Self-Image: Believing Takes Practice

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by JENNIFER CHARLES

Self-Image: Believing Takes Practice

It takes time and practice and patience to develop a skill. Despite my immediate success with weight loss and strength gains, I still hated the way I looked.
Having a healthy body image was never in the cards for me. My mother was small and thin and “frowned upon” fat people. To my mother’s horror, I inherited my father’s family fat genes, and she declared war on those genes the moment she could no longer cover up my roly-poly thighs with little dresses and lace. I was a very active and outgoing kid. Our neighborhood had a lot of other kids my age, and we’d roam all day. In an effort to keep me somewhat presentable, Mom kept a large stash of cute little rompers handy and would bring me in for a clothes change a couple of times a day.

If you opened up a photo album of me from ages three to five, you’d see countless pictures of a tanned, sun-bleached-white-headed little girl with dimples, scraped knees, dirty hands and a pristine romper. And if you were going through the album with my mother, you’d hear: Here is Jennifer when she got her first bike…see the training wheels? And look at those rolls in her thighs! Oh, and here’s Jennifer trying out the new swing set…look at the belly on her.

I was trained from the beginning to see my defects. Even now when I look at pictures of myself, I do a hardcore evaluation of my thighs, stomach and arms.

So when I saw that my coach had posted a video on Facebook of my doing a strict pull up, I felt a momentary surge of panic. My thighs look huge — or do my calves look too small? And my hair…do I really look like that? Yet (and this is completely true, I swear!) my pride in that video successfully pushed away the initial doubts. The woman in that video looks strong, confident and happy. That woman is me.

CrossFit promotes strength over skinny, skill over beauty, achievement over appearance. I’ve written previously that my motivation for joining CrossFit was to improve my appearance. Just lose weight and look cool with a barbell over my head. What I didn’t expect was how quickly my desire to be skinny became a secondary goal to being strong. And my strength increased faster than the number on the scale decreased.

What I didn't expect was how quickly my desire to be skinny became a secondary goal to being strong
This week we worked on snatches and overhead squats. For the last year, overhead squats have plagued me. I couldn’t even get to parallel. I Googled on it, whined about it, obsessed over it, practiced with a Rogue War Bar in my kitchen while cooking dinner — Why the hell did I have such a bad overhead squat? Well, I still don’t know what my problem was or how I fixed it (maybe a lot of practice?), but Coach said I had the best overhead squat he’d seen all day.

Then we started talking about how things were just starting to click. In the last couple of weeks, movements like pull ups, double unders and my overhead squats are making more sense, as if my body and mind are finally working together. I’m moving more efficiently in general and I don’t get nervous when I see these things in a WOD.

But, seriously, CrossFit Gods…it takes over a year to get to this point? Gimme a break.

It takes time and practice and patience to develop a skill. Despite my immediate success with weight loss and strength gains, I still hated the way I looked. Let’s take a hypothetical look through a current photo album: Here I am in a back squat with a heavy barbell…look at that belly roll. Here I am doing a 230 lbs deadlift…wow, my arms look fat. See! I’ve had a few decades of practice for searching and finding faults in my appearance.

A few months ago it occurred to me that I really hated looking at pictures of myself. I hated feeling disappointment in what I was seeing despite how hard I was working and how much progress I was making. And it was time for it to end. I didn’t deserve the way I was treating myself. How could I reverse this behavior?

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