Take a second glance: Images of female athletes

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Howard Schatz’s images of female athletes have re-emerged and gone viral. The images – intending to display the varying array of body types – are bothersome to me. Perhaps because of my own insecurities. But also because I know the way that our minds work: we compare.

Check out both images and the Huffington Post article here.

Let me lead you through a second glance.

I am an athlete

No, I do not train for a sport, but I am an athlete – training for life. I immediately scanned the sports – looking for those athletes that I could most relate with and I compared my body to theirs. I am often asked if I am a swimmer – so I scanned for the swimmers and compared my shoulders, my legs, and my torso to theirs. Nope, I do not look like them. While I am not in ‘ peak physical condition’ as the disclaimer says these athletes are, I cannot help but compare. That is what we do! We compare. We judge (we know we shouldn’t but we do). And we ultimately beat ourselves up. I train so hard, and dang!

Now, I did not beat myself up. I could see the flaws in the images…so it made it easy for me to keep from traveling down that dangerous slope of negative self-talk and self-criticism.

I will share one significant flaw – hopefully to keep you from seeing this as a true representation and to prevent you from allowing yourself to compare and spiral into a dangerous place of despair.

The images are not to scale

Unfortunately – and I noticed this almost immediately – the photos are not to scale. The images are presented in a manner that inherently leads us to compare the athletes to one another. Yet, the 5’5″ golfer stands taller than the 5’8.5″ bodybuilder.

It is a trick!

Minor? Maybe. But tricky, tricky, tricky!

That is just one example, if you look at the heights of these athletes, that screams of the deception.

The bottomline

The intentions are good. And yes, the bodies of athletes vary significantly. All human bodies vary significantly. But I feel that the presentation is flawed and deceiving.

I have heard several clients and friends talking about this ‘artwork.’ Some are disappointed by the lack of clothing. Some are truly amazed by the differences.

Me? I am disappointed and bothered.

What do YOU think and feel about these images?

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Lean body – getting the results you want

I have been transparent about my battles with negative self-perceptions and body-image. These negative thought patterns go in spurts. I started writing this post late at night – unable to sleep and staring into the dark – wondering what it would be like to be ripped, hard, and lean. How would life be different?

What did I come up with? It would be different in no significant nor substantive way!

Media’s role

But wow. Facebook likes to think it knows what we will “like.” For me, it always recommends systems, supplements, and proteins that promise a lean body. I am active in many health and fitness social media networks and groups – so I get it. But they got me all wrong – and they are pushing the wrong buttons.

Triggered thoughts

I began to think, what if I just try it for a bit and see what is different. Will I have that ripped appearance that I want so badly but won’t starve myself to obtain? Will I remain the same? Will I bloat up?

How I would LOVE a lean body like the one advertised in the image. But at what cost?

I know what it takes

For someone with my genetics, it takes more to achieve the extremely lean look than it does for others. I have mentioned before, during times at my most lean, I felt sickly and exhausted. I couldn’t function! Would it be different if I filled my body with chemicals and manufactured ‘energy’?

The bottomline

And my mind goes on and on – all because of the hundreds of hard, lean bodies I see advertised on Facebook and other social media sites each day. I would delete my social media accounts, but it is a way for me to educate the community and cultivate new relationships and clients.

What messages do these ads send us? Don’t we have enough to deal with?

Follow me on Facebook: Better by Becca – where I rarely – if ever – post lean body pictures. There are plenty of other ways to motivate, inspire, and empower women.

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The power of size 11 jeans

I only own one pair of non-athletic shorts.

No, this is not me!

I wear a lot of skirts and dresses. They are more comfortable and I enjoy the femininity – to offset the masculinity of my athletic build.

There is another reason that I only have one pair of shorts: They are size 11.

I refuse to buy more double digit sized articles of clothing.

It is just a number

I know, many woman would be thrilled to fit into a size 11 pant. But one look at me – I do NOT look like a size 11. Some would say I am a skinny-minny (inaccurate) but most have guessed me to be a size 6.

I wish I was a size 6 – – –

As a society, we have assigned a value to these numbers.  They signify beauty. They signify worth. Or the opposite – unattractiveness and unworthiness.

Again, just a number

There is more to this story. I have dresses in my closet – ranging from size 4 to size 12. It depends on the designer. It depends on whether it is “junior’s” or “woman’s”. It depends on whether it is sleeved or sleeveless.

I have workout clothes – ranging from sizes small to large. The same factors exist.

The bottomline

I know this. I know that clothing sizes – particularly for women – are arbitrary and just numbers. But they still get to me – just as they get to most women.

Having to try on the double digit shorts keeps me from shopping for them – let alone purchasing them.

But all-in-all, I love my body and I would not want for it to be smaller – and fit into size 6 shorts. But somewhere along the line, society brainwashed that number into my head – – – Even above, I wrote that I do not look like a size 11. What DOES size 11 look like? Again with the brainwashing!

The truth is, it does not matter. Based on the fact that I have such varying sizes, I assume other women do, too. So, numbers shnumbers, I am done with them and I am taking the power back!

P.S. I am not going to buy another pair of shorts. They just are not comfortable and that is all that matters!

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Muscles = You must be a bodybuilder?

It is really funny actually. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked if I am a bodybuilder. I have been asked by roommates. I have been asked by strangers at the mall. I have been asked by strangers at gyms where I workout. I have been asked by strangers at gyms where I work. I have been asked by men, women, boys, and girls.

My friend Emily gets asked this as well. Neither of us looks like a bodybuilder. It has become a bit of a joke between us.

You must be a bodybuilder

I have narrowed it down to the fact that we are women, with muscle, who look like we know what we are doing in the gym. This accounts for the comments in the gym. And more than knowing what we are doing, we are not afraid of the heavy weights and are actually drawn to them – I would much rather do 4-6 reps of heavier weight than 12-15 reps of less weight. And for some reason, people associate heavy weights with bodybuilding – when bodybuilders actually use lighter weights for the bulk of their training.

I have determined that the everyday individual’s logic is:

If you know what you are doing in the weight room and you lift heavy weights, then you are a body builder.

Can you offer me any insight?

I am not a bodybuilder

When I let myself dwell on the comments, I can get down on myself. I have shared much about my battles with body image, and comments can trigger rampant thoughts. Out of season, bodybuilders often carry a significant amount of subcutaneous fat – a result of the considerable amount of calories required to build muscle and support the training regimen. I think, I know my body carries some subcutaneous fat, and I am okay with that – but how big do I look? 

There was a period in my life when I thought I would train for a competition. That season of thought has long since passed – there is no need for me to purposefully harm my body and risk significant metabolic damage. For what result? To stand mostly naked, in insanely high heels, and holding uncomfortable poses on a stage in front of individuals who are judging me? I will pass. While I like goals, and my body would likely adapt well to the physical training, I have no desire to put myself in the position of being judged based SOLELY on my appearance.

Thanks, but no thanks.

I am an athlete – I compete in the game called life

Opposed to bodybuilders, I train for life. I train for getting in and out of the car, impromptu hula hooping contests, unexpected basement demolitions, and so forth. While a bodybuilder may appear strong, most individuals would be surprised by their lack of functional movement and use of those big muscles (this is a broad statement and is not representative of ALL bodybuilders). This falls along the lines that models cannot do pushups – there is an overall disconnect between appearance and reality.

Compliment or insult?

When I have been asked if I am a bodybuilder, sometimes it comes across as a compliment and other times as an insult. The first few times, I let it get to me. Now, I just shake it off. Sometimes, individuals just do not know what to say and that is what comes out.

I love being strong and muscular, so I chose to take it as a compliment every time. And now every time either Emily or I hear it, we laugh and it causes a day’s worth of amusement.

The bottomline

I am not a bodybuilder. None of my friends are bodybuilders. I trained a friend for a figure competition – she is not a bodybuilder. We are strong – and have trained for life and the many obstacles it throws our way.

