The topic of body image and body comfort is so important, yet it is rarely a part of a fitness professional’s training. As a Personal Trainer, you are trying to help your clients get fit or lose weight. But isn’t it just as important a goal to get clients to feel comfortable with their bodies? We want clients to appreciate their bodies for their health, energy and natural curves. In this article, I hope to bring light to how our body image has become so distorted and how we can change to make it better.
We are under more pressure than ever to be thin, unrealistically thin. If you look at Playboy centerfolds over the decades, you will find that as the magazine got older, the models got thinner. A recent study showed that today’s Playboy centerfolds, Miss America contestants and fashion models are at anorectic weight levels, 13 to 19 percent below expected normal or healthy weight for their age. Marilyn Monroe today would be classified as obese. But the artificial images we’re bombarded with today are beyond unrealistic. They’re just not real. Most of today’s "hottest" models are teenagers. A 13 year old selling anti-wrinkle cream will make any woman feel bad. Besides this, ALL commercial photographs are airbrushed. It’s all about lighting, poses and paint. Not even the models can look like that. Cindy Crawford has openly admitted to having cellulite, but you don’t see it in her pictures. You want to look like a model? Spend $20,000 on a great photographer and a great airbrush artist.
Today’s children are more weight conscious than any generation before. They grow up with fear of fat and expertise in dieting. One study of fourth graders showed that 60 percent of children wished they were thinner and were worried about being fat. More than 80 percent said they had avoided foods they thought would make them fat and 40 percent reported dieting to lose weight. It’s no wonder rates of anorexia and bulimia are skyrocketing.
Finding Your Ideal Weight
Even knowing all this, we still hold unrealistic standards for ourselves. You can’t control the distorted, unhealthy view of Americans, but you can control your own behavior. You can find the ideal weight for you! That is not about specific percentage of body fat or where you lie on a weight chart. It is the healthy, comfortable weight for your body. Your body is unique to you. Your body’s frame, your body fat make up and your metabolism are all specific to your body.
Your ideal weight is…
- One that you can keep for a lifetime (within five pounds).
- One that has body fat percentage in a healthy range.
- One that allows you to participate in all of life’s activities
- One that makes you feel healthy, comfortable and alive.
Working on Body Image
People are uncomfortable discussing feelings about their bodies. For that reason, you should use creative methods to understand body image. Research has shown that expressive therapies, such as guided imagery, movement, and art, are useful in uncovering stored feelings and memories of bodily experience, because they deal with the stuff of which body image is made- images and physical sensations.
We are our hardest critics. Women in general are much more critical and judgmental than men about physical beauty. Men are much more likely to accept a woman as beautiful, but women feel a need to point out their less beautiful points such as cellulite or tummy rolls. Confidence about your body will always be more beautiful than body discomfort. If your self-esteem is not in tact, losing weight will not make it any better. Your attitude to yourself describes both the way you feel about your body and the way you perceive yourself. This will have a direct impact on your self esteem. If you dislike the way you look then you play into the hands of society and accept it’s unrealistic beauty standards. Explain to your clients that our eyes often deceive us. What we see in the mirror isn’t necessarily what other people see.
A startling example for your clients is to show them a picture of an anorexic. Ask them if they see the person as fat. Chances are that the anorexic sees themselves that way. Ask your clients to draw a picture of themselves. Ask them to describe what they see and than how they feel. Than, let them know all the positive things that you see.
Many anorexics and bulimics see themselves as fat. They see distorted images when they look in the mirror. If you are dealing with a client with drastic distortions, I highly suggest they work with a therapist. You can, however, help most clients see their bodies more clearly. We want to help clients correct distortions in their body image and to create a more positive body image. People who suffer from discomfort with their body either avoid looking in the mirror or tend to focus critically and obsessively at themselves.
Rule #1 – Don’t fragment your body when looking in the mirror.
Don’t look at the area you hate most. Look at your body as a whole image with a favourable outlook.
Rule #2 – Monitor your self talk.
What is the first thing you say to yourself when you look in the mirror? Rephrase your self-talk. Try speaking to yourself through the eyes of a nurturing parent.
Rule #3 – Close your eyes and picture what you will look like in your healthiest state.
Be realistic. Visualize your body as you transform into this healthy being.
Before you can change body image, you have to release the notion that beauty is power. Your clients need to let go of the idea that thinness is all that’s important in life, that men will only want you if you’re thin, etc. When you ask your clients to look in the mirror, ask them to act is if they did have a positive body image (That’s different than acting like they have the perfect body). Ask them to start changing their daily rituals such as dressing, eating, moving, touching their body, so they soon do everything as if they had a positive body image.
Don’t focus on getting down to a certain number on the scale. The goal is to establish a healthy lifestyle, a positive self-image and to forget about your weight. Obsessing about your body shape is unhealthy, but an awareness of what your body requires nutritionally and physically is health promoting. There are too many people who spend their lives fighting a losing battle to look like their ideal glossy magazine image rather than accepting a health weight and body comfort. Women especially need to stop ranking themselves according to beauty and slimness and need to start being noticed by their wit, intellect and physical prowess.