November 2, 2011 | life

Women, Fitness and The Myth

Fitness is pitched to women purely as a weight loss tool. Like, that’s the only reason we should do it. Not to feel good, not to clear our minds, strengthen our bodies, or be healthy. Our end game should always be weight loss. And this, my friends, is bollocks. Naturally, I’m on a mission to change this silly notion and I invite you all to join the crusade!

There is notoriously a problem getting women involved in fitness. The problem is, when it’s served up on a platter as a weight loss tool and a woman starts working out and doesn’t lose weight, she just gives up. If she’s given no other incentive, if no other benefits have been pointed out to her, why should she bother?

For most women, fitness starts to take a back seat around age 18. That first year of university, a lot of women gain 10-15lbs. You may well have a gym membership during this time but you use it primarily for the sauna facilities. Final years of uni, you’re ‘too busy’ to work out. You graduate, get a job, get caught up in your career, get a boyfriend, maybe have kids and before you know it, you’re late 20s/early 30s, overweight, out of shape and unhealthy – not really all that surprising when you think about it. An inactive lifestyle is an unhealthy lifestyle, plain and simple. But because in every possible form of media we’re told we should lose weight, the fear of failing to do that, of putting yourself out there without seeing visible results puts many women off. It may well be that for health reasons you need to, but you can’t make that your only reason.

Women are obsessed with weight. It’s a generational thing. Raise your hand if you remember your mother constantly dieting when you were a child *sees a sea of hands shoot into the air* I was raised during the supermodel era – Naomi, Kate and Linda were hoisted high as our beauty idols. We were all to aim for their slender physiques. Now think of women who came up in the 50s and 60s, where dimensionally, women were even smaller. That generation have been chasing a 25″ waist their whole lives. And so, we watch our mothers diet and think ‘this is just what women do.’ And most of the time we don’t even need to lose any weight. There’s nothing more annoying than a bunch of women who look like they need to run around in the shower to get wet talking about how they have to lose 2lbs.

If women are ever to get to grips with body image and acceptance, we must learn to think of it in terms of something other than weight. I never weigh myself, I couldn’t care less what I weigh. I’m a UK size 12, I’m 30 and I’m in the best shape of my life, fitter than probably a lot of women 10 years younger than me. A year and a half ago, I was a couch potato. What changed my attitude to fitness? Once I started getting into running and noticed the way it made me feel, I just wanted to chase that feeling forever. I preach it time and time again on this blog, but fitness for women should be all about the feeling.

I now think of my body completely differently. It’s a machine. I tell you what – run 13 miles and you soon won’t give a crap about the cellulite on your legs. You’ll just love your legs for the fact they carried you 13 miles. During my marathon, when my legs cursed me as I pushed them further than they’d ever gone, I praised their awesomeness, because my legs are awesome. And my glute muscles powered me up some spectacular hills, so I don’t care if my ass is a little flabby, I have a great ass! My arms can do 30 push ups at a time, my core muscles are strong – I am fit, I am healthy and I feel awesome. I love my body.

I do not know or care how much I weigh.

Parents, I implore you, if you’re raising daughters, raise them to believe their greatness and worth is tied up in something much more important than their weight. Raise them to know that being active is as much to do with having a healthy mind as it is a healthy body. The last thing we need is another generation obsessed with losing 2lbs.

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33 Comments

angel_dee

*sigh* thank you. I can begin to articulate how much this applies to me.
Thankfully I have always loved exercise and my mum has never counted a calorie. We didn’t grow up with scales in the house, so when people ask me how much I weight I honestly never know. Only because of my condition my doctor sets me on the scales but for the life of you even then its a myth.

But I’m lucky. I grew up already eating healthy. My mum is from Barbados and in her time there wasn’t convenience or processed foods, everything cooked from scratch. That’s how I learned and cooking still reflects that. She also taught my sister and I to be confident. Looks, make-up etc aren’t important. So now I’ve taken on this challenge to run after complaining to my trainer that I’d never run more than 200m as a teenager I’m happy to look like I’ve been dragged through the course as I run.