Further, I am not opposed to bodybuilding or figure training, it is just not for me.

The point is this: not all muscular individuals are bodybuilders. So stop asking us that! (You may give us a complex.)

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My distorted self-perception

What do you see when you look at yourself? Do you see what others see? Does what you see in the mirror match what you see in pictures of yourself?

I know that I do not see what others see when looking at me. And this is common. But how much of what we see is also accurate? Is any of it accurate?

Physical distortions

Recently, I was caught in traffic due to an accident. I was thinking about workouts (when am I not?) and clients. The majority of my clients – past and present – have fat loss goals. Many women will state, “I want to look like you!” I generally reply with, “Thank you for the compliment! Together we will work to find the best YOU.” Or something of the sorts.

When I stop to truly think about it, it baffles me – others want to look like me? I have had women want legs like mine, or a butt, or arms. I have had clients comment on how they would like a flat stomach like mine – I remark that my stomach is not flat and that they need to find a different standard to work towards! And all I want are abs like – any number of my fit friends. What is it we are looking for in what we perceive to be perfect physical attributes?

What does this boil down to? Many woman would be satisfied with my physique – so why am I not? OR, would they be just as self-critical once they obtain their ‘ideal bodies,’ identifying new targets for improvement and perfection?

What I wonder is, are my abs better than I see in the mirror? Is there a physiological or psychological lapse between my cornea and my brain? I believe that these thoughts result from being told I have body dysmorphic disorder (as good of a reason as ever to never label someone). Is what I see accurate – and how do I know?

To be unaware

I have no awareness of my outward beauty. It does not occur to me that I am attractive. A compliment often goes in one ear and out the other, without a second thought. This is not to say that I think that I am unattractive – I am simply ambivalent. I have been told this is better than being arrogant about my looks – I am not so sure! I was recently asked, “If you had to choose between being dumb or being ugly which would you choose?”

I would choose ugly. Hands down.

I place great value on my intelligence and mental aptitude – and next to no value on my physical appearance. I do not know that this is right or wrong, but it is.

The bottomline

I am not overly concerned with my physical appearance – and never have been. I seldom wear makeup. I rarely use a brush or a comb in my hair (lucky, I know!). I do not spend much time or money on my wardrobe.

However, I do have a distorted self-perception. I do not believe that I look fit. I view myself as a ‘big’ girl – with an athletic build. Does this thinking negatively influence my life in ways of which I am not aware?

Today, I am left blogging about questions that I do not have answers to.

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Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. ~ 1 Peter 3:3-4

Break through a weight loss plateau with REST

Anyone who has tried to lose weight has experienced a weight loss plateau – large or small. You lose, you lose, you lose – and then it stops. Some times you regain weight that was lost. Sometimes the plateau is a week or two. Other times it lasts months.

Plateaus occur in part because the human body has set points. Your body will reach a new set point approximately every 12 weeks. What does that mean? You can expect a plateau every 12 weeks – if not every six. NOTE: This varies on an individual basis, but these are common benchmarks.

Research shows that we can use plateaus to benefit the long term journey (Fairburn, 2008). The best plan is to be prepared.

Six month rule

For a client who is looking to lose a significant amount of weight (>40% of her bodyweight), I implement a six month rule. We work together to set weekly and monthly short-term goals and six-month, long-term goals. At the six month milestone, all weight goals pertain to weight maintenance.

Yes, maintenance, not loss.

Physiologically, the body has been in a deprived state for a significant amount of time. While the ideal program will have guided you to avoid reaching the physiological starvation mode, at some point your body is going to adapt to the deprivation. NOTE: I do not even like using the word deprivation, as a weight loss that results from deprivation is a band-aid, not a long-term solution. Further, deprivation bares a negative connotation and negativity is detrimental to goal attainment.

