Amanda Bingson, American track & field
ESPN Bodies Issue 2015
In my line of work, I hear wonderful, beautiful, strong women talk down about their looks all the time. Nearly every female client I've worked with has had some kind of gripe with her body, and even after accomplishing great things in the gym, she'll always have the tendency to add in that tiny jab at herself at the end of a compliment.
Me - "Your legs are getting really muscular!"
Client - "Yeah, I can see that! But the muscles are still under a layer of fat."
Me - *Sigh*
I understand that looks are important, and I can definitely empathize with the difficulties women face in regard to body image, but it really hurts me to see how we drown ourselves in so much negativity, that even compliments are hard to accept. I have really made it a point in recent years to discuss the value of exercising for performance rather than looks with my female clients, focusing particularly on what they can and have achieved with their bodies.
1) Improved Focus. When you're focused on hitting a certain goal, whether it be in weightlifting, running, or calisthenics, you have an easy to quantify benchmark that allows you to see tangible progress, without involving the scale. Setting and hitting goals can be thrilling and addictive! While you're sweating toward these goals, you'll find that your body will be using up much more energy, which builds muscle tone and assists in weight loss. Looking better is a byproduct of being a better athlete.
2) Improved Self-Esteem. When you're reaching new performance heights, such as a heavy deadlift or your very first pull-up, you start to feel really awesome about yourself. You start seeing that you're way more badass than you thought you could ever be, and you start believing in yourself. Your inner dialogue is no longer, "Can I do that? and more like, "I can and I will."
3) Eating Better Gets Easier. Whether you're Serena Williams or Lebron James, there is no such thing as working off a bad diet. Few people are genetically gifted enough to consume food like competitive hot dog eaters and still have a six pack, and those few people are probably at a higher risk for all sorts of diseases of affluence anyway. But here's the thing: if you're focused on a certain exercise goal, you'll find that eating poorly prohibits you from performing well, especially if you drink too much alcohol and/or have food sensitivities/allergies. Bad food not only causes you to peter out early during workouts, but prevents you from recovering as quickly, thereby keeping you in Soreness Central a lot longer.
4) Momentum. Once you hit goals, you'll want to make new ones. Achievements are addictive and after hitting enough of them, you become an athlete in your own right. Whether it's going from a speed walker to a marathoner, or a tiny pink dumbbell girl to a powerlifter, you can't stop moving forward and pushing toward new heights. This habit of pushing to always become better is what will carry you through the fattening holidays, grueling long work hours, break ups so bad that only wine and ice cream can understand your pain, and any other stuff life can throw at you to steer you off course. As long as you stay focused, the momentum will be hard to kill.
5) Empowerment. As women, we are used to being the smaller, gentler sex, often fearing for our safety in dark alleys and empty parking lots. The reality is, bad guys look for easy targets because they don't want someone who will put up a fight. Being physically stronger, faster and healthier gives you a sense of confidence and vigor that is easily detected by others. Although I have zero statistics, I'd be willing to bet that if you polled a group of violent offenders in prison, and showed them a picture of a strong, athletic girl, they would be less likely to pick her as a victim than someone who came off as seeming physically less imposing.
Being fitter also encourages you to seek out new activities. Have you noticed how much women's mixed martial arts is blowing up? The more you see yourself achieving new performance heights, (learning to break arms Ronda Rousey style, throwing a knockout punch, executing self defense techniques effortlessly), the more you know that the best person to keep you safe is yourself, and that's really an awesome thing.