I’m not saying you should be like me or my mum, but ladies you are already awesome for being a woman and showing up. Our bodies go through a lot and just through a monthly cycle. We rule the world. So its about time more of us realised this awesomeness and even if its to go for a stroll or something you’re comfortable doing that gets your heart racing and you’re able to look after that fab machine of yours, try it. You might like it.

Don’t want to sound all “girl power” or preachy (although I kinda did). But be awesome.

Thank you Bangs.

HonestMum

Totally and utterly agree and this post needs to be printed out and handed to children and parents the world over. Well done Muireann you never cease to amaze me, what an inspiration you are. I definately know my weight issues over the years have arisen from my community/culture’s ethos obsession with eating and dieting. Not my Mother thankfully but everyone else in the family. The last year which has seen me get into running and swimming has felt empowering. Those endorphins are powerful babies. Thank you. Never stop trucking!

Andrea

Great post. I think as well as the weight loss motivation, women feel that the only fitness that ‘matters’ is going to the gym. So women who do other things (such as a lot of walking, like me!), feel like they’re a bit of a failure when it comes to fitness.

Though that said, since my dog became geriatric my walking is nowhere what it used be, and a recent gorilla trek in Uganda (it was the coming back UP the mountain bit) certainly highlighted how much I needed to improve my fitness (though it was a hard trek even for the fit people! Except the Ugandans of course, who just ran it!).

But that was what I was thinking – that I needed to improve my FITNESS, not that I needed to lose weight. Weight loss would be a nice by-product, but at 40 I don’t want to wheezing into my ‘middle years’. I think you make a really important point here.

Kat

Thank you Bangs. You have said this so well. My friends and I, all perfectly normal and healthy, size 8-14 ladies are obsessed with the scales and always losing that extra 2lbs, even the slimmest of us. Our mothers were way too critical on themselves and it did pass down; maybe we’re the generation to stop this? The world needs more people like you to remind us all that there’s much more to life and that as long as you’re happy and healthy then what does it matter. No one’s going to judge you at the end of the day for having a curve or two, we’re ladies. You’re also right in that running makes you feel awesome – worship those legs!

Charlotte

Wow…wonderful post and I wish I had had someone like you whispering these pearls of wisdom in my ear when I was 13,my Mom was weight obsessed and I was morphing into her ‘mini-me’. Sadly, Mom is still battling her weight demons that were passed to her by her own mother…I have a little girl aged 2 years and I have started and continued to seriously exercise since her arrival…yes initially for weight loss but as time went on I have learnt to love the peace, the ‘rush’, the me-time, the strength that exercise brings. I too am still battling with weight/body image issues blah blah blah but am using exercise as a weapon to win that battle…and as a lesson to pass onto my little girl so she will never have to fight it. Thanks Bangs for your kind, wise pearls of wisdom. xxx

K, like in caKe

Thank you for saying this. I have taught children as young as 7 who talk about “dieting”; not because they have any notion of wanting do it themselves (yet) but because they hear it so regularly at home.

Can I just throw another view on the whole exercise/weight loss thing though?

I’ve competed in various sports since an early age: mostly as a swimming club kid and a rowing teenager. I was lucky in many respects to be “spoon-fed” sport until I was in my early 20s, although training became something I had to do to fulfil team obligations rather than real personal enjoyment. Upon leaving university and left to my own devices, I’ve struggled to maintain a consistent approach to exercise and both my enthusiasm and physical form have had their ups and downs. I’ve taken up cycling and running, sports that both make me feel awesome, and completed 5 marathons, ranging from a p.b of 4:06 (Berlin 2007) to a p.w. of 5:30 (London 2011). Oddly, the slowest time is my biggest triumph as it was the first marathon I’ve completed since a career change that’s left me with less time than ever to enjoy exercise than ever; however, I was a good 15kg overweight and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that, in running at least, that the p.b.s don’t come where you’ve been wintering too well.

In my 30s, I truly see both the physical and psychological benefits exercise brings me and I make it a priority to fit exercise into a busy schedule. I have also started to thank my body for the awesome things it CAN do (rather than mourn the things it USED to).

