Be Lean, Be Strong, Love Your Body! What are your fitness goals telling you?

by Marianne  - January 31, 2016

When I recently took part in a “Love Your Body” blog post for Girls Gone Strong, it struck me how *none* of these fitness goals/body image crusades have ever actually helped me.

When my fitness goal was being lean and getting that six-pack, I initially felt a new sense of control because of it; yet eventually I realised it wasn’t the answer I needed. When my fitness goal turned to what I could do over how I looked, I initially felt empowered by it; yet eventually I realised it too wasn’t the answer I needed. The current “trend” of learning to “love your body flaws and all” seems wonderful and liberating … but I’ve come to realise that after the initial surge of feel-good hormones, I can’t seem to actually do it! Why doesn’t anything stick?!

If nothing really changes after I get an answer, perhaps I am asking the wrong question. Or maybe I’m hoping the answer to one question will be the answer to all questions.

I have managed to be on both sides of this: both the seeker and the answer-giver. I started to feel less like I was really dealing with the right question when I was left feeling dissatisfied and empty with each answer. Each time I’d think: “yes! That’s that’s where I should be”. At best I’d end up faking it hoping to one day wake up “there”… but why do I feel I need to fake it? What do I think “it” will bring me? And more importantly, what was wrong with where I was at?

These fitness/body image messages all rely on the same concept: the reader believes that there is something wrong with themselves. If “Fitspiration” messages appeal to you, somewhere there is an underlying belief that you will improve yourself only if you look a certain way (i.e. you need improving); if “acceptance” messages appeal to you, the message only makes sense if you believe there is something wrong with your thinking or feelings about yourself (i.e. “you shouldn’t want to change, you should love yourself”). Rather than actually help, they seem to feed into fear, into perfectionism, into the underlying message that something must change: either yourself, or the way that you think about yourself. It’s still saying that you will feel better when you’re here; it’s what you need. But where is “here” and why is it somewhere you want to be? It’s just confirming over and over again what you already feel: where/who you are isn’t enough!

For me, I’ve realised that I tend to feel an enormous pressure to keep earning my value from places that don’t offer me any. These goals make me promises that they’ll be just what I need. It goes like this: I want to feel valued so I look for what’s valuable … and I try that. What does it mean when I don’t make it? It reinforces my belief that my value is contigent on achieving something else; it’s “evidence” that I’m still not good enough.. The goal is not the answer, it’s a condition to another condition that takes you further from even asking the real question.

I see all these goals/achievements and narratives we formulate about ourselves as bricks that we build up around us like a giant cold wall (maybe with paint on the outside). We build a version of ourselves who we like more, who we maybe even love. But there are always a few cracks or missing bricks (getting damaged in storms like failure, self-doubt, cognitive dissonance) that we desperately try to fill in just to keep our true selves from being seen. We keep looking for new bricks and before we know it, we are locked behind this wall feeling more anxious, less loved, maybe more alone. We might even wonder: “why don’t I ever feel good enough?!” or “why can’t I just be happy?”.

What if the wall fell down, maybe I start pushing some bricks away. With those “badges of honour” shaken off, there I am naked and vulnerable, full of shame for being less than I think I should: Can I love myself now? It feels mighty uncomfortable and I feel small and insignificant… but I am also feeling the heat of the sun on my skin, and radiating a healthy glow. Can you see me past your wall? Can I see you? 

Perhaps the better questions I need to ask myself are:

  • What do I think I lack that these things (being leaner, being stronger, loving my body) will give me?
  • What does it mean if I don’t achieve these things?
  • What does it mean if I do? 
  • Why are any of these things important to me at all?

As Timothy Keller put it:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.






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  1. Wow! You must be in my head lol, I have been beating myself up for your years with these exact thoughts. The questions that I have always asked myself are is “What is good enough and “Once you reach good enough what happens next?” I believe now that I am “good enough” but I must continue to build on that to be the best “ME”. I have to stop letting other people’s goals be my goals. Great post!

