Women’s Only: Self Acceptance Through Exercise

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Women's Only: Self Acceptance Through Exercise

I’ve noticed a lot of things that I used to accept as okay commentary, are really others shaming women for failing to look a way that those around them find most appealing.
I remember the first moment I saw someone shaming a woman for doing something that made her appear unattractive to him and thought, “This is bullsh*t!” I was 30ish and had been playing rec sports for years, but I had just started lifting weights (I was still a year+ away from joining CrossFit) and was feeling pretty stoked about it. I had flipped to Facebook and immediately seen a picture that a male acquaintance had posted of a woman’s feet on the NY subway, along with a disparaging remark about how out of line she was to show her calloused toes — complete with chipped polish — in public.

I looked at that post, looked at all of the people (largely female) who were liking it, and making fun of this poor woman , and thought about my own feet: calloused, bruised, one badly damaged nail from playing football, and chipped polish. I was briefly ashamed before turning livid.

How dare he? First, I don’t care if her face wasn’t in the photo; no one has any business taking a photo of a stranger so that they may post it on social media in order to bully them about their appearance. Second, those are HER feet. They are there to please her, and maybe, like me, she is active, busy, and when she looks at her day, can find 5,000 important and fulfilling things to do,  that are going to gain priority over getting a pedicure she doesn’t really care about, or sitting there, painstakingly painting her toes, and tip-toeing around while the polish dries.

I made a comment saying just that, and included a line asking how he would feel if I took pictures of him on a beach, and shamed him for going shirtless, while having a physique other than what I found attractive. The response I got back was that it wasn’t too much to ask that a woman keep herself up; that he found feet attractive and she ruined that for him; and that the beach picture would be totally different, especially since as a dad, he has more important things to do than worry about going to the gym.

My comment, and a follow up about how that woman wasn’t put on earth to please him, got a couple of “likes,” but primarily, I was told to lighten up, and posters from both genders chimed in to agree with him. I felt furious, defeated, and wanted to cry. I couldn’t believe how long it had taken me to realize how awful something like this was, or how many people still found it acceptable.

Women's Only: Self Acceptance Through Exercise
Since that point, I’ve noticed a lot of things that I used to accept as okay commentary, are really others shaming women for failing to look a way that those around them find most appealing. I realized that this is exactly what was happening when people told me that my (naturally very curly) hair looked better straight, and I should never wear it curly. I was being shamed when my boss told me he didn’t like the pattern on one of my favorite, most comfortable summer work dresses. This is what was happening when a coworker saw me eat a meal and tried to explain how “a woman [my] size doesn’t need that much food,” or when several male and female friends, family members, and colleagues cautioned that I shouldn’t work out too much, or lift too many weights, because I “don’t want to get bulky. Men don’t like that.”

I discovered that my body is one of my greatest tools — I should treat it well and do the things with it that make me feel best. I don’t owe it to anyone to look attractive.
I had, for my entire 30 years, let these comments slide as normal, appropriate, and even helpful. When the disgusting nature of these statements finally clicked, I realized how much my self-esteem, social life, and even my productivity were being hurt by listening to them.

Working out all the time and straightening my hair was damn near impossible, especially in warmer weather. I still often tried to do it, which meant having two hours less to sleep, relax, spend time with friends, or get stuff done around the house. Comments about my curls made me so self-conscious that on the days I wore my hair curly, I tried my best to keep my eyes down and not be noticed, for fear of being seen as ugly and unworthy of existence. I basically stopped wearing my favorite work dress, and on the rare occasion I did, felt terrible in a dress that used to make me feel awesome. I personally LOVED the muscles that I was developing and thought they looked awesome. Lifting made me feel amazing, but I still wasted time worrying that others would find me unattractive if I kept going.

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