February 10, 2016
The idea of a #selfloverebellion came when my girlfriend and fellow trainer Cat from San Francisco made a post on Facebook a couple weeks ago. In her post she shared that she often needs to explain that her 'corner of the fitness industry isn't that shallow or surface level' and there are many trainers, fitness educators and exercise professionals that are out to talk about more than just abs and physical results. When Cat tagged me in the post with a slew of other trainers I felt at home, like 'yes! I have really found a group of women that are into spreading the same message that is so important to me'.
The #selfloverebellion has been an idea that has been brewing inside of me for sometime and I will share with you exactly what has brought me to this moment in time and what has created the desire to change the narrative we have about fitness, our bodies and our worth. The self-love rebellion is about rebelling against the mainstream narrative that we need to change ourselves in order to love ourselves.
Photo Credit: Caroline Caldwell
The fitness industry does make massive profits from capitalizing on the self-doubt of people. I do think women are targeted more than men as so much of what we hear from a young age is that our appearance is just as important as what we do, think or say (men face their own challenges with tons of messaging around being muscular). I feel lucky that my experience growing up was not about appearance at all. My Dad (yes my Mom was around but I spent most of my time with my Dad) raised me to be a strong and capable woman and we rarely spoke about what people looked like or what women should look like. Our conversations were more about if I was going to play soccer and basketball in the upcoming season or what I liked about science at school. It was my Dad who refused to drive me to the ferry for my first day of grade 7 until I 'took my lipstick' off. HAHA!
When I graduated from the University of Calgary with my Kinesiology degree many years later I was thrust into the world of personal training, living in a gym 24/7 (which I loved) and I began to see a different side of the fitness industry than what I had been exposed to in school. An education in kinesiology focuses largely on the art and science of human movement. We learn about muscles, physiology, the social side of movement, injury prevention, nutrition, stress reduction, counselling psychology and so much more.
I never took a class at school that was called 'How To Get Lean Legs'. So my entire world shifted when the fitness magazines I saw were all about looks, the questions I would receive from participants in my classes were often about losing their muffin top or toning their arms and some of the trainers I was working with were completely aesthetic-focused. This is certainly not about playing the blame game, I was a sponge and I did enjoy learning some tips and tricks for getting more ripped arms and how to tweak my nutrition strategy to lose some body fat.
Now that I have been actively working in the fitness industry for 14 years (I taught my first step aerobics class at the age of 16). I feel like I have a lot to say about exercise and how it relates to our self-care, the way we look, the way we feel and the way we love ourselves. Most of this comes from my own journey to wholehearted health, and some of my lessons come from the incredible clientele I have worked with over the last decade.
When we operate as professionals in the fitness industry we have a responsibility to treat the entire person as a whole. The external 'look' is not separate from the internal feeling. If we only focus on the outside, we neglect the inside. The most successful exercisers start moving because of an external goal and continue moving because of the way movement makes them feel. We have to keep talking about the inner journey, it will help us to become healthier and more consistent.
Exercise can be the ultimate form of self-care, and consistent self-care is a way of expressing self-love. When we poke and prod our bodies saying we need to get rid of this and tone up that, are we motivating ourselves or putting aesthetic before self-care? This is not a black and white game; therefore, we need to find the balance of finding out how to be more than a body while still caring for ourselves deeply. This is the key to lasting motivation.
So how can you start your own #selfloverebellion? How can you be a rebel against the aesthetic-first obsession of the fitness industry as a whole? How can you change the narrative to honour the inside before the outside? How can you practice radical self-love?
Here's how you can do it:
1. Practice self-acceptance without resignation.
This quote came from my business coach Jill Coleman who has played a massive role in my growth both personally and professionally. She was one of the first people in my world that talked about the inner journey more than the outer look. I think I related to her because I still love feeling strong and exercising regularly but I needed help finding more tools to care for my inner world and craft an empowered mindset.
When we practice self-acceptance we work at accepting where we are at this exact moment in time. If you are a black-and-white thinker, then self-acceptance can seem like we're letting ourselves off the hook. The challenge is that we must accept ourselves, our past, our thoughts and feelings in order to create a solid foundation for moving forward. When we constantly motivate ourselves from a place of not-good-enough we rarely make changes that stick and even when we do achieve the goals we've set, we're left feeling like something is still missing.
To practice self-acceptance without resignation we work on accepting ourselves for who we are and rather than becoming resigned 'there's nothing I can do about it' we practice acceptance and subsequent action. This was a key step for me in learning how to take better care of myself mentally and physically. Rather than let past fears, pains, mistakes and frustrations hold me back I accepted them as normal parts of life and worked at staying empowered with what I could do about where I wanted to be.