Maintenance

After six months of dedication to strict meal planning and lifestyle changes, it is a good idea for you to allow yourself to simply BE. Maintain what you have worked so hard to achieve. Accept it. Appreciate it. Recognize it. At this point on your journey, it may be difficult to see what is real when you look in the mirror – and you may see a previous version of yourself. The phantom fat phenomenon may be preventing you from being able to see your results. This can add discouragement and frustration to a lengthy, taxing process.

I encourage clients to take at least a month to focus on maintenance at the six month mark. During this time goals do not increase physical activity, nor do they change eating habits. Goals focus on the established lifestyle. If a client had previous goals of working out 3 times a week, we retain that goal for the 4 weeks – but we do not reach for more. I do not encourage her to stretch herself. We work to maintain the changes made so far and adopt them as part of a lasting, healthy lifestyle.

If you choose to maintain – you retain the control instead of allowing the plateau to control you.

A time to rest
photo (34)

Sometimes we just need a break. Sometimes you just need to be easy on yourself. You also need to know, that it is OKAY to rest. In fact, you need to rest. Why do most individuals quit weight loss programs?

Grow tired and weary?

The mental fatigue of constantly thinking about what you need to do next?

The lack of results?

We often view the plateau as a failure. Change your thinking and use that time as an opportunity for rest. Rest the mind – knowing that where you are today is better than where you were yesterday. Stop thinking about what you need to do differently or more of this week or next. Just allow yourself to BE.

A time to check in

A plateau is an opportunity to rest. It is also an opportunity to check in with yourself. Be honest.

How are things working?

Are you putting forth enough effort?

Do the workouts fit into your lifestyle as a long-term addition?

Can you maintain the ‘diet’ in the long term?

Are your goals still realistic or do they need to be modified?

Something has got to change

This is the common advice for anyone looking to break through a plateau – you have to change in order to see change. This is true. The human body is highly adaptive – it takes six exposures (give or take) to an exercise before the body adapts to it. What does this mean? You need to change – the load, mode, duration, etc. For once the body adapts, you will no longer obtain results by doing that same thing.

However, it is not that simple. Most individuals who experience significant weight loss followed by a lengthy plateau lost the weight by creating a huge dietary intake deficit. To some of you this may sound good. It can actually be detrimental to long-term success. The result is a slow and groggy metabolism. Sometimes the necessary change is to eat more – revving up that metabolism. Example: I spent a summer working for a weight loss resort, essentially eating what the guests ate. I gained almost 15 pounds – my dietary needs were not being met and it slowed my metabolism WAY down. I lost that weight quickly and easily by eating more.

The bottomline

Plateaus are going to happen. It is best to be prepared for them. There are ways to reduce the frequency of plateaus, using science-based workouts and programming. You will not find this in a DVD or in a standard group fitness class. You will not get this programming from your average personal trainer, either.

My best advice to you – plan for maintenance every 3 to 6 months. Use this time to be proud and regroup. Rejuvinate. Enjoy what you have earned.

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References

Cooper, Z., Fairburn, C. G., & Hawker, D. M. (2003). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Obesity: A Clinician’s Guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Fairburn, C. G. (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders. New York: The Guilford Press.

Progress pictures – A good idea?

My answer: it depends. Progress pictures will be good for some individuals and bad for others. It is a question that I have been asking for myself recently – is it good for me – therefore I have been giving the concept a great deal of thought.

I know some individuals who take daily progress pictures. I know that if I took pictures everyday, I would become depressed by the lack of change from one day to the next (or perceived change in the negative direction). I would become overly concerned with my appearance (which is already borderline considering my concern with appearing as if I am someone  who works out). I think that an individual’s mental health, stability, maturity, and so forth have a significant influence on whether or not he/she can healthfully take progress pictures and use them for motivation and/or self improvement.

From a coach and trainer perspective, I encourage clients to take progress pictures every 4 weeks. This is often enough to be a reasonable amount of time to wait. It is long enough to see visual change – in some cases. And this schedule does not create a risk for obsession or unhealthy habit of picture taking. Why do I warn against progress pictures becoming an obsession? Do we need another way and reason to judge our own bodies and appearances?

