Are your fitness goals for health or an unhealthy body image obsession?
Even though I’m not an athlete or think of myself as someone who is outrageously “fit”, exercise and gym attendance have always been a core tenet for most of my life.
Initially, I tell myself that these are just habits to maintain good health well into my older years. It’s not about just looking good (so I say).
Plus what I also tell myself is that it’s for fun:
to learn new things
bond with others who are also on this journey, and
to learn the discipline of pushing yourself and staying on track.
All of these too contribute to good overall wellbeing.
I’m writing this newsletter at the airport, on my way home, where I’ve been away from my sacred gym routines.
Part of me is happy to head back home so I can get back to my routine, but also part of me is a bit worried about my initial thoughts on my fitness goals. Are they really for “wellbeing”? Or physical appearance?
Let’s do a bit of a deep dive.
Me and My Body Image
I can’t remember when it started. Maybe in high school?
That’s about the time I started to become insecure about what I looked like.
In primary school, I was a chubby kid and I was fast gaining weight. That led my parents to enrol me in a football team.
During my intermediate and early high school days, I wouldn’t consider myself athletic. I recall being in tears when I couldn’t do the high jump this one time. I was embarrassed I was in the mixed-gender team for cricket in the second form. I was in tears for days when I didn’t make the Saturday morning cricket team in the third form.
I was never bullied for my weight but I do recall a friend at the time saying I had man boobs, and my mother did time to time remind me of my weight when I did start to gain a few kilos.
At the age of 14 was when I started to become conscious of my eating. I’d make an effort not to overeat and I’d watch to numbers on the scales closely.
At 15, I would pick up running 5 km every alternate day.
At 16 and 17 is when I started attending the gym, albeit quite sporadically, and with no programme.
By 18, when I started university I made the commitment to go to the gym regularly.
20 was when I took it seriously. I wanted abs. I had them (you are just going to have to believe me). It was the first time I dipped below 70kg.
My idea of myself changed. I wanted to get strong and build strong legs (who cares about abs). 21 was when I started weightlifting and I wanted to get strong legs, despite gaining weight, I rocked above 90kg when I was 22-23.
I didn’t care about arms and chest like most “dudes” do. Looking strong to me meant having a thick back, legs and glutes.
Whether it be looking skinny or having muscles, the issue is all the same which is that of body image.
The reason I bring up my past is that now being 30 years old, I decided my fitness goals should be about well-being.
Hayley Whiting in an interview puts it so well:
I love the importance around what your body can do, not what your body looks like, I love it.
This is what I wanted, but I think I’m still stuck in the mindset of physical appearance.
Even while I have been away, I made an effort to do light workouts most days (burpees, push-ups, sit-ups). And I did attend an MMA class as well as a session at the gym. And I would be conscious again not to overeat.
And this is not just me. I’m seeing it with some people I met on this trip as well. They actually took it to the next level and weighed themselves before and after their trip to see how much weight they gained.
Now, why is this important?
I want to argue that our fitness culture isn’t really about well-being and being healthy. It’s about looking good in front of others.
Again, this is likely perpetuated by social media and media alike. Unfortunately, the fitness industry with unrealistic standards, performance-enhancing drugs, and surgeries, isn’t exactly healthy.
Another insecurity I would like to share is my failures with the opposite gender.
Among my other problems, like ego, lack of confidence, lack of patience, and my non-ideal living situation, I’m also led to believe my physical appearance isn’t good enough either, which is something I’m just creating in my mind.
This is something I’m slowly working on — accepting myself and who I am.
I might dread not being able to go to the gym for a few weeks and losing some progress in that aspect, but by going away I gain progress in another area — life experience — learning about Kerala and seeing my parents happy in Jaffna.
In a month, you don’t lose all your progress.
Missing a few weeks for training in your lifetime will be negligible to your progress in whatever pursuit you undertake, but what you gain in that time you are away is priceless.
It’s a good chance for the body to recharge, and when you do return, you will be working harder than ever.
It’s better to yearn to go back to the gym or training than to dread attendance.
What do you think? Is body image something you struggle with?
I hope this helps you out in some way.
Stay focused and talk soon,
Video: My Parent’s Home in Jaffna
Here is a video showing the progress of my parent’s home in Jaffna. I also share some goals of mine and other thoughts.