body image · Crossfit · fitness · overeating

Loving the body you’ve got: Love a better motivator than hate

I love fitness and physical activity. Faster, fitter, stronger, more powerful? All goals I share.

But I also love the body I have now. Yes, it’s slower than I’d like and not as strong as I hope it to be but it’s a pretty amazing body nonetheless. I posted a bit about why I feel this way here.

What does it mean to ‘love’ this body? I don’t think it’s perfect aesthetically speaking. That’s not what I mean at all. I could list its flaws–I spend enough time with other women to know how to do that–but I won’t. I’m nearing fifty years old. If perfection were ever in my sights, that was a long time ago.

I love my kids. I don’t think they are perfect. (Sorry kids.) I’m not talking about aesthetics and I’m not talking about perfection. I don’t associate either of those values with love.

I associate loving my body with the activity of caring for my body. It’s both a sense of awe and wonder (Wow, I rode my bike 160 km!) and a responding to that awe and wonder with concrete action (Great ride, now let’s go for a massage!). If you’re in London, by the way, I highly recommend Crossfit’s RMT Andrew Jones.

I have a new tattoo this week and I’ve been thinking about that too as a way of celebrating this body. It’s still worth decorating. Photo to follow when it’s finished and healed.

It’s one of my goals for this year to improve my lean/fat ratio (you can read about that here and here) but I don’t think I’ll come to dislike the way I look I now. One of things I loved about philosopher Ann Cahill’s account of losing weight was how she refused to hate the body she used to have.  She writes,

“I don’t look back at photos of myself from a year ago and shudder. That was a different body that I lived, with its own set of possibilities, practices, and abilities. And there are certainly cultural contexts where that body would be more useful and conducive to my survival than the one I’m living now. Come the apocalypse, those extra pounds would come in handy.”

There’s so much self hate and negative talk presented as motivation for fitness training but I actually think that self hate is a pretty rotten motivator. For me, thinking negatively about the way I look makes me want to stay indoors, watch TV, and eat nachos for dinner with fudgeos for dessert, preferably while wearing big, baggy, fuzzy PJs. If I do work up enough steam to want to beat this body into shape, then I end up putting in thankless joyless hours on the treadmill which isn’t particularly good for my body or soul.

No quality food or quality exercise there.

Luckily I haven’t engaged in very  much of this self-destructive behavior in the course of my lifetime, just enough to know it’s there and to want to avoid it.

What does motivate me then, if not self hate, not seeing the body I have now as an unacceptable mess that needs improvement?

Here are three things that motivate me to stay fit and get fitter:

1. I love trying new physical activities and having a very high level of general fitness means that I can try new sports and physical pursuits without worrying so much about the fitness barrier. General fitness is one of the things I love about Crossfit. Read more about that here, Fitness, yes but fit for what?

2. I like sports competition and if I want to keep racing, I need to keep up. There’s often not very many people in my age group and my racing companions are 20 years younger than me. Fitness helps even the playing field. On why I like racing, read Six reasons not to race and why they might be mistaken.

3. I want to stay active as I age. I’ve got my sights set beyond mid-life and into retirement days and beyond. In my Facebook newsfeed today there’s a great picture of a 73 year old trying out downhill mountain biking for the first time. She’s motivational! I think, what do I have to do to be like her in twenty five years?

Read more:

What I Learned From Burlesque Performers About Loving My Body

20 Ways to Love Your Body

Body Image Perception: Learning To Love The Body You Have Now

19 thoughts on “Loving the body you’ve got: Love a better motivator than hate

  1. I think that the idea of achieving happiness by paying attention to and loving your body is almost revolutionary. Improving one’s health and fitness level is almost always tied to the goal of looking better – so much so that for many, looking better or attaining an aesthetic ideal is the only goal, which is ridiculously unhealthy for a great number of reasons. I’m not entirely certain, but I believe that this unhealthy cultural phenomenon has its roots in our fixation with the concept of celebrity – of objectifying ourselves by attempting to identify with on screen persona – crashing back down to earth, then sighing but at the same time glorifying and putting on a pedestal these images. That is why when our so-called heroes fail, or really, are uncovered as frail, flawed and complex humans, so many people are so insanely angry. (“Our gods have failed us. Oh, no. Let’s burn them at the stake!”) But our gods in this regard are just images. They have nothing to do with loving ourselves or each other. That’s why I think the concept of loving your body is revolutionary. We are not in doing so burning any false gods at the stake. We are simply casting aside false idols and finding a way to love each other and ourselves.

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  2. Nel Noddings is out of fashion, but I really like thinking of her conception of care: Listen, reflect, respond. If that’s what is involved in loving one’s body, then perfection is truly so far beside the point that it’s irrelevant! Loving your body can just mean you take its well-being seriously, you listen to it, you think about what you get from paying attention and you respond. Sometimes that means exercising it, sometimes that means decorating it. Sometimes that means napping. Many things can be caring behaviors.

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    1. Yes, exactly! Thanks for this. Very helpful. I’ve been thinking of writing something scholarly about ethics of embodiment and loving your body….

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  3. I’m still in the early stages of my quest to learn to love my body (being young and silly and all), but I think what I have found so far – and I think it reflects what you’ve discussed here – is that it’s far more effective to love your body for what it can *DO*, rather than try to love it for what it looks like.

    For instance, I don’t particularly like the way my legs look – they’re short and kinda bulky and I don’t have any blasted “thigh gap” to speak of. BUT what my legs – especially my calves – can do is pretty darn incredible to me. They can carry me up mountains, they can jump over stuff, they push through runs that I would once have only dreamed about. I can whoop almost anyone in toe lifts.

    In terms of motivation, thinking “I’m going to run up that hill and it’s going to push those muscles and make them even stronger” gives me a lot more quote-unquote motivation than “I should run up that hill to lose some flab” or whatever. It’s exactly as you said – thinking negative things about my body, and trying to use those negative thoughts as fuel, really only pushes me deeper into the container of homemade ice cream. And that ain’t getting me anywhere (except maybe to the ice cream eating championships, where I’m pretty sure I’d have a good shot at the title). 🙂 Thanks for this post – really got the neurons firing!

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