You look fabulous

On the subject of all things gym life, one of the best mental shifts I ever executed for myself was accepting that physically, I am the best I will ever be. This I coupled with the line "in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked." It's from Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich's 1999 phenomenon Everyone's Free to Wear Sunscreen, commonly known as The Sunscreen Song.

A gym membership salesman once told me, "Every person here is unhappy with himself. That's why they're here." And to a great extent, that's true. Take bodybuilding, since changing one's body composition is the number one goal of gymgoers. Bodybuilding is a cosmetic pursuit. The axioms in bodybuilding are that you are constantly improving, never as good as you will be, and in need of improvement; and physically, your muscles are always in a state of damage, because they're about to grow. But the latter is true of the former as well; examine the first three points and you'll realize that thinking this way is putting your psyche into a state of damage as well. Casting oneself into a perpetual state of unhappiness with one's present body image is not healthy. I lived this way for years, as do anorexics, bigorexics (of which I was one), and a whole lot of people in America who don't need labeling of such specific categories.

When I heard that song, that line jumped out at me. Perhaps I would look back at photos of myself and regret living under the regime of unappreciation. Perhaps my own lens was not the best choice I could make. And years of meticulous, intense training with slow progress that had seemingly plateaued led me to try on the idea that "this is the best I will ever be." Dangerous? Yes. That might have propelled me into bleakness all on its own; by the rules of bodybuilding, after all, it meant I had failed.

But something else happened. This idea was a trigger releasing freedom. I began to relax. I still trained consistently and hard, but the grinding judgment of self-examination dissipated. And I began to realize that if this is the best I'll ever be, it's not too bad. At all. Now I could cater to how I actually looked, instead of ignoring the body of the moment while waiting to cater to what I would develop into. I began to dress myself for my body, and see myself in a new light. My mind was quieted and my head stood higher. I'd freed myself from a ruthless tyrant.

Then, unconsciously, I began to develop physically again. This perspective had opened the gates for me to explore new avenues in working out, and they gave me a lot of benefits. This is how it played out - Since this was the best I'd ever be, now was the time to try out bodybuilding competition; I had nothing to lose, and the sport could take me or leave me, I had no expectations or pressure. The competition experience is a whole chapter unto itself, so allow me to fast forward. Next, that same freedom opened the gates for me into Olympic lifting, having nothing to lose, and lo and behold, my body changed again. And so did the rest of me. By accepting my condition, I'd allowed progress. And more than breaking a physical plateau, I'd broken a fundamental plateau in my evolution as a person, and continued physical development was just one side benefit.

Part of the freedom was releasing my strength where I had oppressed it before; if you are unhappy with your present state, you are vulnerable to the influences and messages of others, and today's world is bloated with messages of how you should be, what you should be doing, what you should be buying, etc. By reaching satisfaction, my mind grew quieter because I became more impervious to these pressures, and more deaf to their noise. (This is an actual selling tool - find the pain point and sell to it.) I've come to believe that the progression of maturity is to accept one's body, and then to appreciate it, and by extension, to appreciate the natural beauty in everyone else's healthy bodies. Life is just richer when this happens.

A lot of people move forward in their gym lives out of dissatisfaction with their bodies, and plunge into depression when they feel they've plateaued. And there's plenty of support for that way of being. To an extent, it's useful; after all, if you're very underweight, overweight, or weak, you should be unhappy with your body and driven to change it. But if you've done that, and you've put in the time, and worked, and your body did change under your efforts - try on the "this is the best I'll ever be" idea. It just might give you wings of freedom.


"bear_hugz" - livejournal said...

This was a beautiful piece of writing, and I really thank you for it.

The Mighty Kat said...

thank you!