Society has an image in its head of what a beautiful woman looks like. Although some advocates - Megan Crabbe, Hannah Witton, Asos and Nike to name a few- are beginning to change this, the majority of society and the media says that beautiful women have a flat belly and a thigh gap.
I joined the gym in January this year, as it seems many others did. Apparently, 12% of gym members join in January, and half of those quit within six months.
Whenever I mention to people that I go to the gym, it’s usually followed by a response along the line of, “but why? There’s nothing to you”.
I go to the gym not to lose weight, but to gain mental strength. Sure, some of routines in the studio are to make lifting and carrying things when setting up for Youth groups a little easier, but that’s as far as it goes. I go to the gym because when you exercise, you release endorphins (feel-good hormones). I go with the goal to run just 1K. So when I end up running, 2, 3, or even 6 last week, I come home feeling like I’ve achieved something. I don’t go to the gym to be a size smaller. There certainly is something to me; strength.
When I joined the gym, I told myself that I would only go a maximum of twice a week; one of those times could be using machines and doing classes, and the other time had to be swimming or using the steam room. Becoming a member of a gym was a risky choice because it was during a season that I was struggling with body confidence, and so I needed accountability. I told a friend my rule, and still nine months later she reminds me not to over-do it at the gym, and when I’m feeling low she suggests that I ‘run it off’.
A Person, Not a Piglet
That season was a bit of a blur. I had the image of Dakota Johnson and thought that she’s pretty-skinny, whereas I was ‘ugly-skinny’. When people said things like, “there’s nothing to you”, in my mind they were saying, “you’re ugly-skinny”. Of course nobody meant it in that way, they never do. So I was both wanting to put on weight and eat foods and exercise in ways that would help that, as well as being worried about changing the body I have, that society says is ‘right’. I began to be anxious when I ate around people I didn’t know well, because I thought they were thinking that I was eating too much or too fast or not the right things.
A couple of months ago I was sat at my soft-office (my bed) and I had a ‘stomach-flop’. Just because of the jeans I was wearing, the amount I had eaten, the way I was sitting, but nonetheless, my stomach was not flat. And for the first time in what felt like a lifetime, I was not upset, but I celebrated. This was growth. This was a sign of me looking after my body as if it was my friend. I wrote in my journal that day, “dear little stomach flop, you can stay. Dear world, swap ‘you look thin’ for ‘you look healthy’ if you mean it as a compliment. And please stop offering me the last biscuit to ‘fatten me up’, I’m a person, not a piglet’.
I’m a Tent Masterpiece
It look a lot of prayers, time, pushing past insecurity, going to a women’s curry night and a church bring and share lunch even when I didn’t want to, to realise that my body is a gift from God. It’s a masterpiece. It’s also a tent. In Corinthians, Paul says that “these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade”. They’re just the ‘thing’ to carry us through to the next life, yet so much thinking is put into making sure my ‘tent’ is ‘perfect’, whatever that means. Sure, there are still some days that I view the wrong thing on Instagram and compare myself. There are still some days that nothing fits me right, even after four wardrobe changes. There are still days when I hear there’s going to be another Church lunch and my immediate thought is, “urgh, how can I get out of this one?” But those days a lessening and lessening, because I’m growing and blooming.
Mental Health Taboo
I tell these stories to hopefully encourage you in some ways. The taboo of mental health is something I grapple with, probably more so since being involved in church ministry. A lot of the time I see it as a weakness, and so I cover it up. But imagine if every leader in whatever setting always hid their struggle. You’d think that you were the only one to ever battle anything, and that God only uses those who are strong and together. Sure, something I’ve battled with aren’t ready to be shared with the wider world just yet, and that’s okay. I share them with a small group of people that care for me and will journey with me, but not yet from a platform. And that’s okay. But what isn’t okay is thinking that those you look up to, those that lead you, those that you are around don’t struggle. I share this with you because I’m a student youth worker that is growing and blooming, but journeying and struggling along the way too.
Here are some links to statistics, phrases, quotes and people that I’ve mentioned:
Nike uses a ‘plus-size’ mannequin
Asos want to “give our customers the confidence to be whoever they want to be. So we take our responsibilities seriously when it comes to protecting their mental health, wellbeing and body confidence”
Exercise releases endorphins
Your body is a tent