Do you remember the first time someone talked about your weight or body? Or maybe when you realized you didn’t look like the people on TV or in magazines? I’m guessing it probably happened at a fairly young age. I remember being around middle school age when I started to hear schoolyard teasing and noticing who got to be on tv and magazine covers. It was also around the same time I started to compare myself to others, especially in dance class.
At least in the US, it feels like we start to obsess about body image at a young age. We are bombarded daily with social and cultural expectations on how we should look, especially as females. Our media is constantly showing thin celebs with headlines like, “She dropped all the baby weight in just weeks after birth!” or other things that can be difficult for the average person who has a full-time office job, household responsibilities, children, and whatever else we all deal with. It starts to create unreal expectations.
If you haven’t figured it out yet dear listeners, today’s topic is body image. Take this as your trigger warning and stop listening if you aren’t sure you can handle it.
But what exactly is body image? Per Wikipedia it is a person’s thoughts, feelings, and perception of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body. So basically, how you feel about your body which can change from day to day or even by the hour. How we feel about our bodies is complex.
Our thoughts about our bodies can come from many different influences. Did you grow up in a house with a mom who was always on a diet or criticizing her own weight? Maybe she eventually started to discuss your weight as well. Little comments like do you really need to eat that or that style doesn’t look good on your because of your stomach will stick in your brain.
Maybe you had a dad who wanted you to put on muscle and “be a man”. Sorry, as a woman I don’t really know the male experience when it comes to body image and can only make assumptions based on what I have seen and heard. It seems a lot of men’s body image stems from being strong or being athletic. If I’m wrong or you had a different experience, please reach out and let me know. I can always do a follow-up to address this area more.
Like I mentioned in the intro, a lot of our early experiences will influence how we feel about our bodies later. Were you teased for being the tallest or getting boobs first in school? Those experiences will stay with you. I was always one of the heavier girls in dance class but when looking back I wasn’t fat but I felt large when standing next to others in only tights and a leotard.
Other big influences include media, societal and cultural expectations, and more recently, social media. I lump these all together because they are branches of the same tree. We are constantly seeing images of younger, thinner women or men with a six-pack. When we don’t look like those images it can affect our own thoughts on our bodies. There are hashtags like thinspo and sayings like nothing tastes as good as skinny feels that seem to encourage eating disorders.
I felt dirty googling to research some of these sayings. Many of which I would not even want to repeat. I used the previous one because it’s one I’ve heard many times and assume many others have. Please do not go down the thinspo google rabbit hole. It’s very sad to see the sayings and photos and my heart aches for people that feel they need to follow them.
Back to societal expectations. If you’ve belonged to a gym or been around any sort of fitness community I’m sure you’re aware of the new year newbies. Personally, I always thought it was awesome to see a whole new group of people working out at the gym come the new year. But I would always hear people bitching about it and looking forward to March when the gym was “back to normal”. It always feels so mean to be excited for people to give up on the gym or whatever new workout they are trying.
Many people don’t want to join a gym because they feel they aren’t fit enough or don’t have the body for the gym. They feel like outsiders. Gyms can be intimidating to someone who has never been to one. If you’ve never used weight machines or dumbbells you don’t know what to do and that can be hard to walk into that space. I was lucky enough to have weight training in high school so I’ve always felt comfortable there but I know many who did not have that option.
I know, most gyms have trainers that can help but every time I’ve joined a gym they walk me around and point out equipment and that’s about it. Maybe if you ask questions they will show you more but if you are already intimidated it can be hard. And then many times for more help you have to pay for a trainer on top of the monthly membership.
Other people have said they quit a gym and won’t join another because people have made them uncomfortable. People will stare. They will judge. And sometimes they will make asshole comments.
I don’t know how we can change that but I wish I did. I wish it was try that people at the gym are only there to work out and mind their own business. But we know that’s not true.
As a runner, I hear a lot of “I can’t run. I don’t have a runner’s body”. Many people believe to be a runner you have to be long and lean. But really, I’ve seen all body types at races and on the trail. I’ve been passed by people that are bigger than me, smaller than me, younger than me, and older than me. You don’t have to be thin to be fast.
Or the other reason people don’t want to run, especially outside in their neighborhood, is they don’t want anyone to see them. They think that their butt hangs out of the short shorts or their stomach jiggles too much. I mean, I have had those thoughts while running. And again, don’t tell me people don’t notice or care. They do. I’ve been honked and yelled at while running. I’ve heard stories of women being called fat or much worse by random strangers driving by. So yah, stop that. Do not honk (even if you think it’s encouraging, it more than likely scares the shit out of the runner), and do not yell at people running. Unless you are also running/walking and you say something like you go girl or you are doing awesome in this heat! Both things that women have said to me while out.
As I said above, I am not immune to body image struggles. In fact, I have been struggling a lot lately with accepting my body. I have had to go out and buy a size up in pants within the last few months and that is after resisting for quite a while. I didn’t want to admit I needed a larger size. But I got to the point that it was physically painful to wear some of my pants. And others I couldn’t even get on. I had to admit this weight was not changing any time soon and go buy new pants.
And don’t get me started on how the fit of clothes can affect your body image. I’ve always had a more curvy figure and pants never fit. In order to get them over my hips, they are too big at the waist. In order to fit the waist, I can’t get them over my hips. Most clothes are made for a specific body type and it’s not most people. And a lot of the cheaper clothes are not well made so you could be a medium or a large in the same shirt, just depends on if you got the one on top or bottom of the cutting process. Or you’re an 8 at one store and a 12 at another because women’s sizing is very arbitrary.
