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I am not a “Bikini Body”

Submitted by: Angela Haugen

My family and I joined a gym recently.

It is the first time since having my daughter that we have belonged to any fitness facility and it is as much for the child care as it is for the equipment. Sometimes you just need the break, and in Minnesota, you often need that break free of weather constraints.

I was excited to be back at a gym. I’ve always thrived in a situation where I’m paying and therefore accountable to attend, at some level or another (my thriftiness being the highest, probably!). But the truth is that they can be pitfalls for me as well.

My first week, I decided to get re-acclimated to the equipment and my own abilities. What do I like, what do I hate – what has changed and what is still the same? I felt alive running the track and lifting again. And the sauna: I survive Minnesota winters because of the word ‘sauna’. I was thrilled to be back, until…

“Keep going. Keep pushing. We need to work our way into that bikini body. You’ll never get there without effort!”

Now, a week in I decided to try my first cycling class. Historically this has been my favorite fitness outlet. A good sweat, in the dark, at my own pace and speed, with music thumping and everyone in their own zone. Be still my introverted heart!

All was going fine until the new instructor had me grab weights before heading in – she guided me on what to get, but I thought better of her suggestion knowing how new to working out I was again and that I have a history of bad neck and back pain. I opted for lower weights and went about my business – after all, what I love about spinning is the freedom to do and move at the pace and speed that is best for you THAT day. She gave me a disapproving look.

Class started. I adjusted my tension. Music pumping. Feet pedaling. Ahhhhhh…

And then she says these words, as some sort of warped way of inspiring our toughest effort:

“We need to work our way into that bikini body.”

Halt. Stop. What the what?!?!

I’m fairly certain THAT was an awkward moment for the 4 men in the class.

And for me.

I reject it.

And, I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that we aren’t able to be beyond this yet. So I’m going to rant:

Bikini body goals are like 1000% 1992. Welcome to 2016, where the focus on health and total body wellness is where it’s at. Let’s chat.

I get it. Some people do need encouragement to push beyond their comfort zones to achieve further health benefits. Absolutely. But, instead of motivating by some obscure standard like “bikini body” (what is that by the way?!), let’s go for something a little more universally understood: healthy body.

Here’s the thing about that, it’s definable, measurable, and has depths that allow us to explore it individually beyond the superficial lie of physical appearance. Healthy includes being free of disease, being of sound mind, with every vital organ functioning properly. It does not include a specific weight, or look, or random cultural assessment of what “looks good”.

As someone who has been down the horrid cycle of an eating disorder this woman’s words hit the heart of all my weaknesses – only the thing is, I’m not vulnerable there anymore. I have a voice in that space. I hear it for what it is: a lie.

It’s a lie that I or any other woman need to be held to or motivated by or encouraged toward something so obnoxiously unrealistic.

I am not a bikini body.

I am a mom setting an example for my daughter that strength comes from hard work – sometimes its sweat and determination, and sometimes it’s just knowing when to rest. That brains are longer lasting and much more valuable than looks. That good character is what makes her appealing and what will change this world. That being herself in a world of imitators is the most profoundly brave thing she could do – and it definitely doesn’t have a thing to do with some number on the back of her pants.

I am raising a little boy that needs to know that women are more than their bodies. That they deserve respect and honor. That the standards that women are assessed by and encouraged to have in this culture are false images. And, that he plays a part in changing that dialogue.

I am a wife that loves my husband enough to make sure I’m around for the best years of our marriage. That I am physically able to do the things we dream of after the kids are gone – but also that I am free of the mental baggage that obsessing about a number on the scale induces so that I can enjoy our time together for what it is: fun and precious and all too short.

I’m a woman who takes care of a family and needs to be reminded that sometimes that best way to do that is to sacrifice fully for them and sometimes it’s to take care of myself. I need to be reminded that my worth in my family comes from the love I give to them – not my physical appearance. That I work out so that I have the energy to keep up with them for many years to come and not so that I can achieve some arbitrary weight limit, skin tone, or clothing size. That I am a whole person deserving of love because I am a whole person deserving of love.

I am a woman trying to focus on being healthy in my body and in my mind – and both are largely impacted by what I put into them.

I would never eat toxic food, and I choose to not absorb her toxic words.

I am NOT a “Bikini body”. I will NOT work out to become one.

I am a “healthy mind, body, and soul” body. I will work out in motivation to that.

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