Some Thoughts on Fitness, Body Image and Self-Respect


Every new year comes with resolutions, one of the most common being to lose weight or, at the very least, to finally get fit. Sometimes we want to lose weight because of a health scare, but a lot of times we just want to look better. Women are bombarded every day with images of perfection, beauty, youth–ideals that can wreak havoc on our self-esteem. Others rebel against these ideals and refuse to conform to society’s impossible standards by refusing to work out or lose weight, sometimes even if it affects their health. Either stance is problematic because they’re both reactions to external opinions. This new year, I want to suggest an alternative view, one that’s entirely self-driven. Hear me out.


It doesn’t matter what you look like, how much weight you’re carrying or how it’s distributed, you were given a beautiful body. Purely on a mechanical level, it’s a miraculous machine, even at its most prosaic, as evidenced by this Jewish prayer:

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

That prayer is said after you poop. Yes, it’s kinda gross, but if you’ve ever suffered from digestive trouble (and we all will at some point), you know how true it is. But beyond the digestive, your body does amazing things on a regular basis and fairly reliably. Regardless of your religious bent, you should feel justifiably grateful when all works well. Correction, you should feel awed.

Look at it this way. If someone gave you a Maserati, you’d be thrilled. You have this amazing machine and how are you taking care of it? Are you overfeeding it, pushing it to the edge, revving the engine beyond its capacity, refusing to oil it or take it to the mechanic? In order for a car to work well, it has to be driven regularly. It has to be serviced. It has to have the right kind of gasoline. You wouldn’t overfill its tank under the misguided notion that it “needs a little treat.” Your body needs a reasonable balance of exercise and rest in order to stay healthy. It needs a reasonable amount of good food and liquids.The reality is that most of us treat our cars better than we do ourselves.

This is not about aesthetics, although it can be true that when you take care of yourself, you end up looking good, even if it’s just from the glow of health and not necessarily from picture-perfect abs or buns of steel.

A word about women and curves. The reality is that in order to look like one of those fitness models, most of us ladies have to work our asses off. When I was at my fittest, I was working out 1 1/2 hours, five days a week. (I don’t know if I looked my best, however, because I lost my boobs and at one point I ended up looking like Eskelletor. And I wasn’t even anorexic! But I digress.) Few of us have that much time. In fact, most women were built to have a soft layer of body-fat, for the biological reason that we were built to carry babies. However, there is an optimal point at which, if we carry too much or too little weight, it’s not going to be good for our hearts, our bones, or our blood sugar. I’m sorry if that’s not politically correct, but it’s true. Note, however, that optimal point is not necessarily what is currently considered fashionable because it is very individual. Simply put, forget politics. If your weight or lack thereof is negatively affecting your health, the most respectful and loving thing you can do for yourself is to listen to your doctor and get fit.

I don’t buy this idea that we’re too busy to exercise at all. Most of us find a whole lot of time to watch TV shows. You can sneak 20 minutes of SOME kind of exercise, even if it’s jumping in place while streaming episodes of Throne of Whatever. (Make it a game. Do ten push-ups every time someone sleeps with his sister, throws a lance, slays a dragon. Sure, you’ll feel like an idiot. Guess what? A lot exercise is about feeling and looking like an idiot if only because in order to do it, you have to wear Spandex. No one over 35 looks good in Spandex. And anyway, if you can’t be an idiot in your own home, when can you? Think of it as building character, not just body mass. Exercise teaches you not to give a shit about what people think. Especially when they’re not even around to judge you.) At the very least, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator.

At the very minimum, you should be able to walk a mile without getting winded, walk up a flight of stairs without feeling like dying at the top, carry a ten pound bag of groceries around the block. If need be, you should be able to break into a run without feeling collapsing into a heap at the end. This is just functional fitness.

And please, don’t blame your age on your inability to do (or achieve) these things. Sure, it’s hard to exercise. Part of the reason I’m even finishing up this post is that I’m procrastinating; instead of doing 1 hour of yoga, I’m writing this. I’d argue that it’s precisely because it’s hard that you should do it. Asides from the practical health reasons to work out, there’s the fact that working out will make you mentally stronger, even if it’s just due sticking to a routine. I find that becoming mentally strong is the single best reason for working out and yet I hardly ever hear anyone talk about it. Life is going to throw you many challenges. You’re going to need fortitude, patience and the ability to hunker down and do things you’d rather not do. Nothing prepares you as well for that as exercise.

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