This topic is very dear to my heart.
What is it?
According to Wikipedia, body image is a person’s feelings of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body, which may be forced onto them by others or the media.
The phrase was first coined by Paul Schilder in his book ‘The image and appearance of the human body’ (1935).
Society often emphasises the beauty of the human body, but these may not match our own perceptions.
We get bombarded on a daily basis with society’s ideas of the perfect body. These ideas are being forced on our children from a very young age and affect how we as adults portray ourselves.
Often a person’s own perception of their appearance can be different from how others actually perceive them. The media and society at large (no pun intended) put an ENORMOUS amount of pressure on women (and on men, but to a different extent) to be perfect (whatever that is), to the point where children are worried about getting fat and about their appearance instead of their own unique individuality – and what other traits they have to offer besides their physical appearance. This is idiotic, in my opinion, but the pressure is there nevertheless.
Too often, I hear in my children’s classes: “Am I too fat?”
My 12-year-old told me the other day that she needs to go on a diet; you can imagine my ‘joy’ at hearing that. We spoke about healthy eating, which we talk about on a regular basis as the subject is very dear to my heart, and the pressure at school and extra mural activities is already quite high at that age.
I suffered from anorexia nervosa since the age of 14 and this is no fun.
Expectations from the media and family and friends of how we as girls these days – and also more and more men – are supposed to behave and look is tremendous.
The stress we put ourselves under physically and mentally, as well as psychologically, is enormous and I believe nobody who hasn’t gone down that road, for whatever reason, can quite comprehend how much psychological torture that can be for a person.
Over the years, I always promised myself that I will be there for anybody who needs me regarding a healthy body image, self esteem and just believing in themselves, as I feel they are all interlinked.
We, as Pilates / Fitness professionals, unfortunately, are sometimes held to whatever an individual’s perception may be of what a Pilates / Fitness instructor “should” look like. And why is that? For years, Fitness /Pilates instructors where /are compared to images of glossy Fitness magazines (don’t get me wrong I had stacks of them), dictating to us what the ideal body has to look like so we can teach and transform our clients to meet these standards. This is great if we have favourable genes and can be moulded into a glossy magazine shape.
But what if we are not among the luckily predisposed? What if we struggle to touch our toes, to do a tree pose with a straight leg, hold an open leg rocker and not fall over, and roll like a ball instead of flop like a fish? What if we run like a dinosaur and not like a Greek god? What if we swim like a whale and not like the next Olympic athlete?
Are we then not acceptable according to today’s beautiful standards of body image?
Do we teach our children that if they are pear shaped and their tummies are not flat at 11 and their athletic figure is less than perfect that they are not acceptable according to today’s body image standards? Or do we tell them not to bother doing any type of sport, as they will not be perfect anyway?
We plant into our children the seed of insecurity and self-doubt by displaying in front of them behaviour of people who are unhappy with themselves and are insecure, as they do not feel accepted by society.
I could go on and on about the ins and outs of why we don’t feel accepted and why we want to be part of the ‘cool’ group, but I think that goes far beyond the length of a newsletter.
The point is that we all want to look good and we all need to be healthy and I like to portray in my classes and my studio the drive to become functional, healthy, strong people who in my eyes are ALL beautiful!
Pilates / Fitness instructors come in all shapes and sizes, just like all the people out there signing up to do Pilates or attending gym classes. And thank GOODNESS for that!!! The focus at my studio is ALWAYS on improving the quality of life and feeling better and being happy; if that comes with creating a more aesthetically appealing body image, so be it, but this should never be the foremost reason.
I think if we all learn to accept ourselves as we are, we have a good starting point in creating beautiful bodies inside and out.
Everybody should enter the gym or my studio to have fun and strive for a healthier body.
Don’t get me wrong, I love hard gym work and competition, but I learned by now that I can’t always have both… a healthy soul and being perfect in the eyes of others.
If you and me as an athlete really love what we do and compete and train in that spirit, then I think you are amazing because you kept the true spirit of the sport alive and I am such a fan of it. But if you ‘need’ to do it to fulfil the ‘wish’ of others, then you are not doing yourself a favour and one day you will discover that you lost your soul and the beauty within.
Believe me, I have a long way to go to accept myself at all times and a long way in improving myself but it has to be for the right reasons.
Here is the mantra every person should tell themselves everyday as our thoughts become our words, our words become who we are and dictate our actions:
‘I am perfect exactly the way I am.
I am healthy. I am strong. I do amazing things.
I can work every day on improving my standards of life and beauty and only I am the judge of that. ‘
This article is by all means not the end of the discussion, as I am sure I could write volumes about it, but if you need help or advice, I am always there.