Social media puts fitness on steriods. Gym culture is more ubiquitous than it has ever been, but, personally, I feel like I also feel more out of the loop than I have ever felt. Instagram oozes with figure competitors, naturally thin dietians, online coaches, before and after pictures, CrossFit, Orangetheory, HIIT, #Fitspo, #IfItFitsIntoYourMacros, yogis, and on and on and on. Then, there’s the apparel: GymShark, Lululemon, Nike, Adidas, Oiselle, etc forever. It’s hard to feel like I’m enough. I’ve been a gym rat since I was twelve– regularly mortifying my mother by going hard in the paint at the local YMCA. I began dancing and ran my first race at three. By second grade, I ran track outside of school. In high school, I lifted. I look like a normal person– which is to say that I am not shredded. My body is soft, thighs speckled with cellulite. I don’t feel like an athlete when I juxtapose the three dimensions of me against these images. And then, I get to the gym. My feet hit the treadmill. My hands clutch the weights. My heels jut off of the rower. My back rests in svanasana . I forget what I’ve seen. My body instinctually knows to go– to move, glide, race like these are most important strides it can muster. It is faithful in ways my brain is not. Coated in sweat, breath audible, my heart a percussion section inside me– my body reminds me I am an athlete when Instagram tells me otherwise.
Like I mentioned earlier, movement wove into my existence before I was born. My parents ran races as dates. My mother ran a 10k through sandy hills while pregnant with me and won a trophy! There is a pull-up bar in my parent’s living room and a sturdy weight rack in the basement. I have four siblings, and we all played sports growing up. That isn’t to say that we are a household of Olympians, but exercise was always a priority in my home growing up.
This was a blessing. Sports are an equalizer. It doesn’t matter how cool or rich or smart you are outside of the game. What matters is your ability, your talent, your drive. How well can you show up for yourself in this moment? And when you lose, are you a good loser? Are you a good sport? Do you beat yourself up or give yourself grace, knowing you will only learn from the loss? I never fit in with the jocks. I never fit in with the cool kids. But I could show up for the dance performance, for the race, and in those moments, it didn’t matter that I was a loser. I could win in some small measure.
College allowed no time for working out. Three to four jobs, eleven activities, and two majors swallowed my time. Graduation shattered the era of perpetual business, where my body awaited me. I assessed my physical state. I didn’t like the way that I looked. More than that, I didn’t enjoy my habits. I resented my sluggishness, how disempowered I felt. My mental health struggles grew harder to manage, and I slipped deeper into depression. Slowly, I returned to the gym. I was embarrassed by how out of shape I was. My anxiety convinced me that people would judge and mock me. Constantly, I’d remind myself, “a decrease in physical activity or ability isn’t a moral failure. It isn’t a reflection of you as a person”. I unfollowed every fitspo account. My investment in myself wouldn’t be benchmarked by images on the internet. I refrained from weighing myself for a long time. I just wanted to feel ok again. That was the bar: ok. Not hot, not shredded, just to feel less depressed, more energized, a little happier.
I got there. I sped past there. I joined Orangetheory and started working out six days a week– sometimes twice a day. Exercise became a crutch throughout loss and trauma and difficulty. There is something meaningful about turning off your whole life for one hour to focus on your body– the very thing that works twenty-four hours for you. There’s something powerful about no longer wishing for life in a smaller body, but wanting to live my fullest life in this body.
I teeter in and out of injuries often. I know my body needs more breaks than I give it. I’m as hard on myself as I was as a kid. But, in many ways, working out saves me.
Endorphins elevate my mood and manage crippling levels of anxiety. Prioritizing exercise means structuring my time in order to accommodate it. This is the commitment I make to myself as often as I can for self-care. I know it won’t always be this easy to make time for fitness, and when those difficult times arise, I will have to make necessary shifts. I can’t starve myself because my needs fuel to perform at its best. Despite my best efforts to erase myself, working out requires me to take up space. I always wanted to win more than I wanted to be skinny– which is saying a lot. What I didn’t realize is that working out as an adult gave a different kind of victory– granting myself the grace to change and accept those changes. The scale has spanned thirty-five pounds up and down since I’ve worked out six days a week. My body injures, recovers, and breaks down again. All the while, I don’t abandon myself anymore. I’m no longer a farewell fan of myself, and there’s no better prize than that.
This is not a post telling you to get ripped. This is not a post encouraging you to push your body past healthiness. If anything, I just want you to show up for yourself– exactly as you are. I want you to remain with yourself with it is hard and disappointing and uncomfortable. I want you to become your own metric for excellence, and I don’t want your health to be rooted in some ideal on the internet or number on the scale.
Diet culture and InstaFit narratives rob us of our bodies’ cravings to move. They make it a requirement, pathologize it. I want you to move in all the ways your body wants to. The only bad form of fitness is when you’re doing too much. So, don’t. Surrender this belief that you aren’t enough. Your progress cannot fit into a before and after picture when your body is an always. Your body knows this. It is here for you right now, your best teammate, your ride or die. It already is the best– not because of of what it does in the gym, but because it is yours, always.