Body transformation is an amazing thing and for me it all started with a pink sprinkled doughnut. To see yourself physically look one way and then to see yourself physically look another way….. hold up, I bet you’re thinking about weight loss. A body transformation where you work hard to reduce your size, reduce your belly’s circumference, and show off that 6-pack. This is not the body transformation I am talking about. What about the whole slew of men and women who exercise more, eat right, are mentally, spiritually, emotionally AND physically healthier, but we weight more, our belly circumference has grown, and our 6 pack has retreated into a well isolated cooler? This is me and I’m proud of it.
In the world of social media, specifically in athletics, the before and after pictures of people who have totally transformed their bodies into photo-shopped images of perfection are countless. It can be blinding and it’s harder and harder not to take notice to the point where even the most confident people struggle. They feel they aren’t good enough or pretty enough. Good enough or pretty enough for who? Their self-worth is determined by one snap of the shutter, one upload, one view of a body that isn’t theirs. Comparisons are made to people who claim they got “this body” in 3 months by doing a new workout routine (yeah, right), that they can eat whatever they want by taking this “new herbal pill” that just melts fat away – it’s scientifically proven (yep, sure), or that by cutting carbs they were able to get back into the same jeans they wore in high school (oh totally, me too, I got my ankle into my high school jeans just last week). The reality is that people who make these total body transformations for real doing it the right way are few and far between. They work hard, really hard, and sacrifice more than I could ever imagine in every aspect of their life.
I’m wondering, exactly when did a man or woman’s self-worth become so dependent on what social media thinks that they abandon everyone around them. When did we stop believing our mothers and fathers when they told us we were the most beautiful person in the world? When did that girl on social media we don’t know, but just happened to pop up on our news feed who went to from normal to ripped in two months with her butt cheeks so hard they could crush a walnut become more important than the thoughts of the people who love us? When did that guy who suddenly got that 12-pack (forget the 6, that’s for amateurs) from some random workout video you’ve never heard of that can be yours for the bargain price of $129.95 (plus tax and shipping), where nobody knows who he is, but he’s Instagram famous so of course he’s legit, become the person you look up to more than the people who have raised you?
When did these people become the ones we judge ourselves against to determine our self-worth? I don’t know when it happened and I’m not going to try to figure it out. What I am going to do is make sure that I tell my story on body image in hopes that people begin to understand that what is depicted on social media as “the perfect” body is not the perfect body for everyone.
Body transformation is an amazing thing and for me it all started with a pink sprinkled doughnut. Yes, that’s a repeat of the first sentence, but it’s important because I remember the day I sat eating this pink sprinkled doughnut at the beach on a sunny day just before getting in the water and was called thick, compared to a slab of maple-braised bacon, and that I wasn’t thin like all the other folk. Gawwwsh, really?!?! This was only a short while after I had been given a personal training card at the pool from a woman who said if I was interested in losing some weight I would be a total knockout. Thanks for the boost of self-esteem and you’re right, I will be a total knockout in about 30 seconds when I punch you in the face and your butt is knocked out on the floor. (Those of you who know me know that’s all talk, I could never punch someone…. well…. ugh, no, not really. It’s all talk, but good for the story.)
I went through a big body image struggle last year after I got back from England because everyone said, “oh you’ll lose weight now that you don’t have to eat as much.” I admit, I sort of liked the idea and then I didn’t lose any weight. I decided I wanted to really try to eat healthy and workout like crazy, like I did before when I was competition swimming in the pool and was legit thin. I wanted to lose the weight, but I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to lose it for me or for some reason I wasn’t aware of. Maybe I was still harboring some deep seeded irrational feelings from college athletics where I was accused of having an eating disorder because I was so thin and then told to go into nutritional counseling a year later when I gained 20lbs. Maybe I was doing it because I wanted to fit into that dress I bought 4 years ago that I never wore to the Christmas party. Or maybe I wanted to lose weight for some unknown societal pressure to be and look a certain way. I know partly I wanted to lose weight for science, to see if there really was a correlation between cold tolerance in the water and time duration in the water, but I’m also not foolish enough to say that was the only reason.
I worked hard, I did everything right, I stuck with it, I did lose the weight, and people were starting to notice. The noticing felt good, but I felt miserable the whole time. I was sad, no energy, over thought everything I put in my body, and the worst part is that I became uncomfortable in the water. I became uncomfortable in the one place that has provided me unparalleled joy in my life. My fear of weight loss was realized when I could no longer enjoy what I loved the most, when swimming in the cold became intolerable, I walked out of the water and didn’t go back. It was true, what I loved about athletics and specifically what I had achieved with the body I had was being diminished by the pound. I stopped swimming outside completely, got worse and worse in the pool, became depressed, and then it hit me. I had a body transformation and IT WAS an amazing thing!
I had gained weight, I was bigger in circumference all around, I had a chubbier face, my love handles hung over my swimsuit, my butt cheeks snuck out of my bikini bottom like expanding marshmallows over the fire before being put on a s’more, and my underarms could flap under the hand dryer in the bathroom (wait…. did I just admit to trying that, hee hee). I had gained 35lbs over the past three years, I did eat healthy, I did workout more, and I did have an amazing body transformation. This body got me across the Catalina Channel, it got me across the English Channel, it has allowed me to swim for 3 hours in 49 degree water, and for 6 in 52 with minimal after-drop. This body has allowed me to swim with seals, has given me the freedom and courage to test my limits in sports, has given me a platform to help encourage and inspire others. This body that willingly and freely consumes snap peas followed by a doughnut, a protein shake with an ice cream cone, a salad with a can of pop is my perfect body. I am fitter, healthier, happier, and stronger than I’ve ever been. I’ve accomplished more athletically than I ever have before and for that I am proud.
I am proud to represent the underrepresented. I am proud to represent men and women who work really hard, who have the perfect body for them, but a body that doesn’t conform to the societal perception of perfect. I am proud to represent athletes who are at the top of their game and in the best shape of their lives that go unnoticed when our abilities are sized up by people only looking at our waist lines. I am proud to be a healthy human being while not feeling forced to give up carbs. I am not ashamed to wear a bikini whenever, wherever I want, with whatever stays in or what doesn’t. I am not ashamed to eat a doughnut 5 minutes before I go for a 3-hour swim and then eat another after. I am not ashamed to admit I have struggled, still do, and I am most definitely not ashamed to be me. My body has brought me this far, it has a lifetime of adventures left, and without it exactly the way it is I wouldn’t have the joy, the people, the support, and the love I have in my life.
If you’re feeling like you need to make a change, all I ask is that you ask yourself who are you making the change for? Are you making it for you? If you go through the work and don’t get the outcome you want, are you still going to be happy with who you are? If you aren’t sure, maybe the change you’re looking for on the outside is different than the change you need on the inside. If you have any hesitation, stop, grab a pink sprinkled doughnut, take some time out to think, and let the frosting do the talking. Let your heart and your sense of joy guide you, you’ll end up exactly where you are meant to be.