We are surrounded by messages that whisper,
“You need to be thinner or stronger.”
“You’re not attractive as you are.”
“You’re need to change yourself and push more.”
“You’re not working hard enough.”
“If you only looked a certain way, you would be happy.”
We know deep down that these are lies. We understand the pitfalls of becoming fixated on a particular body image, as no matter what we do, our body will eventually wrinkle, grow old, and pass away.
Attachment to exterior appearances is fleeting, addictive, and ultimately unfulfilling. As author Rick Hanson says, “They slip through your fingers as you reach for them, an unreliable basis for deep and lasting happiness.”
We can tell others that we don’t care how we look. We can proclaim that a slim waist won’t get rid of emotional baggage or that big biceps don’t make you a compassionate person, so why bother.
Yet deep inside, these coveted goods are so close, so tantalizing . . . and so we keep reaching.
Clinging to the superficial can infect any well-intentioned pursuit of health and fitness with a dark shadow of insecurity, narcissism, and neediness. I’ve been there myself. I’ve been duped by shadows of self-judgement and media messages that say I should look a certain way. It is time to fight back and restore a sense of humanity to the conversation around bodies, weight, and health.
But first an apology.
I Am Both A Victim And A Perpetrator of These Tainted Messages
I ask for forgiveness if have perpetrated these shadowy beliefs about body and fitness.
~ I’m sorry if any of my pictures or videos vainly screamed, “Emulate me. I’ve got my shit together. This is how you should look.”
~ I am contrite about ever implying that you need to change your body to be valued.
~ I sincerely apologize if I’ve ever made you feel that that looking a certain way on the outside is the path to feeling a certain way on the inside.
Truth be told, that’s all nonsense.
As Mike Vacanti says in this brutally honest video, “You and me, getting lean, and posting shit on Instagram, that doesn’t matter.” What matters is taking care of your body so it gives you the freedom to live the life you want. Today, tomorrow, and decades from now.
I Don’t Care How You Look
It may seem strange that as a professional dealing in the business of body transformation, I really don’t care about how your body looks. I’m concerned with how you take care of it.
I don’t want to condone negative judgments about body parts you want to disown or tone. I want you to pay attention to what your body needs in order to feel and function at its best.
I don’t give a shit about whether you’ve got visible abs or a voluptuous booty. I just want you to feel empowered to use your body as a vehicle for love and adventure.
Ultimately, how you look on the outside only matters as much as you believe it to matter.
But, and this is a big “BUT”…looks matter
So many people believe that appearances matter…that they do.
First impressions are inescapable. We make hundreds of snap judgments about someone’s character based upon how he or she looks. Our ancient biological attraction to symmetry, curves, and tall posture is woven into our DNA. We cannot help but make assumptions about good health, fertility, and an ability to provide and protect based upon a person’s stature. As animals with a need to survive and procreate, our relationships will always be impacted by how we look on the outside.
So if you have ever felt insecure about your body, I understand why:
~ I recognize the biological imperative to have youthful contours.
~ I understand the cultural pressure to fit into accepted bodily norms of beauty.
~ I understand if past experiences have left scars of bodily judgment and shame.
~ I know the stress of having to deal with a body that doesn’t look or feel the way you desire.
I have been through all this myself, and as much as I try to rise above it, these tensions are inescapable. I cannot offer a way out, only a way in. The more I work with, through, and in my own body, the more I see that the task is not to become perfect. The task is to create space for all these tension to exist.
Struggles of a Trainer Trying to Transcend the Superficial
As a personal trainer, I want to help you manage the biological drives and social pressures to look a certain way. At the same time, I want you to transcend the bullshit of becoming well-adjusted to an arbitrary and profit-driven norm of beauty.
Taking care of your body is not about chasing a particular look. It is about learning to listen to what your body needs and having the tools to give it the TLC it deserves.
You are under contract to live in, with, and through this body. You may not have agreed to the terms and conditions, but you must honor this contract nonetheless. If you want to live well and do good in the world, start by taking care of your body.
Here are some simple practices to help you get started.
- Learn to inhabit the body you already have. This is simple as slowing down, focusing your attention inward, and allowing yourself to feel whatever is present inside of you. Stay there as long as you can.
- Learn what your body can do now. Don’t get caught up in what you can’t do. Begin with what you can. Experiment with different types of movement, not for the sake or burning calories or building muscle, but as a creative expression of being alive in a body. See how you can bend, twist, reach, and stretch. Explore the space around you and allow yourself to be surprised by how you can already move.
- Let exercise be a tool to add more life to your day. Working out is not a punishment or chore. It’s an opportunity to say to the world, “I’m here. I’m alive.” Use exercise to experience aspects of life that carry a different energetic charge from your other activities. Practice moving breath and energy through your body. Notice the subtle and gross sensations. Let your exercise provide a sense of freedom, accomplishment, and empowerment that infuses the rest of your day.
- Explore the edge of your comfort zone. To know what your body feels like to be centered, you must know what it feels like to be off balance. Life will often do this for you, but it is different when you deliberately challenge yourselves. Choosing to play at the edge of your comfort zone creates a sense of control, autonomy, and mastery that empowers you. Your body wants to be used to its fullest potential. Occasionally take it there.
- Balance self-acceptance with self-improvement. I’m not asking you to give up your aspirations for better health or a body that allows you to do cool things. I’m asking you to approach your physical journey on planet earth from a kinder perspective, a place where desires for a better body can be held simultaneously with love and appreciation for the body you currently have.
- Focus on the quality of your presence. It’s more important than your bodily appearance. How engaged you are in the moment matters more than how you appear physically. I’m talking about how you light up a room simply by being there. Not by saying or doing anything. Just the energy you are putting out. Your body is the medium. Your presence is the message. Focus on what message you want to be putting into the world.
- Loving yourself is a daily choice. Recognize that anytime you set foot in the gym, start a workout, or look at yourself in the mirror, you are making a choice. You are either choosing to show up from a place of love and sufficiency, or you are letting those shadowy whispers infect you with inadequacy. One path empowers you. The other erodes you.
I’ve made my choice. Your turn.
~ Jeffrey Siegel
P.S. Please share this with anyone who needs a reminder to honor all their rolls, moles, and jiggles in service of the presence that their body grants.