“Body Goals”: Building a Healthy Relationship With Fitness Culture

content warning: fitness, connotations around body image

Hello reader!

I want to preface this post by saying thank you to anyone who reads these blogs! I have loved hearing from anyone who has related to what I share so do not hesitate to reach out!

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness professional and this is all completely anecdotal. Consider speaking to a licensed health care provider prior to making significant changes to your lifestyle! There will be an excessive use of quotation marks in this post for terms that we see in fitness culture that are likely over-simplifications – i.e. “fit”, “toned”, “metabolism”, etc.

As a human who moves their body (yes, like the vast majority of us), this still feels like a personal topic to write about. We all have our own complicated relationship with fitness. I am going to focus on movement in this post. If we talk in-depth on eating, we’d be here all day. I view movement as a basic human need. I define being “fit” as having a consistent routine that involves moving your body and feeding it mindfully. To me, fitness should have little to do with aesthetics. Appearances sometimes tell you nothing about someone’s actual fitness level.

My Fitness Background and “Body Goals”

I included “body goals” in this title because we hear this concept colloquially all the time. Within social media culture and our personal circles, there is this notion that an ideal body should be strived towards. Although I do not feel able to comment on the experiences of masculine-identifying folks, I do know they are also not immune from societal standards on how their bodies should look. I will be focusing on my perspective as a femme-identifying individual.

I have always had a naturally “athletic” build. This next section is not to brag about my body type I promise, it is just important to understand my perception of fitness culture.  While my body may look “toned”, this absolutely does not correlate to my athletic abilities. I always laugh when people meet me and assume that I played sports. In reality,

  1. I am notoriously uncoordinated.
  2. Have never seriously played a sport.
  3. Did not take fitness seriously until the past couple of years.

Brief history on me since adolescence

In high school, I

  • Joined the girls flag football team and quit after one morning practice.
  • Regularly bought Timbits for myself at lunch.
  • Never went to the gym or the local YMCA. I was thriving off of my “high metabolism” which I think is an overarching term for “I can eat whatever I want and externally you wouldn’t be able to tell”.

In undergrad, I

  • Occasionally went to the gym but never even remotely enjoyed it.
  • Could barely keep up the one time I joined my housemate for a run.
  • Consumed an undergrad diet of lots of takeout, the occasional homemade pasta, and plenty of Eggos with Nutella.
  • Played intramural volleyball, as a way to make friends, and worked as a volleyball referee for two years, as a way to make money. However, you can ask anyone who has played a game with me and they’ll let you know I am typically elated just to get a serve over the net.

Yet, all these years, my body still looked essentially exactly as it does now. Now – when I work out 3 to 5 times a week and try to be mindful about eating healthy meals.  I will explore how I got to this point, but I have often asked myself: How can this be explained?

The answer is multifactorial. For one, genetics.

A superficial exploration of my own genetics!

I have the same body type as my mom has which is unsurprising – I am her daughter. We have curves and muscle in the same places as well as lack thereof in the same places. While this does not always reign true in families due to the complexity of genetics, it can often be the case.

There is also the psychological factor of growing up with my mom’s outlook on movement. My mom is dedicated to fitness and has been since I was a little kid. In recent years, she has run my age in kilometres annually for my birthday.

I have my mom’s habits in the back of my head all the time. When I decided to get more into fitness, it was easier for me to apply her habits to myself because I have my memories.

I remember my mom doing aerobics in the basement on the weekends. She would watch nutrition and fitness shows on TV.

We all inherit the habits we grew up with. Your childhood shapes your view of what normal things to do are. It’s why we have daily physical activity (DPA!) and recess integrated into elementary school. It can become a generational cycle of not knowing how to get into fitness if it is not something you saw in your home. I know people can get down on themselves when starting can feel unnatural or intimidating.

This psychological and developmental component of fitness cannot be ignored and yet, often it is. We forgot the adults who don’t know how to exercise were once kids who were never taught how to set that lifestyle habit.

The problem I have with “body goals” as a benchmark for fitness is that it leads to unhealthy habits for those who easily pass as “fit”-looking likely due to genetics, and an unhealthy mindset for people who may not look like those standards. The way I looked on the outside during my most sedentary years could not possibly have reflected my actual health.

Many can attest that when you tie your mindset towards movement to how you feel rather than how you look, it will be a much more enjoyable and thus sustainable way to live. This is easier said than done but here are a few philosophies that could help you get there!

Some Philosophies on Movement

A compilation of my experiences with fitness + advice I have absorbed over the years.

1. Find the movement you enjoy and simply do that.

Exercise does not have to be a high intensity workout or a long run. Exercise is just movement. You do not need to conform to anyone else’s fitness routine or take yourself too seriously tracking things (although some people find that fun and motivating!). For example, a walk around your neighbourhood is exercise. The moment I started shifting my workouts to just be moving my body in a way that I like, I slowly became that “fit person”, a lot of people may have in their heads.

