There’s this girl that I’ve come to know really well. We’re like peas, and carrots; we always go together. We don’t even have to speak to each other to communicate. Sometimes all I have to do is look in her eyes.
When happiness radiates from her eyes, I’m happy as well. It’s mutual; we share it. There’s some sort of connection that links us together. But there are some days that a haunting sorrow stares back at me, cutting me to the core of my being.
Who is this girl? She is my reflection, staring back at me (cue Mulan).
Self-image. Telling someone who struggles with this to have a positive self-image is like telling an alcoholic they should stop drinking. No duh, Sherlock. Tell me something I don’t know. But why is self-image such a problem in the first place?
Is it social media? After all, I know of people in middle school who are much better at managing social media accounts than I will ever be. I see thousands of pictures posted that depict smiling, happy people living life to the fullest. YOLO. At some point, you have to wonder if there’s something wrong with the circuitry in those peoples’ heads to make them so happy all the time. But that’s because those are the highlights of their life. You don’t see their full story, but you know your story has plenty of downs to go with the ups. So you strive to keep up with everyone else and portray yourself as the happiest, prettiest (or most handsome), fit, most adventurous, and most successful person out there…on the Internet. Because can anyone really live up to those expectations? And just to make sure that everyone else knows about your false advertising, you strive to get the most likes and comments on your posts that you can. Because then that means other people are taking notice of you.
Is it just plain media in general? Tabloids and articles everywhere shove fitness advice in your face: how to lose 50 pounds in two weeks with this secret ingredient, five moves to demolish double chins, three super foods you should be eating but aren’t. I’m all about being healthy, but I don’t want to be consumed by it. A life devoted only to having a rockin’ body is not one I’m interested in. Yet the bar is still set high for an “ideal” body type.
Is it the public cry to end obesity? Now that one would be ironic, wouldn’t it? But in a society that is becoming increasingly sedentary, extra activity is necessary. The problem is, we’re only told half-instructions. Exercise more, but how? Eat healthier, but what does that mean? If I want to lose weight, does that mean I can only eat salads and run on the treadmill for an hour every day? No wonder it’s so easy for people to give up. They get bored. It’s not fun. They don’t understand the science behind why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s overwhelming, so it’s easy to give up and be turned off by “health,” causing a regression in any progress they made.
My involvement with exercise started out of necessity: training for high school sports. I had a more positive experience with exercise than most. But I don’t grow to love exercise until the last few years, when something clicked and I developed an appreciation for what my body is capable of. I started eating healthy in high school out of fear of becoming overweight, but later realized how much better I felt. Your body is like an engine, and when you take care of it, it runs the most smoothly. Studying Kinesiology in college allowed me to better understand the reasoning behind a lot of exercise and nutrition and made me more passionate about it.
But even then, there is that lapse. It’s that step backwards. That moment when I look in the mirror, and find fault with the girl in the mirror and see that she agrees by the look in her eyes. The thought that compares you to the girls you see on magazines, Instagram, Pinterest, and media in general.
Why do I let that take away from the joy I find in taking care of my body? I lose perspective. I forget that everyone’s body is different. I forget that there are no short cuts to being healthy, just time and commitment. I forget that I can’t see the full picture, and the major changes taking place beneath the surface.
Even if I never look like the super ripped girl on Instagram, I’m still going to exercise and eat right. Not because I’m stupid, but because I’m smart. I’m maintaining my body so that, years later, I can play with my grandkids. So I can walk up the stairs. So that when I look at the mirror, the eyes staring back at me tell me that I am strong. I may not have the body of a model on a fitness magazine, but I’ll take the eyes of the tiger any day.