Exercise and body image; the search for perfection

I found the following statistics on the internet the other day (not sure what the original source is, but there have been many, many studies showing the same kinds of results so I feel okay about posting this without a reference);

  • 25% of men and 45% of women are on a diet on any given day
  • 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance
  • 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always”
  • 45% of men and 55% of women are dissatisfied with their physiques.

Assuming that my clients and group fitness participants are representative of the above group (and I have reason to believe that they are), this means that many individuals who I perceive as being lean, strong and fit, don’t see themselves that way! It’s as if they view their bodies in a fun house mirror; magnifying small imperfections and grossly distorting the overall picture.

I frequently hear healthy-weight women complain about how difficult it is to;

  • lose ‘those last 10 pounds’
  • shrink their bellies back to the size they were before they had children
  • get rid of a little inner thigh or back-of-the-arm jiggle
  • reduce the size of their backside

Why are these minor imperfections so critical to our sense of self? Do we think we will be happier, funnier, sexier, or more lovable when our bodies more closely resemble the pictures of perfection we carry around inside our heads?

Clearly, these questions are bigger than we can address here (although I’m almost certain it has to do with being constantly bombarded with images of young, thin, perfectly proportioned and air-brushed celebrities…), but I challenge you all to think about your own motivations for exercising.

If you exercise for health reasons (reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, managing stress, preventing diabetes or osteoporosis, building muscle to offset mid-life muscle loss, etc) and are enjoying the frequency and intensity of your workouts, congratulations! You’re using exercise as a tool to live a long and healthy life. Carry on!

If you exercise with the goal of achieving some sort of physical perfection, are always at the gym and feel like you need to do even more, proceed with caution. Most likely, you’re one of the people I described above; strong and fit-looking in the eyes of others and well within the range of healthy weight for your age and height. For some reason, you don’t see yourself the way others do. You may be using exercise as a tool to deal with an unhealthy body image.

~ Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? ~bob marly