Do I still want to lose some weight? Yes. Why? My goal is to complete an Iron-distance triathlon next year. This weight-loss isn’t a vanity issue, I’m just doing myself a favour – my awesome body deserves that.

Hannah

I agree with everything you’ve said right here bangs. I run to feel awesome and to push myself, not to loose weight. So many woman are obsessed with loosing those last two pounds and it’s attitude like that which bring on eating disorders and bad habits. People should be happy with the skin they’re in and one way to do that is enjoying the good vibes you get from exercise. Of course it’s important to be healthy weight but there are so many more benefits to exercise that a lot of people don’t seem to realise.

Elinor

With you all the way Bangs. I run to protect myself from osteoporosis. I run because I like to push myself. I run because it gives me peace. I run to set a good example to my 11 year old son. I run because it influences healthy choices in my life. I run because activity is key to long term health.

I do not run to lose weight.

MizzBusby

Firstly can i just say I love aware your blog posts are, I was considering this just the other day!
I think the difficulty in separating fitness from weightloss is that women use it to sell exercise to other women! When browsing the Women’s Running website the other day I looked at all of their cover pages – every single one had a screaming feature telling you how to “Blast Belly Fat” or lose your bingo wings. There needs to be an intrinsic change, and I’m sure you and Team Bangs on the Run will be highly influential in that process.

Eve Maria

Here here. I grew up training as a figure skater and when I stopped for a few months, my god did I miss the feeling of jumping and turning in the air, and the power there was in my own body. I exercise to feel stronger, to tone muscle and to look after my body. Not to loose weight.

Christina @ Hair Romance

You said on Twitter you were writing a ranty post but this is so important!

You won’t be any happier 2kg lighter than you are now, but if you are fit an healthy you will feel so much better. That’s how to make a difference in your self esteem and do something positive for yourself. Great post.

The Jaded NYer

Awww, that was a great post, doll! As the child of someone who was constantly dieting AND as someone who used (uses!) food for comfort, etc, I try my hardest to break that cycle w/my girls. AND IT’S WORKING!

So to the mom’s out there- Bangsy is right. If you model the right way the babies will follow the right way… unless they’re the Devil’s spawn in which case, you’ve got bigger problems than just their fitness levels and whatnot.

Claire Nelson

This almost drove me to tears because I feel this SO STRONGLY and am so sick and tired of having to convince other women that exercise FEELS GOOD and that there are a GAZILLION other benefits to it aside from dropping a dress size. I HATE (and I use the H-word – BAM) how short-sighted women can be in that they will put so much effort, energy and time into researching quick fixes and counting calories and going on fad diets so they can lose weight – and how much energy they spend on hating themselves – but don’t stop to consider the overall state of their bodies… and minds. A healthy body is good for the mind and soul as well. When they say confidence comes from within… that’s what they’re talking about. Confidence and well-being won’t actually come from being a size whatever. Your body is powerful, it’s the one thing you have that is YOURS and that each of us needs to look after. Own it. Fuel it right. Make it strong. Everything else good will come from that. It’s the reason I cycle, the reason I run, the reason I push the limits to see how far I can go. It ISN’T always easy but it is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, worth it. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.

Love you Bangs. Love what you’re doing.

Cathy

At 20 I was 9st and did no exercise at all. At 30 I was 10st and cycled 30 miles a day to ride my horse. I know which body I preferred! Now I am about 12st at eight months pregnant, and the thing that bothers me most is not the weight, or the bump, or even the fact that my ass is a bit fatter. It’s that I can’t climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath. Pregnancy absolutely shags your fitness and I cannot WAIT to have the baby and experience that feeling of being able to bound up six flights of stairs again, however much I end up weighing.