So yes, I do take progress pictures

I take personal progress pictures. I do this on no specific schedule, just when I think about it. Lately, I have been overall pleased with what I see. Can you say the same? For a short time, I was experiencing anxiety over the imperfections I saw in these pictures. During this time, I was also taking daily progress pictures. I reduced the frequency of my pictures. AND I changed my thinking – seeking the positive aspects of each picture. I am becoming much more lean. When I put pictures from October and today side-by-side the difference is amazing to me. I am down 12-15 pounds, I do not weigh myself often enough to really know, and the difference in my definition is wonderful!

Method for measuring progress

I measure my progress with my physical fitness assessment – performed every 3 months – and progress pictures. I use pictures as part of measuring my progress for numerous reasons. One reason being that I avoid scales and weight goals. I have a history of never being satisfied with my weight. Once I reach the goal, I am continually decreasing my desired weight. This is unnecessary and even detrimental to my efforts.

An important note is that I can wear the same clothes – though they wear differently today than they did then it is not noticeable enough to me. I do not weigh myself. Clothes are not a good measure for me. I need a measure! I need these images to motivate me to keep my diet on track and stay lean. The primary change in recent months has been in eating habits – and slipping into old ways and still fitting into my clothes – that is risky business!

The phantom fat

What I see in the mirror is not real. I see more fat in the mirror than the pictures show. What a relief! I have discussed the realities of phantom fat – despite my awareness of this psychological enigma, it still sneaks up on me! What we see of ourselves is distorted – and this has been highly publicized recently with the Dove Real Beauty Sketches.

There is complex science and psychology behind the differences in how we view ourselves in the mirror versus in pictures – and each one of us has varying discrepancies. These discrepancies are the result of our personal thoughts and feelings. What we see in the mirror is a reflection of what we feel (the Beauty Sketches sort of support this phenomenon, as it is a result of the image we see of ourselves and we most often see ourselves in mirrors).

The bottomline

I am me. You are you. What works for me will not always work for you. And what works for you will not always work for me!

There is no right or wrong, good or bad. Each of us is an individual – making each of our experiences individual. I know others who take daily pictures and thrive. I have learned that daily pictures are detrimental for me. Most times, we need to experiment and learn through trial and error what will work.

NO! You will not take my picture

It is time to get serious. Down to business. I need to ensure my physique is in optimal condition.

Why?

As I develop my website and business – I need to do a photo shoot.

Why?

Because I am the product I am selling. Not because I want to be – but because that is how it works.

I hate pictures

Some of the difficulty with this is that I am incredibly self-conscious. I hate pictures in general – let alone a photo shoot?!?!?? I am not concerned that the camera adds 10 pounds, but I do want to look fit. Okay I lied, I want to look ripped. But I also want to look real. So do I put on my game face or do I smile and have fun? Regardless, I am concerned with my arms looking muscular instead of fat. I want that definition. I want to present an image of a strong woman. A healthy physique but still a real woman.

Will my muscle intimidate? My mass is natural with my activity. There will be no bare stomach in my pictures – not my greatest asset. Would showing my weak spot increase my vulnerability and make me more marketable – I ask myself?

Opportunity for personal growth

Everyday is an opportunity for personal growth. Every day is an opportunity to tackle fear. Building a business – designed to guide others through personal growth – is growing me in unimaginable ways. I had not given thought to the fact that I would be marketing myself in pictures and videos. However, I believe this is a healthy step forward in my self-acceptance and breaking my self-consciousness.

How do you grow from day to day?

The bottomline

I am conquering another fear, of sorts. Along with this, I have provided myself with an amazingly powerful motivator to help me combat my desires to binge. I prefer to have something to work for – that extrinsic motivator keeps me on task.

How do you tackle fear?

What motivates you?

The power of a compliment

You never know what a compliment might do!

I will keep this short. I received two powerful compliments in the last two days – during a time of heightened insecurity and self doubt. The first – a compliment from a coworker about how amazing my arms look. The second – a compliment from an older, physically fit gentleman at the gym where I teach and train. He mentioned to the gym owner and staff while pointing at me – “You don’t see a lot of women who can do the full straight leg raises like she was doing. It’s very impressive!

