You can read part one here.
I hadn’t anticipated guarding my body image against a man I barely knew. I know how to defend myself against fitness magazines and blogs. I know I am more positively affected by those who promote performance and function rather than an aesthetic goal. I am aware when I begin a comparison campaign against other women in life and online, so I redirect this. I know when to "unfollow" incessant ab shots. I know my weaknesses and boundaries, so it is my reaction I gauge and mind; but a man, I wasn’t prepared to face in the same way.
Nearly a year ago, a former male friend and mentor decided my optimal weight and body fat percentage were 120 pounds and 12% respectively. In the moment, it made sense because I saw the potential relationship to climbing and my weight-to-strength ratio. In hindsight I realize these numbers were based more on his preferences rather than my goals. As a health professional with his own business, his advice was probably sound. Within four weeks, I attained these measurements (body fat was approximate) without feeling tortured or deprived. I continued climbing harder, my joints felt some relief, and, at the time, it felt sustainable. Eventually my school schedule and stress caused these measurements to inch upward.
When I moved toward and met those arbitrary numbers – numbers I convinced myself were important because someone “more qualified” than I had determined them – the feedback I received was positive and encouraging. However, as they crept back up, comments became subtly cutting and I was constantly being told we should do my measurements. Keep in mind, during this time, my climbing continued to improve, I safely deadlifted a 1 rep max of 200 pounds, and was at a perfectly healthy – and even athletic – composition at this time. However awkward it feels for me to share these details, I do it to point out that drawing an aesthetic baseline from external pressures, regardless of the source, will always be unhealthy and lead to unhappiness. These pressures can come from a fitness magazine, a Hollywood lineup, or even a fitness or health professional.
I stood up for myself, thinking I was exerting a strong, confident woman in the face of snide remarks; but honestly, I became obsessed with 12%. I could make peace with weight (I’ve always thought an arbitrary, stagnant number on the scale was not an optimal or realistic objective), but the body fat “goal” consumed me.
Obsessed isn’t actually accurate. My behaviors didn’t become extreme. I wasn’t willing to do anything to meet “my goals”, but they occupied my thoughts. I simply became extremely unhappy about my body, and I didn’t realize it was happening.
I know what 12-13% looks like on me. I know the thin layer of skin covering my stomach. I know where the edges of those muscles rise forward. I know where the subtle prominences of cheek bones shine through on an otherwise child-like, round face. I know these details because I lived within them, and then drove myself crazy watching for their reappearance, namely on my abdomen. I developed this disturbing habit of checking the mirror incessantly…when dressing…undressing…even lifting my shirt to catch a glance in the mirror after washing my hands. It was annoying and exhausting!
What changes was I hoping to see within those few hour intervals? Like watching a pot of water on the stove, I was too close to appreciate any changes. I simply felt unhappy every time I looked, which isn’t entirely true; but the overall message I was feeding myself was “I’m not good enough yet.” 12% was the answer. I’ll climb harder grades at 12%. Then I won’t feel fat. I’ll climb with ease. I’ll be able to work out harder. I’ll feel connected to my core again. These were the stories I told myself. I knew there were issues with this behavior. I didn’t even have to dig deep down to realize I was being unfair and unkind to myself. I suspect many of us are – or have been – this way at one time or another when coming face to face with a mirror.
As my focus shifted farther from the ways I love using and pushing my body to “perfecting” it, some of my motivation waned. I forgot to enjoy the activities I love. I forgot why I climb, why I challenge my body, and why I prefer functional goals. I didn’t feel connected to my body, but instead struggled against it within this separateness. I wasn’t meeting challenges in tune with it. I certainly wasn’t celebrating or even appreciating my body. Because my perspective was negative, the choices I made related to it weren’t nourishing. We can do all the “right things”, but if the intention isn’t there, it's meaningless. I lost sight of my amazing and strong and beautiful body.
Please continue the conversation below. I’ll be back next week with how I am letting go of these ugly habits and thoughts and learning to love this body – my body – Now.