all of those images are thrust at us, causing us to question if that’s really so, all irrationally, I might add.

    Now, at the age of 40, I’m finally starting to come to terms with my body, and this blog has helped. Throughout my adult life I’ve been proud to say that I’m still the same weight as when I graduated high school, but my shape has changed based on my activity and diet over the years. I’ve tried the whole cardio thing and hated every minute of it as I lost my tone and felt more skinny fat than anything. It wasn’t the right kind of exercise for me. Then I went back to my exercise roots of weightlifting this year, which I did in the off season in high school. The changes in my body have made me feel better about myself than I’ve felt in years. I’m the same weight at 130 on my 5’0 frame, but I have obvious muscle which I think is beautiful. I’ve embraced my frame and do what I can with it, but I have to need positive self talk to accomplish this. Every day I tell myself that I’m strong and healthy and I remind myself that I look good. Yeah, I wish I had a flatter stomach and that my waist was the same size it was at age 18, but it’s bigger since I grew a baby in there a decade ago. When you’re my size, things just shift with pregnancy, and I’ve come to accept that. Sadly, our society still has a ways to go toward accepting that different body types at their healthiest and strongest don’t fit the media ideal and that our shapes do change in different stages of our lives. I’m fit and healthy and I love it, but I will always struggle against these ideals which are so impossible to attain.

  • Elisabeth

    I really love this article, it’s super informed and thoughtful. Women get so much flack in society for how their body looks and from my perspective I feel it every day of my life. The power of positivity is a very real thing and by simply thinking positively about your body image, you can change everything. Its a process, but its a worthwhile investment in your time. And what’s the worst that could happen? You could only feel better about yourself.

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    I think for a man 6ft or above 200lbs and 8% bodyfat is ideal really, not too big and not too small. Alot of people over look cardio and this is so important. Recumbent bikes are great for cardio I just reviewed the new Schwinn 270 Recumbent Bike here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfvCykJa-r8

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  • Raf

    “How have you been able to block out unhelpful comments and comparisons?”

    I’m not sure. It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve heard something really unhelpful. I do sometimes patiently correct people who make well-meaning comments about my diet and stuff – fortunately these are all people who’ve seen me at my fattest and therefore can tell that whatever it is I’m doing is clearly working. This rarely happens though.

    “What are your thoughts on body image?”

    You know what’s funny? I weigh the same as I did back in high school and I feel GREAT about myself. But back then I didn’t. All I could see in the mirror was an uncool, overweight teenager. Now I look in the mirror shirtless and I can’t stop flexing – and it’s not like I have a visible six pack and large mirror muscles!

    Here’s another story: this was back when my wife and I were still dating (about 7 years and thirty pounds ago). I was really insecure about my body. I felt ashamed about every part: my waist, my chest, my butt and my legs. Then she made an off-hand remark about how she thought my legs looked thick and strong. I always hated my legs! They were the first ones to get large when I started gaining weight and I always felt insecure about them. And here was this pretty girl who looked the complete opposite of me (petite, athletic with a firm stomach – in short she looked great naked while I didn’t) complimenting me on the things I felt ashamed of.

    I guess my point is: how we see ourselves is not necessarily the real thing. And how we see ourselves can change. Maybe not overnight, but it can change. And that change can start with something that seems very small like a compliment – that starts off a chain reaction of other small stuff (e.g. a decision to walk instead of ride) and gets bigger and more noticeable over time.

    Then one day you’re chasing your kid in the park and realize you don’t feel pain in your knees and your lungs are actually enjoying the exertion. Then you look in the mirror and it’s like there’s a missing feeling there. Something you used to feel that you don’t feel anymore. That feeling of disgust: it’s just not there anymore.

    “Are things getting better? Or is it more of the same?”

    Definitely better for me. My clothes fit better, I have more energy and strength, I can chase after my kid without feeling miserable. Physically I can do things I couldn’t even dream of doing when I was in my twenties. I can do a one-arm cartwheel on my right, and am currently working towards a freestanding handstand. Then it’s on to bigger badass ninja movements.

    Is “strong is the new skinny” inspiring, or detrimental?

    I think there are positives and negatives to everything. It certainly can be inspiring, and I would love to see more women become strong in every sense of the word. In the end, though it’s just another ideal for women to chase and torture themselves over if they feel like they’re not measuring up. Like before it was full figures. Then it became thin figures. Then this. How about: loving yourself brings out your real beauty? Or something like that?

    Words of advice for those struggling with this stuff?

    Everybody has images in their head. Realize that they are just that: images. Everybody has voices in their head. Realize that they are just that: voices. And surround yourself as much as possible with people who have your back. Personally, having a wife who fell in love with me way back when I was struggling with my body image did wonders to my self-confidence.

  • Thomas Rohmer

    Great article. I feel that many people get too caught up in comparing themselves to others instead of just focusing on their own self improvements.

  • Damián Navas

    There are so many things in NF that one can find in most common places, and the best is that they resonate with most of us. This post is full of great ideas and great lifestyle approaches. I’ll be trying a few things and sharing them, as many things mentioned here should be spread