I replied, “Thank you, I train hard and appreciate the compliment.” He said a little more about it, but I was too busy thinking positive thoughts to hear him!

I have been known to be significantly self conscious about my appearance. There was a period when I received a lot of comments like, “Oh, you workout?” Really, I do not look like I workout? That frustrated me – I worked out so hard and yet it was unnoticeable. I was told that only the naive and ignorant would look at me and not know that I workout. But – it has happened a lot!

I have this issue when it comes to my torso. Despite the fact that I can physically perform exercises that most women cannot – I feel that my physical appearance does not display this. How come I do not have washboard abs – like some women I know who are not able to do half of what I can. I sometimes allow myself to become defeated by my physical display of imperfection.

So with this man’s comment – he noticed something that I had felt was unnoticed and unnoticeable. He showed me an error in my thinking.  He validated all of my hard work! And all he had to do was verbalize a compliment – something many people may have thought but never thought to say. And now….all I want to do is go to the gym and do more hanging leg raises.

How can you compliment others today?

We cannot choose our imperfections

As those who follow my blog may know, I am overly concerned with my torso. I am concerned with the imperfect appearance. And more than that, I am concerned with the pain and impaired quality of movement associated with my rotated rib cage (I do not think I have mentioned this before). I have overactive muscles throughout the right side of my body that pull on everything, making me uneven. I do self myofascial release, active release technique (ART), I poke and prod my psoas and sarratus on a regular basis…

Last night, I was gently massaging my sarratus. My wonderful roommate began to comment that my imperfection makes me ME – assuming I was analyzing the imperfection of my torso. I explained that I was massaging. And I said, “If I have to have an imperfection I would rather have cellulite on my butt.” Would it not be awesome if we could choose? Now, I am sure that those with cellulite on their butts would likely choose something else, but that is besides the point. The point: we cannot choose.

No spot reduction

And just as we cannot choose our imperfection, we cannot choose to perfect an area of our body. It is unfortunate, but there is no such thing as spot reduction. I regularly have individuals ask me what they can do about thighs or tummies – the honest answer is workout. More importantly, a program of fat loss workouts. (Quiz: Are group fitness classes designed for fat loss?) Can you emphasis an area for toning and muscle building? Yes. But we have ZERO control over where fat sits on our bodies. Annoying? I believe so.

It is genetics

As I thought more about how each of us is imperfect in a different way, I got to thinking about the role of genetics on our physical structure. “My calves are awesome and I rarely work them; whereas, my torso is my ‘weak point’ and I work it nearly every day.” This is the truth. It seems counter-intuitive. It is incredibly frustrating. But it is what it is. Some of my friends have never had tummy area troubles. I have never had leg, thigh, or butt woes. We can thank our mothers for this, and grandmothers – it is in our genes.

NOTE: Do not mistake this for a genetic explanation for overweight or obesity. Genes control how easy or difficult it may be to lose. Genes influence where on your body you hold fat, muscle, etc. Genes influence hormones – which effect our weights. But genes do not make someone overweight.

I do have nice legs – truly always have. While I do work hard to maintain them, I have never focused on my calves (like I have my torso and biceps – my weak points). Maybe it is because I am 99.9% German. Maybe it is because I come from a long ancestral line of farmers – who needed the strong legs for bailing hay and working all day. Regardless – it is out of my control. Does it feel to you like I am talking myself into believing it?

Acceptance – the hard part

So, how do I come to terms with the fact that I may not have the flat stomach that I desire, but I have the great legs that others may desire? We all have something – true or perceived – and this is real. I know the science. I know that there is very little I can do. But I still fight the acceptance. I still cannot find satisfaction.

The bottomline

Our imperfections make us beautiful. Our imperfections make us individuals – lovable for precisely who we are.

We do not get to choose our imperfection – but we can choose to embrace them. I am working on this, are you?

Do you embrace your imperfections?