Don’t Fix, I’m Not Broken

Hello readers, it’s been a while.

But then a lot’s happened since my last blog post, and I mean a lot! To cut a long story short, I’m now the head coach of a ladies rugby team, I know amazing, right? I completed my UKCC Level One coaching badge and I am now also a youth coach, coaching Primary school children mini rugby. The last few months have been a whirlwind.

The role of a coach is all-encompassing even more so when you have a group of women. Women who come to the sport with low self-esteem and a negative mindset about body image. Not only does one coach the sport, but you also have to mentor the player.  It’s a challenging undoing decades of damage but essential if you are to have them realise their athletic potential. And I do love a challenge.

So, in trying to boost their confidence, I have organised a team photo shoot with two uber-talented professional photographers; Susan Renee and Johnathan Addie. However, when I mentioned it to the team,  rather than be elated, quite a few ran screaming for the scales. Whilst this reaction did not surprise me, it did sadden me. Here we have a group of women who have been brave enough to sign up and play rugby. Even more impressive, considering most have never played before, is how talented and skilled they are at such an early stage.

I did manage to talk them down, as I explained what the shoot represents, not just to them but for all women. Think it also helped when they found out they didn’t have to do it in their underwear. I want the images raw and honest, for each to represent the beauty and diversity of the team. This will be a body positive campaign, real women with real bodies. I want my team to send out a powerful message, that sporting prowess is not just the exclusivity of thin women.

For the photo shoot, I need to create a mood board for the photographers. So I headed to the internet in search of inspiration, Pinterest and such like. Type in the obvious keywords: strong inspirational women, women in sport, female rugby players, powerful women; you get the picture. And here is where it got very frustrating and hence the reason I’m writing this article.

No matter how many times I mixed it up, the same images came back at me. Each one, a carbon copy of the next, all blending into one standard image of tan, abs and fake sweat.  Even though it didn’t relate, hundreds of posts advising how to burn a gazillion calories or countless ab and butt workouts. Sometimes there’s also a catchy slogan. Because I find nothing more motivational than a photoshopped image of a woman in minuscule shorts holding three kg dumbbells, telling me I got to work for it. I swear to fuck, if I see just one more ‘fitness’ model, I’m going to have to go and eat even more carbs.

The rise of Instagram has seen a rapid increase in the popularity of fitspiration accounts. Fitspiration is the trend of inspiring and motivating people to exercise via images.  A quick research of the hashtag #fitspo brings up more than 30 million images. The fitspo mantra was the supposed antithesis to thinspiration, advocating strength and health over thinness. Helping to promote a positive body ideal of strong, not skinny. However,  part of the problem with the athletic ideal is that images of the women tend to be not just muscular, but also skinny. I say muscular, but technically these people are not athletes. Just a person with an extremely low body fat percentage, where the muscle is visible under the skin. So the message these idealised media images actually send out is that strong and skinny, is the new skinny.

Being an avid hill climber and mountaineer, I just about pished my pop socks when I read the catchy title for this image “Time For a Hike.”  Where? It certainly ain’t the Cairngorms, even in the height of summer and adverse weather aside, the midgies would eat her alive. To be fair, she does look well equipped for a hike, that bulging rucksack’s bound to have a selfie stick and a protein shake. And should she get lost, and be dying of starvation, she could always go native and use her g-string as a slingshot.

Body Image

But jokes aside, this image had over one million likes.  That’s troublesome, not only because the image is patronising and utterly ridiculous, it also extremely damaging.  Earlier this year, one highly publicized study looked at a group of 276 women. It found that browsing Instagram for as little as 30 mins a day was linked with higher levels of self-objectification and greater body dissatisfaction. The research also showed that the trend of fitspiration is uniquely harmful. Such appearance comparisons directly relating to both depression and disordered eating. To quote Philosophy Professor Shay Welch who is also a competitive fitness model;

I usually am at 1200-1400 calories during offseason just to maintain (which is about 25 lbs over what I should be on stage) and then drop to about 800 calories, working out twice a day for around 4 hours.  Everyday.  I do a LOT of crying and very little sleeping.  Offseason is reasonably healthy but your body changes weight incredibly fast because the metabolism crashes into nothing.  But in that final stretch before a competition, my diet/lifestyle is extremely unhealthy. Worse still, I know I am irreversibly damaging my health. Most people I know who do this cannot maintain a real job.  They are almost always fitness trainers because they’re the only ones who can really endure it.  I’ve known more than a few people who quit their regular jobs because they became so obsessed with dieting and their aesthetic. 

Point to remember; Shay Welch has the body ideal many strive to attain. I have NO ISSUE with how the women look physically, each to their own. What I do have a problem with is that it has fuck all to do with fitness and well being. Like most of the output on social media sites, fitspo reaks of secrets and lies. It’s what the people in those images don’t tell you that the masses need to know.  It’s the bit in between the before and after.  The lack of transparency is dangerous, as echoed by Shay Welch, the aesthetic is achievable, but at what cost?

The promotion of the ‘fitness model’ look or any virtually unattainable body ideal is disingenuous. For many reasons, online fitspo content sets one up to fail,  that no matter how hard you work, the visible results will never compare. So over time, inspiration and motivation can turn to demoralization and disillusionment. Rather than just posting images we need to be brutally honest about how the aesthetic was achieved and/or maintained. Call it what you like, but ultimately anything that restricts or controls your lifestyle and eating habits is a regime.  Open up, talk about how it impacts on daily life and how it affects mental health.

We need to help each other, we are not competition, we are kin. Empowered women, empower women.

Like every other fad, it sets us at war with our bodies and distracts us from our true potential. Our brilliant minds are blinkered by a constantly changing culture of diet fodder. We’ve abandoned our minds to a shitty care home, our brains sitting rotting in a pile of Insta pics and vapidity. Today’s society has lost perspective,  you know it’s fucked up when that

is more important than this

Or that Kim K’s lollipops (Flat Tummy, seriously?) caused more of a stir than the daily horrors experienced by war-stricken refugees? The beauty myth is perfect by design, it works a charm to disarm and distract. Karl Marx would probably agree that the diet and fitness industry has now become the new opiate for the masses.

Life is a matter of perspective, ask yourself in the scheme of things, are my wobbly thighs a true tragedy? Of course, they’re not, I know you’re not stupid. But the thin = happiness myth is a shit sum created by an industry that profits from your self-doubt.  Newsflash folks, weight loss is NOT your life’s work, surely you are destined for greater things? Rather than consider that our bodies need constant improving, instead view them as tools to master our destinies.

Turn your gaze inward and wipe the shit from your eyes. Force a shift in your perspective and you will open yourself up to a world of possibilities. To hell with the aesthetic, stop to appreciate how truly amazing your body is. Consider that it is not fighting against you, it is fighting for you, with every heartbeat. Practice a little self-love and body positivity, every day. Savour the little things and be kind. I guarantee you will be much happier.

Fuck em and go bask in the sun in your two-piece and have sex with the lights on. Make it count and live in the now, you may not be here tomorrow.

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