The lines are blurred in my mind when I try to pinpoint the time period I really started to criticize and feel ashamed of my body. Freshman year, my body was undeveloped, twiggy, and small. Then, around sophomore to junior year, my body transformed and I was burdened with womanly curves. I saw this change as a problem, something I needed to fix. I hated my “thunder thighs,” the lower part of my stomach, and the size of my bust. My two best friends miniature frames did not help my body image, either. The tiny girl with a skinny waist, chiseled abs, and a round backside on Pinterest was what I should look like, right? The need to look like the girls on social media flooded my thoughts everyday. If I do daily abdominal exercises and run, my stomach will be flat were my beliefs. In reality, these exercises were not the key to achieving the body I wanted, nor would they help me gain the confidence I needed.
While social media can be a place where impossible expectations are found, social media can also have positive effects on body image and be a source of motivation. Instagram and Pinterest used to be a place where I would idolize pictures of unrealistic girls and their bodies. Now, I use Instagram to find motivation, explore new workouts, and connect with other women who show me that bodies on Instagram do not always look like the picture. Many famous fitness accounts have actually posted “30 second transformations” to show how they look normally versus posed. In one picture, they look like an everyday human being, but in the other picture, they flex at a certain angle with the right type of lighting. I have come to realize that social media portrays only the highlight reel of someone’s life. Thinking someone’s life is perfect because of the pictures he or she posts becomes an easy trap to fall into. No one wants to share an ugly photo or a failure in his or her life; therefore, only the best of the best-captured moments gets uploaded to the Internet. The world may not see a person’s flaws on social media, but that does not mean the person lives a flawless life.
I never resorted to anything crazy to achieve that look of the girl on Pinterest, but those thoughts still consumed me. In the beginning of junior year, I joined the gym. I still did not fully understand that changing your body and building muscle took time. I used the gym on and off during my first year of membership. Anger and despair engulfed me when I could not see physical changes after a week of working out. Exercise was seen as a punishment, and I lacked motivation. However, this past year, I began to take my physical health more seriously. I committed myself to working out and creating a strong body that I am proud of. Exercise has become a passion, and the gym has become a place of comfort and relief. This excitement took a long time to develop, and I still have days where working out is the last thing I want to do. Sometimes, I might take a rest day, or even a rest week. The old me would have felt like all hope was lost and avoid the gym for months. The new me, however, hops right back on track, with the knowledge that all of my previous hard work and progress is still intact. I can confidently attribute my newfound perspective on health and body positivity to the women on Instagram who post “real” photos, flaws and all. The fitness community on Instagram has shown me all women deal with the same insecurities. One “flaw” I have come to accept is the fact that over 90 percent of women have cellulite, even those people who are fitness freaks. My stretch marks are another insecurity that I have learned to accept by realizing that they are normal. Being able to connect with other fit women that deal with the same insecurities as me has truly helped me to realize that our bodies are perfect just the way they are, and no one has the “perfect body.”
Exercise has become an integral part of my routine. I feel stronger and more confident than I ever have in my life because I overcame my fear of lifting weights in the “men’s section” of the gym. One of the biggest transformations I have received from working out is my mental transformation. Physical changes increase confidence and boost a person’s motivation, but a positive mentality truly makes working out enjoyable. My perspective on working out and body image has completely turned around in one year. I no longer aspire to look like those tiny girls on Pinterest or Instagram; rather, I aspire to be the strongest version of myself, and I turn to exercise for stress relief. Everyone deserves to be happy in his or her own skin. Pushing myself to build muscle and increase my strength creates that happiness for me, but others may not feel the same way. If trying to fit in workouts to your day makes you absolutely miserable, then do not do it! If you want to eat a third slice of pizza, who is going to stop you? I know I won’t because I will probably be on my fourth slice. Do what makes you feel good, regardless of other people’s opinions. We weren’t created to please everyone with our looks. God placed us on earth to be kind to one another, build relationships, and let our internal gifts flourish. This realization did not come to me overnight. I still have days where I beat myself up for not having abs, but then I try to remember that having abs will not make me a happier person or fulfill my life goals. I have come to accept the fact that my abs might never be visible because, while I love to work out, I am not consumed by constant exercise. My sweet tooth takes over more than I like to admit, and making memories with friends trumps a trip to the gym. I am still learning to live my life with balance, and everyday brings on new challenges.
I am forever grateful for the way exercise has changed my life, not only physically, but also mentally. Now, my number one reason to work out is to feel good, not just look good. This past year, my self-esteem and confidence have soared. Even my moods have become more joyous because of the increased endorphins. I am in no way free of negative thoughts, but exercise provides a way to combat the thoughts that whisper I am not good enough because of my looks. Without the honest fitness accounts on Instagram that taught me to love my body, I would still be struggling with the manipulated view that all my problems would disappear if my body were smaller. These accounts show me that even the most muscular people have off days and mess up in their daily lives. They eat the pizza and the cookies without remorse, but they get back on track the next day. They have cellulite and stretch marks because they are human. Learning to love my body took an excruciating amount of time and effort, but I would not trade my journey for the world. I have learned so much about myself, and I have proven that I can do anything I set my mind to.