One of the first times I hung out with Jack, he made me laugh so hard I started crying. They were definitely tears of joy. Jack is great like that. He brings joy and laughter everywhere he goes. One of the things I love the most about him is that he constantly empowers the women around him to be strong and love their bodies. Jack is a champion for women everywhere. He especially brings this into his work as a personal trainer.
That is why last week, when I wrote a post on body-love, I immediately asked Jack if he had any insights he wanted to share in my blog. he wrote a beautiful piece you can read at the end of this post.
His advice was so helpful and encouraging to me, that I asked him if he would do a longer guest post for my blog. He so kindly obliged. Below is his post.
A few weeks ago, Shelly asked me to share some thoughts with her about body-positivity specifically addressed to a female audience for a blog post she was writing. In her post she talked about how everyone is effected by body-shaming and body-hate, but that women (and often transpeople and gender non-conforming people) are disproportionately impacted.
If I could share anything with women, or anyone else, who is working to have a better relationship with their body it would be the concept of appreciation and the impact strength training can have on that.
All of the artwork in this post is by Jack X Taylor.
I am writing from the perspective of a man and also as a personal trainer and nutrition coach who works mostly with female clients. Everything I have to say comes from my own experience, including my experience feeling like I was “less than” because of my body. Forging a healthy relationship with my own body has been a long-term process and appreciation and strength have been a huge part of that.
I grew up overweight, I’m also short and “not good at sports” and part of a culture that creates a feeling of perpetual unworthiness in all of us in order to sell us things we don’t really need. That culture is omni-present and it uses our bodies against us. I hear from people, particularly women, all the time that they want to “just lose 10 pounds.” To me, those ten pounds are code for being stuck in a system that never allows us the space to appreciate who we are right now, instead perpetually driving us to seek something that is always out of reach.
Jack X Taylor
Make no mistake, this is a trap. Ideas and concepts of attractiveness, beauty, even sexiness, are entirely subjective; they have no solid definition, no quantity, no way to really be pinned down. All that most of us know is that we are not what we perceive those things to be. And because we can’t truly define the thing that we think we are not, there is no way to ever reach it. Additionally, our sense of self-worth is often braided together with those concepts. If we can never attain the thing we believe that we lack, and if only by attaining that thing are we worthy, then being worthy (of love, acceptance, etc.) is an impossible task.
Is it any wonder that the diet industry makes millions of dollars a year off of your tears and frustration? Who wouldn’t pay good money to feel they are worthy of love or acceptance?
But what if we were good enough right now, exactly as we are, what if we didn’t need to lose ten pounds or change anything about ourselves in order to be worthy of all that we desire? What if we all could define, for ourselves, what “attractiveness” is, what “beauty” is? What if we could choose to appreciate all of our various qualities, skills and attributes and attach worth to those things in order to build ourselves up, to make ourselves feel more lovely and powerful, to enrich our experience of life?
For me, being able to embrace my inherent, unassailable worthiness began with exercise. My journey has been long and has involved bicycling, yoga, rock climbing and strength sports. Nothing has changed my relationship with my body more than strength training. Over the years I have become physically stronger and more capable, but that is almost inconsequential compared to what has happened to me on the inside.
When I was a kid I listened to other people, and I accepted the definition they gave me of myself: I was fat, clumsy and ugly. What I have gained through strength training is a clear vision of who I am and the power to define myself: I am strong, athletic and beautiful. It has taken me a long time to get here and it is completely worth it. My body, it turns out, is my friend. Not an antagonist that has to be beaten or dieted or starved or punished into submission. My body is, in fact, a powerful part of me that allows me to engage with my life in a meaningful way.
Strength training has made me mentally strong and emotionally capable. Lifting heavy things has taught me perseverance, resiliency, bravery, awareness, acceptance, patience, faith and yes, even compassion for myself and others. More than anything, strength training has taught me appreciation. Part of training for me is the practice of active gratitude and appreciation whenever I step in the gym: it is a privilege to train and an honor to be strong. Whenever I pick up something heavy I appreciate the things my body is capable of. Feeling strong and capable, feeling ready to take on anything that might happen (the end of an important relationship, the stress of running my own business, the process of aging or just helping an old lady carry her groceries) makes me love my body so very much because it is the interface with which I engage my beautiful life!
“Biceps make me feel beautiful,” is one of my favorite quotes (I can’t remember if it was Neghar Fonooni or MegSquats who said it, but they are both awesome and I recommend you check them both out) and I couldn’t agree more! It is part of my work to fully accept myself, as I am today and without qualifiers. I am strong, that is a quality that I possess, that I have worked hard for and that I choose to celebrate and continue to practice on a daily basis. I am attractive because of my body, not in spite of it. My body needs no excuses. My muscles on the outside are a reflection of my giant heart on the inside. I get to decide what makes me attractive, I get to celebrate the work I have invested in myself and I get to feel worthy not because of what society dictates to me but because of what I choose to value.
I can’t recommend strength training enough to anyone who wants to have a better relationship with their body or improve their life.
I have had the immense privilege of training dozens of women and witnessing all of them become stronger and more capable and ultimately more confident. Strength will transform you and your relationship with your body. Cultivating strength will give you a new way of appreciating the miracle that is your body. Strength training involves carving out time consistently in order to train; taking time, just for you, on a daily or weekly basis. Strength training involves eating for your goals: getting in adequate protein, vegetables and healthy carbohydrates to fuel the work your body does. That’s the opposite of being afraid of food or punishing yourself with three hours on a treadmill because you ate a cookie. Strength training also means making sure you get enough sleep before training days and recovering after your workouts with yoga or a hot bath or meditation. At its heart, strength training demands that you treat your body in a loving way.
And with dedicated training almost everyone can achieve a bodyweight deadlift (being able to pick up something that weighs as much as you do off the floor) often in a surprisingly short period of time! When you are capable of that you really stop giving a shit what other people have to say about your body. Suddenly, seeing how much you can lift, how much you are capable of, becomes more important than how small you can become, how little you can weigh, how to fit your tremendous, beautiful self into a tiny, cramped box that society has chosen for you.
To any women reading this: you have so much to contribute to the world around you. The bullshit messages you have received about your body only serve to distract you from your true purpose. Focus on cultivating appreciation for your body, practice gratitude for all it does for you and engage in strength training in order to physically show yourself what a badass you are. Anything else is a waste of your precious time and gifts.
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