2. Know that it is possible to love yourself and want to change at the same time.
Building upon accepting ourselves without resignation, it is possible to practice radical self-love and work at getting stronger, fitter or more peaceful. But this brings me to a difficult but important question that needs to be discussed: HOW do you love yourself while wanting to change?
- We practice gratitude for our body and what it does for us daily. This can be writing it down in a gratitude journal or simply thanking our legs, stomach and arms for all they allow us to do. It may seem silly but it changes our narrative about our bodies completely.
- We become more habit focused vs. outcome focused. Rather than always looking for the finish line (number on the scale, size of clothes, amount of weight we can lift) we focus on enjoying the process of getting to our goals. What do you love about the way you are eating? What do you love about the workouts you are doing?
- Acknowledge that you are in fact, more than a body. You are your mindset, your relationships, your outlook, your perspective, your passion, your knowledge. Your friends and family love you for your unique quirks and so why don't we practice embracing those things too?
I also think it is extremely important to recognize that having periods of our lives where we focus on things other than changing ourselves (body, mindset etc) is very healthy. We may be dealing with an injury, caring for a family member, growing a baby, nursing a baby or building a business and placing the majority of our efforts there does not mean we are lazy or are abandoning our self-love practices.
3. Speak your dominant love language with yourself.
In the famous book 'The 5 Love Languages' author Gary Chapman explains that people tend to give and receive love differently. The 5 dominant love languages are physical touch, quality time, acts of service, gifts and words of affirmation. Years after reading this book and using it constantly in my relationship with my husband, family and friends I began to think about how my dominant love language, which is words of affirmation, played out in my relationship with myself.
I have never been one to have a lot of negative self-talk going on, but I have struggled with anxiety and worry so I began to replace my fearfulness with compassion and encouragement for myself. I would literally say 'you're doing a great job' or 'your eyes look so sparkly today' or 'I love how you stepped up at work today' or 'I love how you gave yourself permission to take it easy today'.
If you take anything from the #selfloverebellion I want it to be that your relationship with yourself and how you express love to yourself is more important than how you express or share love with other people. It takes two whole people to make a whole relationship.
4. This is NOT about #strongnotskinny
I am sure the strong-not-skinny movement was started with empowerment in mind and that is a wonderful idea of course, but by choosing strong over skinny, what happens to the people who are strong AND skinny? What about the women who are naturally thin, small-boned and have low amounts of body fat? What about the women who have a tougher time building muscle mass? By creating a this-over-that approach we will always lose some people in the running.
It is exactly like saying 'real women have curves'. Ummm, no. Many of the most 'real' women I know have no curves. They have babies and careers or are stay at home-moms with volunteer schedules, and they are loving and caring and real. I also know incredibly powerful women with curves that are real. My Mom has always had curves and she drives a double axel container truck, runs a business and volunteers her time too. A real woman comes in all shapes and sizes and has all sorts of personality traits.
You can practice self-love if you are strong, skinny, have curves, or are somewhere in the middle of these characteristics.
5. Get rid of if-then statements.
An if-then statement goes like this:
If I lose 10lbs, then I will love my body.
If my husband picks up his laundry then I will be able to relax.
If my kids pay attention to what I am saying, then I will have a great day.
The challenge with an if-then statement is that it places the levels of our happiness, self-love and peace on external conditions out of our control. We cannot control what our body does when we exercise and change how we eat (we might lose 10lbs, we might gain 4lbs of muscle). We cannot control what our significant others do (if you haven't tried this, then go ahead...). We cannot control what our kids do either.
All that we can control is our perception, our effort, our outlook, our focus. And all of these things are choices that are yes, 100% in our wheelhouse.
How do I participate in the #selfloverebellion?
With #selfloverebellion you can take part regardless of age, gender, physical condition, socio-economic status or geographic location. It starts on the inside in the way you talk to yourself, the way you care for yourself and the way you make loving yourself a priority. It also means that you take a discerning look at the health and fitness messages that you let into your headspace (remember, it's our choice!).
Post photos, quotes or insights on your social media feeds (instagram, twitter, Facebook etc) and use the hashtag. I shared that cooking, walking, sweating, spending time with family and friends, creating respectful boundaries, reading and using positive and encouraging self-talk are the ways I show love for myself. How do you care and love yourself? We want to know!
Can't wait to see what you come up with,