Over the last several years I have achieved many fitness goals. I have run a half marathon, competed in a Fitness America Pageant bikini competition, lifted more than my body weight, and at times have been able to do pull-ups. I have mastered the burpee and the pushup. I have done yoga and let my yoga practice go by the wayside. I have watched the sun set and rise while biking to work with my giant pregnant belly. It’s been a fitness adventure, to say the least.
Over the holidays I have had some time to reflect and think about how the choices I’ve been making (or not making) reflect my values and beliefs. Many of my choices come from insecurity and a desire to be beautiful. I struggle a lot with my body image and always have. In high school I played varsity sports and my nickname was Butch. I was a strong, athletic girl who lifted heavy weights and played basketball with the boys in the gym at lunch time while the pretty girls sat on the stage with perfect makeup and styled hair. Looking back, I loved playing basketball with those guys every day and wouldn’t trade those times for all the dates in the world!
It’s not easy living in our culture which tends to promote materialism and superficial ideals of beauty. Unfortunately for me, I think trying to live up to the beauty ideal attracted a guy who wanted me because of that instead of all the other things I have to offer. So here I am with a beautiful baby boy, still single, and searching to understand why things are the way that they are. It would be easy to blame myself – to tell myself that I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not whatever enough…but that’s all bullshit. The truth is that I am a strong, educated, and independent woman and perhaps some people can’t handle that. The question I want to know the answer to is: why do gender roles still matter? Why do we define masculinity and feminity the way that we do? And why on earth am I spending so much time and energy trying to attain a standard of beauty that is unsustainable and bad for my mental health?
My body image has affected me in more ways than I would like to admit. For quite some time I have waffled back and forth between a plant-based diet and one with lots of meat and animal products. Somewhere I have it in my head that I have to choose between being lean and eating a plant-based diet. While this may seem ridiculous to anyone who knows a vegetarian or vegan athlete, I bought into the idea that meat = muscles. For me, eating meat was a choice to chase my ideal physique rather than stick to my ethical values and beliefs about food. I justified my large carbon footprint because I wanted to be beautiful, and in my mind that meant eating meat.
It’s time to make a different choice and live in a way that reflects my values. I love the planet. I love fresh air and the salty ocean, grassy fields and wooded trails. We need nature and there is only so much of it (and we are destroying what’s left). I want to walk more lightly on the Earth and lower my carbon footprint. In my opionion one of the best things I can do to help the environment is eat less meat so this year I am going to transition back to a plant-based diet.
The other thing that I really want to work on this year is my body image. In some ways, being a single mom makes this a lot easier because I’m only interested in dating someone if they are awesome (which, really, why shouldn’t that have been the case before?). In other ways, it makes it harder because there’s always that little voice telling me that nobody’s going to want me unless I’m pretty. My challenge to myself is to redefine what beauty means and focus on being a beautiful person instead of just how I look on the outside.