And like most people, I know what I need to do to lose weight or fat. I do a lot of those things but the weight doesn’t seem to budge. I know I need to do better and I know I am the only one that can change. I know I need to be more consistent. You know what else I know? Shaming someone, pointing out their weight or anything like that DOES NOT WORK. I can guarantee you that if someone is offering “friendly” advice, the person already knows it. The person already is trying to do something about it but there are many, many, many reasons why the person still hasn’t lost weight, some beyond their control.
And you know what else I know? Just because someone looks overweight doesn’t mean they aren’t healthy so the “I just want you to be healthy” people need to STFU and sit down. You cannot look at someone and determine their health.
It’s sad that some people can do everything “right” and still not live up to society’s image of healthy because they aren’t a size 2 or 4.
I have been struggling for a while with eating too many sweets, chocolate, ice cream, whatever. Like I literally could not stop myself. I would try to not eat the thing, binge. I would try to eat some of the thing, binge. It didn’t matter. I was sabotaging myself. I knew it. I was trying to eat healthily. I was running. And I started weight lifting again but I STILL COULD NOT STOP. This is something I’ve struggled with at various times in my life. Sometimes it was easy to control, other times it wasn’t.
Guess what? I got diagnosed with ADHD at age 41 and went on Adderall. Those cravings stopped. Now I can eat a serving of cookies and be done. Now I don’t always need an afternoon chocolate binge to get through the day. So yah, just because someone is trying to do the right thing and eat healthily and exercise it isn’t always in their control.
Our body image is also influenced by our emotions and mood. You can do all the right things and be feeling great and then eat some cookies and feel like you gained 10 pounds on your waist. Or you wake up after an amazing week of exercise and healthy eating, step on the scale and you don’t lose any weight. Or worse, you gained! What happens next? You can spiral. You can give up because why should I keep doing all the right things when nothing changes? You forget that change takes time. We don’t always see results immediately.
We can start to limit our activities or social meet-ups because we fear other’s judgment. We spent the past two years in a global pandemic not seeing many people. Maybe we put on some weight and are afraid to go to an event because you know someone will comment that you’ve gained weight. Should we care? No, but it’s hard not to especially when we’ve already beaten ourselves up about it.
I’ve seen people who will avoid going to the doctor because they know they will be put on the scale and told whatever their problem is it’s because they are overweight. The fucking doctor. People should be able to go to the doctor without fear of being judged by their size because again, not everything is related to their weight. Losing weight isn’t a magic cure-all.
So, how can we start to love our bodies?
We can start practicing body positivity. But what is body positivity? According to WebMD it means accepting and having compassion for your and others bodies.
But how do you do that? We’ve been trained to be critical of anybody outside of society’s accepted norms. It is never easy to change our habits and mindsets and this is no different. It will take practice to become better at accepting bodies as they are.
First, focus on what your body can do. Appreciate that your legs can run, even if it’s a 14-minute mile. Love that you can lift those weights, even if it is a 10-pound dumbbell. We get to do these things. Find gratitude in your workouts.
Second, negative thoughts are going to happen. When they do, notice them and recognize them for what they are – unhealthy or rigid standards set by society. And don’t beat yourself up for slipping up! Because it will happen. Acknowledge, reflect, and move on.
Diversify your media. Look for tv, magazines, and social media accounts that are not your typical cardio bunnies and dude bros. That mom over 40 that’s just trying to keep her stress down? Follow her. The dad that wants to lose weight so he can keep up with his kids? Follow him. Healthy bodies and minds come in all shapes and sizes. Seek them out. Realize that looks do not equal health.
And lastly, take care of you. This is probably the most important step. You can’t be healthy, mentally or physically, if you aren’t looking out for yourself. Be active. Whatever that means for you. The best is a mix of cardio and weight-bearing activities but that covers an entire spectrum of things! Enjoy dancing? Hit the floor! Nature walks? Yesssssssss. It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you enjoy it and you actually do it. Eat healthy. Everything in moderation. 80/20 diet. I’m not gonna tell you to eat a fucking boring salad every night and forgo chocolate. Just find the balance. And go to fucking bed! I bet you need more than you are getting, most of us do. No more late-night Netflix binges. Take a nap on the weekend. However, you do it just get more rest!
None of us are immune to body image issues. We can all do better at being kinder to ourselves and others. I know I need to be much kinder to myself and I am working on it. Do I still look at myself in clothes and think ugh I need to lose weight? Yup. Do I recognize when I’m doing it and try to correct myself? Ummmm… sometimes. I’m gonna keep on working on not judging myself and instead push a little harder in my workouts. And making sure I’m eating well. I’m going to keep finding social media accounts that are diverse and inspire me to keep working on my own body image.
What are you going to do to help improve your body image?
Omg, I forgot coffee corner last episode! Did you miss it or nah? Should I keep doing it? For this week I’ll go ahead and do it. But seriously, let me know if I should drop it.
I’m thinking about creating a true crime podcast called Only Joggers Find Bodies. At first, I would focus on cases that got me interested in true crime as a child and are from my home state of Wisconsin. I originally had these in blog format but I think I’d like to see (hear) them as a podcast.
What do you think? Would you listen? Are there too many true crime podcasts already? Or should I keep it under Runs on Espresso and add a second podcast each or most months?
Ok, that is all I have for this week…
If you enjoyed this podcast, be sure to give it a follow. New episodes will air monthly on the last Monday of the month. I plan to keep this schedule for a while since I have so many other things going on. In the meantime, you can find me on Youtube, Twitter, and TikTok at runs on espresso and Instagram at runs_on_espresso.
If you like this podcast, I’d appreciate a rate and review wherever you listen. And be sure to share it with anyone you think might enjoy it.
If you have a show idea, something you’d like to hear more about, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I look forward to hearing your ideas!
Until next month, I hope your runs are as strong as your coffee!