I think it is safe to say that most women, regardless of background, have at some point come across those ads commanding us to do something about our bodies.
It used to start in March or April, with the terror inducing demand we get started on making our body bikini-ready for summer. Then weddings got in on the trend, and as part of the ceremony planning, nutrition and body-shaping sessions were booked along with the photographer and the caterer.
Winter vacations were not to be left behind, so then the ads started clamouring for us to become beach ready or cruise ready in January. But perhaps what really took the dessert plate was the ad I saw a couple of years ago that said it was time to get Christmas-dress ready … in September.
Today it seems the demand to alter, shape, change, tweak our physical selves is year round, and there is always some part of our bodies that needs adjustment: chest, arms, legs, waist, butt. The list is endless.
One of the ways we are supposed to make our bodies fit the image of the desirable female is through exercise. I should note fitness isn’t necessarily part of the foundation for this effort, but it is the basis of much of the marketing behind the countless programs on offer.
I will wholeheartedly admit that one of the reasons I did not announce my fitness strategy was because I wanted to stave off the questions and comments about weight. I’ve always been a bigger girl/woman and while there were many times in my life when weight loss was a huge focus for me, once I hit 40, I realized I wanted to get off that train once and for all.
It was my work with a non-profit network focused on promoting positive body image that started me reading about the principles behind the Health At Every Size (HAES) approach. It led to a significant change in my thinking about how we define health and how we use fitness as the prop (or stick) to achieve health.
When I first met with my trainer, he asked me what my goals were for starting training. It was a useful question. The fact was I didn’t care about body shaping/toning and I wasn’t worried about “bulking up” as a result of any effort in the gym with weights. Since weight loss was not a goal, what was left for a woman who wanted to be fit and not hurt herself in the process?
As a communications professional, I look to quantifiable results for my work. I establish measureable objectives and then evaluate the success of my program. The key measureable results offered to women who embark on a fitness journey are pounds and inches lost. The goal there is to be skinny, thin, svelte etc – that is smaller than when you start.
When I applied my communications planning approach to my fitness work, I realized my goal was to live well and as healthily as possible. That meant I wanted to be able to move without assistance (now and in the future), to live free from injury, and to make activity a regular and enjoyable part of my life.
It wasn’t easy though shaking off some of the attitudes about what makes for an appropriate shape for women. Working with a trainer who focused on form and correct execution led to my looking at outcomes differently and finding the new measures that would help assess my progress in the gym.
Today, one of things I most appreciate about working towards achieving my goal to live well and be healthy is the fact that you are always working towards fitness. Fitness is not a six-week effort to achieve a better fit for your dress or swimsuit. It’s not a destination where you say “here I am, I am fit” simply because you can wear a bikini or a body-hugging sleeveless dress. Fitness is a process, and a way of life.
But if you want to be swimsuit ready, here’s a hint: put the swimsuit on. Now you are ready.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s, NL.