Victoria

Well said! At 40 I am probably no thinner than I was at 20 but I am a whole lot fitter and stronger and I love it. I think exercise is hugely over-rated as a weight loss tool – a 10K run can easily be out eaten! But all the other benefits of exercise can’t be beaten. There’s nothing like going out for a quick half hour run and coming home an hour later because you might as well just go that little bit further once you’re out. And don’t get me started about the weight lifting!
I have a young daughter and am trying really hard not to pass on any food neuroses or weight obsession, but it’s hard when 6 year old girls tease each other in the playground for being ‘fat’ (I kid you not).

Claire Nelson

@Victoria – God, that’s so sad!! It breaks my heart to think of kids that young being conscious of weight. All the more reason for us women to take charge of fitness as being good for the soul, rather than the figure. (The figure is just a side effect!) 🙂

Georgie

Lovely post. Can I ask you a question? I totally get that where you are at with your fitness now makes you feel amazing, but when you started off as a couch potato (your words!) and first went running, did you actually enjoy it? Or did you not to begin with? I’m curious, as I do want to be fit, but I can’t seem to push part the first few ‘ohmygodmylegsarekillingandicantbreathandiveonlyrun100metres’ runs. Do you know what I mean? OR did you have the bug straight away? Thanks!

Bangs and a Bun

Hi all! Thanks for all the comments – great to hear all your views and that we all seem to be on the same wave length on this one. GEORGIE, to answer your question – no, I totally didn’t love it at first! I found it incredibly difficult. I genuinely couldn’t run for 30 seconds. But I’d signed up to do a half marathon. Also, it kind of annoyed me that I wasn’t good at it. So, with that in mind, I relished the challenge of simply getting better at it. I just took it in bite size chunks, just aiming to run a little further each time and it was really after a few weeks where I started to notice the difference in how it made me feel. It’s a total mental game though. Your body will do what your mind tells it for the most part. Most of the time when you’re saying ‘oh I have to stop, this hurts, that hurts’ – it’s all rubbish. If there was a big bear chasing you, you’d be running your ass off!

Ruby A

As someone who’s struggled with poor body image and disordered eating since childhood, I think it’s mandatory for every young girl – because while boys have body image pains too, it’s endemic in girls – to read this.

I’m proud to say that frankly, my dear, IDGAF about what I weigh (and it’s only taken me about 20 years to get to this point). Sure I have my body bugbears, but all I fundamentally care about is that I am fit and strong, and I know what I need to do to achieve that.

A fit body isn’t a goal in itself – it’s the side-effect from having a healthy lifestyle and moving around a lot. Oh, and ‘fit’ and ‘thin’ are mutually exclusive. I repeat: ‘fit’ and ‘thin’ are mutually exclusive.

Georgie

Really appreciate the answer, thanks! Ps – chased by a bear – dying laughing!!

Lara Trewin

I know many women who constantly stand on the scales or calorie count with the notion that this will keep them “healthy and slim”. I am probably the heaviest I’ve been, other than pregnancies, as I am a very slight frame but have been running and working out consistently for 3 years now. Running for me was about getting “me” time and getting those endorphins pumping, never about losing weight. I used to have to explain to other women that the reason why I ran/exercised was not a mission to be “thinner” (I hate that word) but to have a great mind/body balance of equilibrium. Feeling strong on the inside as well as out.
Thank you for posting what is obviously how many women feel. I have 2 boys who are proud of their “strong mummy” and see exercise as part of a daily healthy lifestyle.

nora

YES! Everything you said.

I’m one of those people who LOVE to work out – running, yoga, the occasional Zumba class and my new obsession, Bar Method. For me, it’s never been about the weight but about being able to do things (ran two marathons), staying on top of my health (I have scoliosis and will do everything I can to avoid back surgery), and being mentally at peace – hey, it’s cheaper and more effective than prescription drugs or therapy.

I’ve lost count of how many times both men and women have come up to me at the treadmill or wherever and made some kind of snide comment along the lines of “What are you working out so hard for? You’re already skinny.” …. um… Is it so impossible to fathom that people work out for reasons other than weight loss?

Jade

After having my fourth and final child, this body of mine is feeling and looking a little worse for wear but that being said I love my body it has allowed me to carry and birth four healthy children. Sure I’d love to fit into my old clothes and all but it’s a process.