In 2019, I found myself loving the cardio feeling, seeking it out at GoodLife and other rhythmic spin classes. At first, I found spin extremely challenging. But, by the end of the class, when I thought, “I’m never doing that again”, the endorphins would hit me and I would feel accomplished.

I would say spin was my first fitness love. However, I have never forced myself to be stagnant in how I choose to move my body. I started to love running as a form of meditative movement and simultaneously, a way to meet people. Running requires minimal equipment and gives me a chance to explore a new city.  

I rotate in HIIT training, strength training, Pilates, or yoga throughout the week. Overall, I intentionally plan workouts that I love and genuinely look forward to. They help to break up my day and give me motivation or an energy boost. If I can get through a challenging workout then perhaps, I can make a dent in something else I have been procrastinating on.

Moving our bodies is something that we get to do. Moving keeps me healthy and improves the health of my future self. I see movement as essential to life as food, water, or sleep. Seeing movement this way has allowed it to be a seamless part of my routine. If you think of it as something that is just part of your day because it simply must be for your wellbeing, you make the time for it. It will take up less space in your mind and become a less daunting experience. Many describe this as a mindset shift: “I have to move my body” becomes “I get to move my body”. “I am exercising” becomes “There is exercising”.

Rooting movement in gratitude could be the difference you need to get yourself loving it.  None of this has to do with how you look. It is about how you feel in your own skin and being grateful for being at home in this body.

2. You do not have to do fitness alone.

When I moved to Kingston, I felt like everyone ran. Soon, I discovered the socialization aspect of fitness. This side of fitness was hidden behind all my sad solo gym sessions in undergrad so I never realized how friendly, fitness could be. This cultural shift and the expansion of my social circle to include people who liked to move – was everything.

Michelle Obama said in a podcast episode about health, something along the lines of “I will quit on myself but I will not quit on my friends.” This has reigned true for me. During the summer months of 2020, one of my good friends decided to start doing Shaun T’s Insanity workouts. Although I was running regularly, when he asked me if I wanted to join him and our other friends to try out one of the workouts, I reluctantly told him that I would try it – once. And wow – I encourage everyone to try Insanity at least once if you want to feel pushed by a workout. 

Similarly, to my first spin classes, I had those “I am never doing that to myself again”. thoughts. Yet, the endorphins I felt after the workouts were multiplied ten times over by being able to feel the gratification with my friends.

And watch them feel pummelled right beside me.

Throughout the summer, we started doing Insanity twice a week and having our friends join us on Zoom.

Two months in, we could not believe where our stamina once was, and it felt special to have witnessed all of us progress together. My energy level increase while running and hiking astounded me. And to this day, most importantly, I still hear Shaun T’s encouraging words in anything I do, exercise or in other areas of my life:

“Dig deeper.”

“We are pushing through this.” 

“Your body can do this.”

3. Make time for movement about time with yourself.

I know we just talked about not having to do fitness alone but there will be moments where you cannot find a workout buddy (or pandemic lockdowns that makes this harder). I have had to find ways to make solo workouts or at-home workouts a pleasurable time.

The best way I have found to do this is by making my fitness time, a time for me and a break within my day. It is not something that I dread but something that I look forward to. Movement gives me some time away from obligations and with my thoughts.

I curate playlists of my favourite music and sometimes just mute the workout video, follow along to the visuals, and enjoy my music. I know lots of people who use long walks as a chance to listen to an audiobook or podcast or simply take in the scenery around them. The very nature of setting aside time to exercise or getting a nice sweat on can be therapeutic.

From a vainer perspective, I love cute workout clothes. You can find confidence in just you being powerful, moving your body, perhaps wearing something you like. By no means do I think we need to subscribe to consumerism and purchase fifty pairs of leggings. All I am saying is if I take the time to put on a favourite matching set of mine, it is extremely unlikely that I will not roll out my yoga mat or hit play on my workout video.

Privilege in Fitness Culture

I want to bring up my various privileges here. I discussed the privilege of my upbringing at the start. However, we also live in a society in which a lot of this is harder to do when you are living with a lower income or have much less time between work, school, and life responsibilities. I am a financially secure student who is able to support myself without too much stress. Although, I interpret working out as a need, it is not actually a basic physiologic need. In accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I am able to spend my free time towards personal esteem.

Source: Wikipedia

All those gym memberships, workout clothes, and fitness watches that many might access with ease are much more attainable with money and time. That said, YouTube is an amazing tool to get at-home fitness ideas and lots without any fancy equipment

My Favourite Fitness Content Creators: Sydney Cummings (YouTube), Lottie Murphy Pilates (YouTube), Linda Sun (YouTube), Shaun T (Insanity) and always accepting recommendations!

The next time you think about fitness or the serious concern that people are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles, perhaps you will also think about the privileges it can take to prioritize health and nutrition every day.

Move your body in a way that feels right for you if you can – because you can and that is a gift.

Until next time! Reminder to take a screen break if you need.

Cheers! Sign up here to be notified when I post next. Always on a Tuesday.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: