Back when I started this project, I wrote about how I’ve hated my body for as long as I can remember. But in the last few weeks something in me has changed, and it’s down to that question in the title. For me, that question signifies a shift in mindset which has enabled me to become, for the first time in my life, truly body-positive. So what changed?
The key for me has been becoming more active, which I wrote about in my last #PrettyHealthyProject post on intentional exercise. Six months ago the mere thought of waking into a gym was enough to induce a minor panic attack, but in the last few weeks I’ve not only walked for miles on all sorts of terrain; I’ve been horse-riding four or five days a week, I’ve swum regularly, attended my first-ever fitness class (something I never thought I could do) and, perhaps mot significant of all, I’ve started going back to the gym.
I’ll do a whole post on overcoming gym and/or exercise anxiety another time, because what I’m interested in today is the effect that all this activity has had on me. So far, it hasn’t accounted for many physical changes (and ultimately that’s never been my primary motive), but the mental shifts have been surprising to say the least. Although my body looks much the same, the way I feel about is totally different to just a few weeks ago.
Take last Thursday for example. This summer, I’ve been given the most amazing opportunity of a share of a horse at my equestrian centre, which has allowed me to go down to the yard and work with him most days. That involves bringing him in from the field, grooming, doing his physio exercises, groundwork, riding, and then general yardwork like tack cleaning and mucking out. This work requires a surprising amount of physical exertion, and my FitBit tells me that I normally achieve my requisite 10,000 steps by the time I leave. Last Thursday I had been at the yard for about three and a half hours when Dad picked me up and took me to the gym, where I did a 40 minute cardio and wights session followed by a 1km swim – all before midday.
After my swim I sat in the changing room for a minute, marvelling at the fact of what my body had just managed to do. Isn’t it an amazing vehicle, that it could do all of that and still be able to do more?
That was when it hit me. All morning, whilst I’d been doing all of that exercise, I hadn’t been thinking about how I looked doing it all. When I was riding, I was fussed about how my horse felt, how he was going and how I was affecting how he was able to perform. When I was in the gym, I was focused on getting through my cycling intervals and weights workout, thinking carefully about the muscle groups I was working and my form on each set. And when I was swimming, I was only concerned about keeping my stroke and my breathing regular and even, keeping myself to a good pace. How I looked whilst doing all of that never had a place in my considerations – instead, what mattered was what I was doing.
Having made that shift, my bodily appreciation followed. The more I followed this mindset, the better I felt about my body. If I found myself thinking negatively about how I looked, I suddenly had something to counter it with: no, you don’t have a flat stomach, but you can climb a mountain; yes, you do have rolls of fat when you bend over, but you can cycle 25 miles. And so on.
What I like most about this mindset is that it can work for almost anyone, including less- or differently-abled people. Whether you can run a marathon, walk a mile, or even sit up in bed, this way of thinking is entirely personal to the individual. Even if your body doesn’t do as much as you want it to at the moment, the fact that it can do something means that with effort it might be able to do something more.
Knowing what my body is able to do now – and knowing that with only a little effort I can enable it to do much more – has not only enhanced my appreciation for it; it’s also made me want to do better by it. I want to treat it better, not just through exercise and nutrition but by thinking and talking about it more positively. I want to enjoy it: our bodies are the only ones we will ever have, and given that capitalism thrives off industry after industry which encourages us to hate and hurt our bodies (and our mental health in the process) surely the best way to fight back is through love and appreciation for what we are born with?
For me, at least, this is the way forward. But if you suffer from body negativity, next time it strikes you down make a list of all the things your body can do, whether it’s getting up in the morning or completing a triathlon. Be thankful for your body, and be kind to it: you might be surprised by the effect this thinking can have on your outlook.
What can your body do?