People take up running for a variety of reasons, including wanting to kickstart a healthy lifestyle, find community, lose weight, participate in races or to go for the win. For many of us in the SIR community however, running may hold even greater importance, as we often depend upon the therapeutic effect it offers as we struggle with managing ongoing mental health conditions. Every one of us has a body. As runners, whether you’re a novice, a recreational runner, or a fierce competitor, we tend to be a bit more aware of how our bodies look, feel and perform than others. While working with both male and female runners from beginners to elites, I’ve seen that body image is a universal source of concern at every level. And while running is a great sport for helping us all build and maintain a healthy body, it’s also one that can portray extreme messaging that may breed a negative body image. I’m going to ask you to hit pause for a bit to really examine the way in which you view your body, and then to consider abandoning some of the assumptions you may have about how health looks. This may mean you’ll need to take a few detours and back roads to get to a place of non-judgmental appreciation for your body, and how you define its value.
Ways to Widen the Angle of your Body Image View
Although you can still love your body and work to change it at the same time, you may want to challenge the assumption that you need to change it, and gain confidence from what your body has done and can do rather than what it looks like.
For example, on any given day, year or decade, your body may have done any one or more of these feats:
recovered from injuries and surgeries,
worked to deal with an addiction or chronic illness,
given birth and rocked babies,
showed up for a loved one during a difficult time,
gone through painful medical treatments,
endured long periods of fear, loneliness or pain,
fixed a car engine,
held out a steady hand to someone in need,
cared for aging parents,
risked showing love and being loved,
took on a passionate lifelong mission,
endured beastly work commutes,
stayed alive during the hellish grip of depression, anxiety, mania, PTSD, abuse, or any mental health crisis,
played a musical instrument,
ran, swam, hiked, biked or enjoyed any sport with glee and determination.
Clearly, this type of list can grow and evolve for each of us throughout a lifetime.
If you choose to shift your reflected body image, keep in mind that long-term change needs to start from a place of self-love, not self-loathing. One appropriate way to kick off a subtle change may be to limit your exposure to unrealistic body images that have the potential to kick start negative body imagery. Unfollow that Twitter feed, unsubscribe to that magazine and instead, create, seek out, and share the sources that are realistic, welcoming, and positive for you.
Shifting Your Body Image Attitude
Within the Still I Run community, we strive to both increase awareness of mental health conditions and to address the stigma associated with them. Let’s broaden the lens to do the same with attitudes about our physical bodies and body images. Particularly as runners, we can each begin by accepting and respecting the diversity of body shapes and sizes all around us, as well as our own. We can begin by honoring our bodies and by thinking about the extraordinary feats that they’ve done for us to date, and about what we want our bodies to do for us moving forward. Every time we show up confidently in our own body without tearing it down, we just might inspire others to do the same. Our bodies are the place where movement, love, joy, accomplishments and so much more happen. My hope is that you’ll give your body a massive embrace just the way it is… And then step back and see what it can do…For yourself and for others…I think you’ll enjoy the view.