By Neha Neelwarne
Marketing Czar, Be Well
While shopping for some new workout clothes about two years ago, I noticed that the majority of clothes I wanted to buy didn’t fit me very well and had to be “minded” every few seconds or didn’t fit me at all. This surprised and upset me because although I make no pretensions about looking like a supermodel, I usually don’t have problems finding clothes that fit me and I feel good in. I went store to store at the shopping complex that day but was still disappointed in the range of comfortable workout clothes I could find which didn’t make me feel drab.
Now I am not saying that this is every non-supermodel-body-type person’s experience, but I do remember feeling like I had to have a bangin’ body to even fit into workout clothes, or to be seen in the gym in the first place! These feelings got me thinking about all the images of “ideal” women’s bodies I constantly see on display, in fashion as well as fitness ads which seem to promote the idea that fit people look a certain way, and that if you don’t look a certain way, you are not fit. This suggestion that all fit people look a particular way has been debunked by nutritionists such as Dr. Linda Bacon (author of Health at Every Size). But it got me thinking about the difference between being active for fun and health and being active to attain a certain type of appearance.
If an ideal appearance is all we’re trying to achieve, then there’s a chance that we don’t even need to have a conversation about health. After all each one of us has heard stories about friends, family members, celebrities etc. trying to achieve the perfect body type by developing disordered eating habits and ultimately harming their bodies. You may also have heard stories of individuals who over-exercise in this pursuit and injure themselves. Going into exercise with this mindset of achieving an ideal seems like no fun at all to me. Every time I’ve signed up for an exercise class because I thought I fell short of looking a certain way, the entire class seemed like a prolonged punishment.
However, as I’ve gained more life experience and made deeper connections with the people around me and my work, my attitude towards exercise and appearance is changing. I’ve begun to think about my body in terms of all the things it lets me do rather than what I look like. I have discovered that dancing is my favorite-est thing to do, and I do it regularly. And I don’t do it to look like Beyoncé, but because nothing makes me happier than when I dance. I am finding that I get a lot more exercise now than I have ever before because dancing comes naturally to me, so I don’t treat it like a chore. I’ve also discovered that my actions can have an impact beyond my own self-gratification. I often teach dance on campus and bring joy to those around me as well.
By thinking about what our bodies can do, our “body action” if you will, we can leave behind the narrow notions of beauty and perfection we’ve all been afflicted with and start to appreciate our bodies for everything they allows us to do. In fact, a study conducted by Ohio State University researchers showed that self-acceptance lead to healthier eating habits as well: “The studies found, among nearly 600 college women, that those with higher levels of appreciation and acceptance for their body were more likely to be intuitive eaters. Intuitive eaters spend less time thinking about how their body appears to others and more time considering how their body feels and functions.”
The above mentioned issues were the framework upon which the OSU Body Action Campaign was created by Be Well and RecSports. If you’ve run into any of the “Do What You Love” posters we’ve collaborated on with various OSU students, staff, faculty and other community members, you were probably struck by the range of things our bodies allow us to do which make us happy and have nothing to do with our appearance. Swimming, smiling, hugging, dancing, hiking, gardening, weight training: these are a few things which bring members of the OSU community joy. As you may have noticed, many of these activities also provide the doer good exercise, but doing anything which makes you happy can help relieve stress and add to good health.
Each one of us has at least one thing we do which make us feel awesome, but if you’d like to renew that sense of self-love, acceptance and gratitude, then you should consider attending the free yoga session taught by certified yoga instructor and OSU student Katelyn Banta as part of the Body Action Campaign. Banta emphasizes finding poses which make you feel good and feel peace. If you’d like a space to discuss and explore just how women’s struggles with weight and eating disorders are increasing and the broader body image issues in contemporary society, Dr. Patti Watkins from the Psychology department has opened up her class – “WS 565: Women, Weight and Body Image” – for a day to do a “Walk and Talk”, a walk around the campus while carrying on a discussion with peers and Dr. Watkins.
There are a variety of factors which make us happy, and I will be the first person to admit that appearances do have an effect on our moods. I know that how I present myself, my clothes and my cleanliness can leave an impression on others with long lasting consequences (they could be factors in me being hired or fired). How I feel about the way I look on a certain day can impact the confidence with which I approach those around me that day as well. But, in the long run, my appearance has nothing to do with my intrinsic value and can’t help me to lead a rich life. I believe that when I truly begin to accept this, I begin to accept myself and my body and allow others to do the same. I encourage you to join me in the OSU Body Action Campaign by reflecting on all the things your body lets you do which you enjoy rather than valuing your body solely on its appearance. As my friend and wellness coordinator at RecSports Sierra Laverty noted, “Treat your body like a temple. The best way to do that is to discover the kind of activity that makes you thrive, something that when just talking about it your eyes light up every time. And then make room in your life for it, and do it often. You deserve it.”
Sierra has created a list of ingredients and a recipe for body confidence which I would like to share with you. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me!
Recipe for Body Confidence:
- Have a conversation with friends about what a “desired appearance” is, and why it has become a focus in our society. Contrast that with a dialogue about what it takes to keep your body healthy and happy.
- Who do know that has a clear and genuine passion for something? Consider whether or not their appearance is vital to their passion.
- Pay attention to your body! If you feel tired, don’t guzzle down a caffeine-overloaded “Shot-In-The-Dark”. Make time to sleep. (Same goes for eating – when you’re hungry, grab a carrot!)
- Count your blessings, not your blemishes2 – if you need reminders, write down what you are grateful that your body does for you.
- Recognize that you are not alone in your insecurity: even those that have “desirable” physical attributes struggle with the same anxieties. Let’s change that! Every single human being deserves to feel empowered and confident.
Be Well. Be Orange.