Did you know that getting a thigh gap, a defined ab crack, or the goddess-like back dimples will make you more beautiful, valuable, and happy?
If you scroll through social media, or popular health and fitness resources, and soak in the plethora of “motivational” memes and images displaying these features, you may be inclined to think so. There’s no shortage of these “hot, new, must have, this-is-what-a-real-woman-looks-like” traits being featured along side, of course, the accompanying diet tricks, gimmicks, and exercises to get them.
But, and I’ll try to put this delicately: claiming features like thigh gaps, ab cracks, and back dimples as “must have features” is absolute bullshit. (So much for being delicate, but it’s true.)
No physical feature or body shape makes you more or less valuable.
Apparently our bodies are walking resumes, and these hot new physical features displayed by celebrities, fitness professionals, social media icons, and photo-shopped models are just items we’re supposed to add to it with the expectation that we’ll be more beautiful and valuable. So what if your anthropometry and genetic make-up makes certain “it features” physically impossible to obtain? Doesn’t matter; these are the standards, and you’d better try to fit the mold if you want to be beautiful.
Enough with the body-shaming bullshit.
And I mean all of it. Any group claiming “X is the new Y” or spitting mantras that begin with “Real women …” needs to end. Every body is unique. There is no single feature that defines beauty or self-worth or fitness. Look at it this way: no one else (except an identical twin) has your genetic makeup; you’re truly one of a kind. So why do we think it’s acceptable to declare single features or shapes as “must have” or “ideal”? Why do some think it’s motivational to attempt to shove every woman into a single mold?
Some women are tall, some are short. Some have long limbs, some have short limbs. Some have physical limitations, some don’t appear to have any. Some are thick and some are thin. Some achieve results more quickly and others have to work harder to make any discernible progress. Women come in a variety of shapes and sizes and so this declaration of “must have” features is abhorrently ridiculous. And stupid. And degrading.
A woman I once worked with had what would be described as a “short and stalky” physique; she despised it. “I just wish I was taller so I could have ‘long and lean’ muscles,” she said during our first meeting. The marketing messages and images of “long and lean muscles” being something women should desire were seared into her mind. This was a battle she could never win because she can’t change her anthropometry.
We had a conversation about changing her perspective and the need to stop wasting energy and berating herself for things she can’t control. She loved the idea of being able to love and embrace her body, but knew it wasn’t a quick transition. It would be a process.
The plan of action we created: put her energy and focus on what her body could do with strength training. She would begin by learning basic exercises with the goal of improving her performance each time a workout was repeated. Outside of the gym she was instructed to pause and reflect when she start having the “I hate my short body” thoughts. When those thoughts began to bubble to the surface, she had to stop the conversation. Once she successfully paused, she would then redirect her focus to be grateful for something her body could do. For example, instead of saying, “I wish I had a long and lean appearance” she would stop the conversation from progressing like it normally would and instead say something like, “I’m grateful that I have ample energy to play with my kids,” or “I dominated today’s workout.”
The energy that previously went into hating her body shape was redirected toward strength training and other elements she could control. The premise was simple, yet powerful: her goal was to discover what her body could do, and then do more. With strength training she began with a beginner program and improved her performance each time she repeated a workout. Squats, in particular, came naturally to her and she progressed quickly. She began with goblet squats to learn proper technique and then switched to barbell back squats to take advantage of the greater loading potential. Her strength increased, and more plates were slapped onto the barbell.
A beautiful transformation occurred: as she progressed with strength training, for the first time she could recall, she was actually proud of her body. She was flabbergasted at her body’s abilities and previously unrealized strength. “I didn’t know I could be this strong!” she exclaimed at the end of a workout.
These gym moments proved valuable when old thoughts crept into her mind. Over time, the previous, “I wish my body …” thoughts became less frequent, and were quickly replaced with empowering statements such as her ability to squat more than she thought possible: “This is what my body can do. I’m going to make most of it, and then do even more, because I can.”
Embracing what her body could do led to an increase in self-confidence and happiness. She was no longer focused on things she couldn’t control (her limb length) and highlighted her abilities (with strength training). She began to care less about what other people declared women “should” look like and chose her own values.
So I say once again: fuck thigh gaps, ab cracks, and back dimples. Embrace your body; discover what it can do; find your natural strengths and highlight them; do things that make you feel good; become the best damn version of yourself. And encourage every other woman to do the same.
You can, and should, embrace your body and all its features, and you should encourage every other woman to do the same.
That’s one of the many overlooked benefits of strength training: it allows you to discover what your body can do and increases confidence. Strength training doesn’t discriminate; it doesn’t care what your age is, any limitations you possess, or what body shape you have. Strength training is for everyone.
Look, I’m not suggesting any of this – “it” body features and standards proclaimed to be “ideal” – will ever die out; there will always be traits and features considered desirable and others declared must-repair flaws and tips, tricks, and products to help us get or remove them.
But here’s the great news: we can exit these conversations.
We have the choice to refuse this nonsense.
We can say, “Some women have thigh gaps, and that’s cool. Some women don’t, and that’s cool too. Now, excuse me while I go appreciate my body for the awesome things it can do instead of obsessing over physical features some source is trying to convince me is important and valuable.”
Every woman should appreciate her body, and take the necessary steps to get there if she’s not already. No physical feature, size, or shape equates to value, worth, and beauty.