My goals have certainly changed over the years. To become a professional dancer. (Check.) To become a hairstylist. (Only on myself.) To become a Marine.(Say what???) And one very specific goal that was always there, in the back of my mind….always. To be thinner. To be thinner. To be thinner. As a dancer, one spends hours and hours in front of a mirror. Over time, the person on the other side of the mirror gets very distorted. One begins to hate that person. One begins to question every part of one’s body. This is what happened to me. For me, my body image problems began at age 13, and up until about three years ago, plagued me almost everyday, to some degree.
During my 20’s and into my early 30’s, no matter what I did, no matter what I did or did not eat, no matter what exercise class I took or taught, I never seemed to be satisfied with how I looked. I worked out at the gym incessantly, taking every aerobics class there was to take, spending hours on the treadmill. I poured over every fitness magazine I could get my hands on, worried about every single calorie, avoided certain foods like the plague and yes, even avoided eating sometimes. At one point, I swore that I had a stomach disease. I was convinced because everything I ate made me sick. (It was all in my head.) I visited doctor after doctor who all said the same thing. “There is nothing wrong with you.” All tests came back negative. Yet, I was still convinced, and I led a miserable life as a result. I continued to eat and feel guilty. I continued to exercise to the point of exhaustion. New Year’s Resolutions were always the same. Cut the cheese. Cut this. Cut that. No more of this. No more of that. I worried all the time about how I looked, how others perceived me.
A bad relationship with an ex-boyfriend in my late 20’s made things even worse and one day I woke up and I did not recognize the woman in the mirror. I was miserable, heavier than I had ever been in my life and completely defeated. I remember breaking down in my parent’s house about a malfunctioning printer I had just bought. I was crying and crying and felt totally out of control. My mother looked at me and said, “Look at what you are doing to yourself. What has happened to you?” It was right then and there that I knew I had hit rock bottom, and I vowed to do something about it. And I did. I broke up with that sorry person, re-joined my old gym and started to run. And I kept running. I stopped eating crap and, in two months, I dropped about 10 pounds. I felt great. I was finally in control of my life for the first time in a very long time. About five months later, I met a new man, a better man who fell in love with me and made me feel really good about myself. I was dancing, working, exercising and happy. But soon, that little voice crept back into my life. As good as I felt, something was not right. I would look at myself sometimes and convince myself that I was still heavy, that I did not look as good as people thought I did. Negative thoughts and feelings would overwhelm me and bring me to tears. I was back on the roller coaster again and I wanted to get off so badly. But how? I had been on this path so many times. And I was so tired of it.
That was 7 years ago. Today, I write this post from a much better place in my life. A stronger place. 16 years ago, I wanted to be thinner. I wanted to be skinny. Today, at 36, I want to be STRONG. And I am. The crazy thing is, I am leaner than I ever was when I was starving myself and taking endless aerobics classes! I have the body I so badly wanted when I was 21…I was just going about it the wrong way. I finally realized that weakness kept me from really being able to be happy with myself. When I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and got my butt in the gym and began training with some real weight, a miraculous thing occurred. I was 1. No longer in pain (see my back story here) and 2. I quickly saw my body change as I had never seen before. Suddenly, those women in the fitness magazines looked frail and thin to me, not strong and fit. When I got a real taste of barbell training and the difference it made physically, mentally and emotionally, there was no way I would ever return to another aerobics class or treadmill again. The woman who was now looking back at me in the mirror was a strong, fit and happy woman. My approach to eating changed as well. Years ago, I exercised so I could eat. Now I eat so I can train. I used to wear my heart rate monitor every time I trained. Now I don’t. I focus on getting stronger when I am training, not burning calories. This new outlook on training has made me a happier, more fit and stronger woman. I like it when people compliment my shoulders or my back. Just the other day, I had someone exclaim, “How did you get those legs girl?” I pointed to the power rack. “Squats,” was my reply. I enjoy making others strong too, especially women. I have worked very hard to build a stronger and more powerful body, one that I can be proud of and that others see as a goal for themselves. I do not read fitness magazines anymore. That is not the kind of woman I want to be. I am thoroughly enjoying my new found strength. And I have years of training ahead of me and I cannot wait to see where it will take me in the next 5-10 years. Sometimes those negative thoughts creep in my head (I believe they do with every woman out there, even the strong ones!) but then I remember the 210 pound squat I did the other day and I realize I am strong. And strong is the new black….or haven’t you heard. 🙂
If you want to read about other strong women who have found their own voice through strength training, please check out these websites. These women are some of the best of the best in the industry and should be congratulated for their strength and beauty. This is only a partial list. There are many other fantastic women out there who are strong and beautiful. Enjoy.