As I stared in the mirror, I wasn’t sure what to think about the girl looking back. I turned from side-to-side, front-to-back as if I was competing in my own personal bikini competition and I was the harshest judge. Scrolling through social media certainly didn't help as I was constantly bombarded with images whose intent to inspire only left me feeling less than whole.
“My abs don’t look like hers, I must not be training hard enough,” I'd think to myself, as if having six-pack abs solved all of life’s problems. It sounds silly now, but looking back it seemed so important.
I'd been strenuously working out for years to achieve a body I could only dream would be fit enough to be seen in a "fitspiration" photo. I thought that if I had the perfect body, I'd finally be able to love myself. What I didn't realize until it was too late was that these images were aiding in my slow progression into exercise addiction and body dysmorphic disorder.
I was consumed by all things exercise and health. Working out was no longer an outlet to exercise; it was the be all, end all of my day. Green smoothies became my kryptonite as I limited my diet to fruits and vegetables, and saw a full meal as the enemy.
In my mind, a thin frame meant success and what I saw in the mirror wasn't showing me what I wanted to see. I thought, "If I look good enough — like the women in these images — people will like me.” But I was ignoring the fact that I'd let these photos set a standard of perfection that was beginning to control how I saw myself.
As I pushed more and more in the gym, I began to crack under the pressure. I suffered countless injuries that wouldn't heal because I had to make sure I got my workout in for the day. I let diet dictate my moods. I'd even cancel plans with friends because in my mind I couldn’t afford the excess calories a cocktail might deliver and had to make sure I was in the gym early the next morning.
My injuries kept me in constant pain and my restrictive diet created a haze of fatigue that left me lifeless. I'd never been more miserable.
When I look back on that period of my life, I see how illogical it all sounds, how crazy I must have seemed to everyone around me. But at the time, the distorted idea of a perfect body, courtesy of never-ending "fitspiration," was the only thing controlling my thoughts.
Fitspiration has bombarded social media in the last couple of years with messages and images meant to motivate people to get to the gym, to not be lazy, to do whatever it takes to get that "ideal" body. It operates under the guise of health, empowerment and motivation, but all too often, it reinforces an unhealthy body image and the idea that all "healthy" bodes look the same, setting impossible standards and body shaming those who don't fit that unrealistic standard.
In some ways, it's even worse than images of "perfect" women we seen in the media — at least we know they're models photoshopped by the pros. Fitspiration often feels even more intense because it's real women who have achieved these "perfect" bodies. Why couldn't I look as good as them?
The pressure to lose weight, have high muscle mass and spend strenuous hours at the gym can also lead to disordered eating. Warning signs include excessive leanness, preoccupation with weight, food, mealtime rituals and body image, as well as daily vigorous exercise, stress fractures, fatigue, depression and low self-esteem.
With images and quotes that focus on pain and working against your body to achieve results, fitspiration often suggests your body is the enemy and you should push it to the limit to achieve and certain look. They're creating a serious disconnect between the body and the spirit.
Instead of focusing on the bodies we don’t possess, we should be embracing the bodies we have. Before we can be the best possible versions of ourselves, we first need to learn to love ourselves. And while that's far easier said than done, there are a few steps you can take to start that journey.
We are our own harshest critics, our own worst enemies. Thoughts we have and words we say to ourselves are often so hurtful we wouldn't ever say them to our worst enemy. So why are we so hard on ourselves?
The first — and arguably most important — piece of self-love is to apologize to yourself. Say sorry for being so cruel and realize that negative self-talk is defeating.
2. Be grateful.
We so frequently forget that our bodies are wonderful pieces of natural machinery. Take a moment to recognize all the incredible things your body allows you to do on a daily basis, and thank it for helping you live just as it is.
3. Think beautiful thoughts.
Be kind to yourself, every single day. Think, “I am perfectly all right just the way I am,” and “I'm a uniquely beautiful being, inside and out.” Be unapologetically you.
Now when I look in the mirror, I'm happy with what I see. It's not because I see a chiseled six-pack reflecting back, but rather, I'm thankful that I am healthy enough to move my body everyday with enthusiasm and grace. I have the energy to stay motivated and the gratitude to fuel my body with nourishing foods that allow me to be all that I am.
Remember that every day is another chance to love your body and all that it can do for you.