  2. Hello,

    I think you are on an amazing, creative and fresh new path here by bringing together in written format a conversation about the (falsely?) compartmentalized aspects of our lives. Fitness, nutrition, spirituality…why should these things be separated in our minds, or anywhere else? After reading your blog post just now, I found myself asking new questions of my own heart. “Shouldn’t my life as a Christian, which IS my life when all is said and done, be dictating my fitness goals? Why do I even have those particular goals…are they God’s goals for me at all? Is that bond with God through Christ that I have reflected in my choices of what I eat, when and how I work out, how I view my body, and so on? Am I allowing God into those areas of my life – nutrition, exercise, training for things like hiking [a personal goal I have], and body image – or have I been compartmentalizing in an incorrect way myself? Am I letting God into those areas properly, especially since I know that He wants to be the center of every single area in our lives?” Wow.

    Your post has really hit me deeply tonight, as your blog entries always seem to do. Thank you for giving me food for thought once more, Marianne! 🙂

    God bless you,

  3. Fantastic piece! Once again Marianne, you make us sit up and think. I really liked what Katrin said. You have to be ok with your true self. Your body is a tool not You. All action is just ta part of the “game of life”. Fitness goals are a part of that if you don’t obsess and just look at it as another one of the “games” you play in life and one that can be fun too. Take care everyone.

  4. This is very deep thinking, Marianne! Thanks for taking the time to articulate it. I love that quote from Tim Kellor. His book The Reason For God is outstanding for answering so hard questions that many of us have had about God and also for using one’s reason / intellect to see that God exists. I highly recommend it & appreciate your quoting Dr. Kellor here, too.

  5. sorry for misspelling (English not my first languish)
    iv’e been a believer for many years now, and got overcome so many things with God help. but not my self hate for my body. the last year im praying more and really working hard to love my body more. enjoying what i can physically do ( i can squat, push up….) why can i not enjoy that, why it is so important for me to look like i think i should look? like all the girls on YouTube….
    will it make me better person to look like i dream to look?
    i just want to love my self as God loves me. and be happy that at 42 single mom of 3… homeschooling i can do pretty intensive workouts..Unfortunately it’s still hard to convince my self of that.
    my prayer for all of us out there: sees us as God see us through his eyes

  6. That is why I’ve learned to enjoy the journey, and focus on what my body can do instead of what it can look like. I don’t have an “end goal” that would solve everything (because there isn’t, as you said). My goal now is to see where I can go, and enjoy getting there. It’s obviously not a fixed goal. Do I want to look good ? Of course. But now it’s more of a nice side effect, the cherry on top. I want to see what my body can do if I let it. What it can teach my mind.

    I do have short or mid-term goals, like “deadlift 300” or “get back in last year’s jeans” but they’re milestones.

    I learned that if I focus on my strengths, then my weaknesses will either take a back seat, or get better anyway. Yeah, my thighs will always touch each other, my boobs will always be small, and my shoulders will always be a bit square. I cant change that but man, I’m proud of what those thighs can do.

    This has been incredibly liberating. I learned to trust my body more than I trust my mind, and I learned to be proud of where it’s taking me. I stopped thinking I needed to be “there” to be happy (that’s never going to be enough). I look at myself, and I’m proud of where I am, doing stuff I never thought I could do. My body and I are a team. Not enemies anymore.

    1. Thank you for you comment 🙂 I hear and understand everything that you’re saying. I used to write the same things here on this blog. What would it mean if you could no longer do those things? What if you felt your body had left the team?

      What I’m getting is *sometimes, some people* (like me) just swap the goal or swap the rational, but what’s behind it hasn’t even been explored. Last year, when my body “betrayed” me I was left feeling very similarly to how I felt when I was chasing a body fat %. I’m not saying that’s the same as you, but I hope that prompting this train of questions will inspire a conversation that will benefit the people who do struggle like I do.

      Strength, beauty, body acceptance are all great as long as they not expected to answer some other question, like earning your value in society or feeling complete as a human.

  7. When you realise you would still be you regardless of how strong /what body fat percentage /what you look like, you will see fitness aims for what they are. Just something to help motivate you to look after your body. Your outside appearance does not determine your character.

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