I miss running in a big way, I’m just waiting for my pelvic floor to regain some strength otherwise I’ll have to start wearing piss pads when I run, hell can you imagine how fab they would look under lycra. When I was running a lot it was never to lose weight, it was my freedom, it was my way to release the everyday stresses of my life, it made me feel human, that’s what I want, a good strong, fit, healthy body and mind 🙂

my honest answer

This is so true! Thank you for bringing it up.

I joined a gym at age 15, and the personal trainer asked me what my goals were. Before I could say, ‘get stronger, fitter and healthier’, HE said, ‘lose some weight?’ and checked that box. I was too offended to say anything, but I really wish I had said, ‘No, you moron, I’m a perfectly healthy weight and I love my body, I just want to be able to run farther’. I’d never really thought about that again until today, but it obviously stuck with me!

Jo (Dexterous Diva)

Bangs this is so well said. I think we can all resonate so much with mums in the 70’s ad 80’s on constant fad diets and flailing around at weird “fitness”classes in leotards.EAT LESS EAT WELL AND MOVE MORE, PEOPLE! That’s all.
As a big boobed girl I avoided exercise like the plague until I found the gym and running in my 20’s. It’s so easy to lose time for exercise in our lives, especially in this social media saturated society. You are on a mission Bangs and I love it. I love you xxxx

Chloe

Another inspiration- please tell me that when you right this stuff, you understand why people like me find you such an inspiration.

I was caught up on my weight as a teenager and when I went to uni I was slimmer than ever, but not healthily so, but in my final year I discovered swimming as a way to help me clear my mind during my finals and with my recent exercise, I’ve never felt better. I actually weigh more than I’ve ever done, but I only know that because I needed to be weighed by my Dr. As soon as I started training for something and exercising for a purpose, I have rarely been happier with my body. It’s stronger, healthier, and fitter than ever. And has the added benefit of looking good in my clothes, not because I made a conscious effort to, but because muscle is hot as hell.

Nicole

Yes, it seems the women’s mag mentality of “improving your life by losing 5/10/20 pounds with quick-fix exercise tricks” is as prevalent as ever.

However, I think we’re increasingly seeing gyms and fitness clubs that promote overall fitness as a lifestyle towards women. The gym I attend is “women only” and there’s definitely a focus on strength-building and long-term maintenance as opposed to obsessing over clothing size. Two of the most popular classes at the gym are body pump (free weights) and body combat (martial arts-style). Both are extremely challenging but incredibly satisfying because, upon completing each class, you feel you’ve pushed you’re body to it’s fitness peak…yet you want to come back next week to go that little bit further.

Recently, the chain that my gym belongs to launched an interesting television campaign. The ad features a variety of different people (ranging in age, body type, race, gender etc) but no scenes of anyone working out (or even in a gym). An odd concept but I think it’s an attempt to further the idea of fitness as a lifestyle instead of a weight loss gimmick.

Jet

*applauds*
I started running to lose weight. Now I can feel myself getting smaller and fitter. The scale seems to be mattering less and less.

The benefits of a healthy active lifestyle are so much more than just weight loss. But if losing weight gets more people running then good. Hopefully they’ll stick at it long enough to reap all the other rewards that come with being fit!

Also, look at your abs!

Nic @Strawbry_Blonde

Isn’t it amazing that these thoughts don’t just come naturally to us – that what you’re saying is *actually* quite revolutionary?! I’m very careful not to mention weight around my 7yo daughter, though she did one day announce that she had a fat tummy. I’ve no idea how she even knows the concept of being fat – and in fact she is so thin I worry about her.

So I’m with you all the way in terms of reprogramming the younger generation!

Nic x

Sarah

This is very true – but what if exercise doesn’t feel good? I LONG for that elusive exercisers high but when you’re 17 stone and not fit, all you get when you run is the shame of everything wobbling and knees hurting, plus the lungs feeling as if they are going to explode. Walking is great and swimming good too but I just can’t run or do anything high-intensity enough to get that high…

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