Earning The Right: Wearing What We Want, Just Because We Want To

Have you ever found yourself thinking “I couldn’t wear that!”? Or complimenting a friend for wearing something that you think looks amazing on them but that for a bunch of reasons you think you could never wear yourself. Perhaps you think you’re too big, too small, too pale. Perhaps it’s your cellulite, your varicose veins, your age. There is always, always something.

Unfortunately our culture has a lot to say on the matter of who can wear what. Whether it’s by describing clothes in certain ways, aiming the advertising of them at certain people, or by using insidious phrases like ‘bikini body’, the messages coming at us about what is acceptable and what isn’t are strong and firmly ingrained.

The funny thing is, we often apply those rules much more harshly to ourselves than to those around us, setting the criteria based on whatever will exclude us. Think how often we encourage friends to wear things we think they look beautiful in, and how often we disagree with them when they try to encourage us. I’ve heard so many people recently expressing the opinion that there are clothing lines that they just cannot cross: that they somehow have not earned the right to wear a particular item.

What if we didn’t have to earn that right? What if our bodies were ours to adorn however we wanted or needed to at the time? And what has all this got to do with fitness?

Hot and Bothered

Recently I went on a long bike ride on a very sunny day. I got hot, I removed a layer. I got even hotter, I removed another layer. In the end I was only wearing cycling shorts and a sports bra. Now I have been trying to break down the negative messages in my brain around body image for a long time, ever since a girlfriend introduced me to feminism at the age of 17. After all that, I still wondered if it was permissible for me to be wearing so little, even if not doing so would make me incredibly hot and uncomfortable. After 20 years of gently chipping away at the cultural conditioning in my head, I still found myself thinking “am I fit enough to have earned the right yet?”

In the gym recently there’s been a marked increase in women working out in just leggings and a sports bra. It’s hot outside, we have big windows and there’s been an intermittent problem with the air conditioning. It makes perfect sense. Yet I’ve spoken to multiple people who feel that they haven’t earned the right to do the same – and in all honesty, I somehow feel that I haven’t earned the right.

I know I’m not alone. Whether it’s size, age, or a certain body part that we find entirely unacceptable, we’ve been trained into putting these invisible constraints on ourselves even at the price of practicality and our own comfort.

Woman resting by a bike on a sunny day
I do not need to earn the right to be comfortable

Because You’re Already Worth It

I describe myself as a body positive trainer and I think this clothing issue is a great example of why that’s needed. I also think that the most important thing about it is that it’s really nothing to do with clothes. Body positivity is a movement that encourages people to value their bodies just as they are. By learning to value ourselves without judgment, we’re automatically in a better place to take care of ourselves in whatever way seems right to us.

That might be by practicing yoga, it might be by competing as a powerlifter, it might be working to improve our diet – the details don’t matter. What’s important is that we are working on ourselves because we understand that we have value just as we are, and not only when we fit X, Y or Z criteria. I want to encourage people to look after their health and wellbeing because they know they are worth it, and not because they will be worth it when they reach a certain size or look a certain way.

Working Out In My Pants (Again)

As part of this, I consciously post pictures of me working out in the things I actually work out in – and yes, it is usually bra and pants. It’s hard for me not to try to choose pictures where you can’t see the parts of my body that I’m self-conscious about, but I firmly believe that we all benefit from seeing all sorts of bodies doing all sorts of things. All of those bodies, without exception, have the right to be wearing what is comfortable to them at the time. That right does not have to be earned.

Posting pictures of me working out in my pants is my contribution towards normalising all sorts of bodies doing all sorts of things – and that’s what we all need to see.

When I say comfortable, do I mean physical comfort or mental comfort? I’m physically comfy working out in my underwear, but mentally it’s a challenging thing for me at times. We all have our own limits when it comes to how we portray ourselves to the world. Suggesting that everyone should start appearing on the internet in their undies would be just as unacceptable as insisting that only certain people were allowed to do it.

Examining Our Limits

The important thing here is to question whether those limits are self-imposed or not. Finding yourself wishing you could wear a certain thing is often a sign that this restriction has come from elsewhere. Take a little moment to work it out. If it did come from elsewhere, you might find yourself feeling comfortable pushing that boundary and you might not. Some days it takes more bravery than others. Just as it’s not your duty to be physically uncomfortable because of what others might think, it is not your job to make yourself mentally uncomfortable in order to challenge their perceptions either.

But when you do push the edge of your comfort zone a little, please remember that this isn’t just a victory for you. Every time we non-model bodies step out onto the street, onto the beach or into the gym wearing whatever the hell we like, it’s a small blow against an incredibly pervasive – and damaging – cultural ideal. That victory belongs to, and benefits, all of us.

Fit Enough: Why I Can’t Be Arsed to Chase Perfection

If I asked you to picture someone fit, what would they be like? Chances are they’d have low body fat, visible muscle and be impeccably well-groomed.

Google image search for "fit people" 21/3/2017 - fit enough
Google image search for “fit people” 21/3/2017

The dominant imagery put forward by the fitness industry is of thin, white, tanned, beautiful people with well-defined muscles. Abs abound, despite being one of the hardest physical attributes to achieve for the majority of people. Though particular fashions change – the big booty movement being a notable recent example – the message is always clear: certain bodies are acceptable, the rest aren’t. If your body isn’t acceptable you aren’t doing enough. YOU are not enough.

Is it really all or nothing?

Working as a personal trainer, people for whom fitness is life surround me. Every day, every training session, every meal, is part of a devotion to fitness that often subsumes all other interests and activities. All we see is imagery of people who are at the top of their field, people for whom fitness is a full-time profession. It’s hard not to think that we should all be at their level.

Yet even these people don’t feel they’re doing enough. Always chasing the next goal, the next sign that their physique is improving, they are unbelievably hard on themselves in the quest to do enough. On the way, they develop a range of behaviours which run from healthy dedication to dangerous obsession. Disordered eating, drug use and overtraining are rife in gyms up and down the country, largely as a result of this culture of competition and comparison.*

And do you know what? I can’t be arsed.

I got into fitness because I love it and I’m dedicated to it – dedicated enough. It’s a huge and wonderful part of my life, but it’s just that – one part of a spectrum of activities which make my life richer.

fit person fit people personal training woman swansea
Right now I’m fit enough to mess around doing things I love, and that’s what matters**

A healthy balance

It’s common for me to meet people in the gym who are studying a degree, working, or parenting full-time. When we talk they often apologise for not coming to the gym more often. Where have they got the idea that they’re not doing enough? By comparing themselves to people for whom fitness is everything.

Yet seeing the people who work in my field, I too have moments of doubt. Am I really fit enough to be helping others with their fitness? Can I really look credible as a personal trainer if I’m wearing size 16 clothes? If I eat this biscuit does that mean I don’t want it – this mythical, indefinable it – enough?

No. If I eat this biscuit I’m just demonstrating that right now, I want a biscuit – and nothing about that demonstrates that I am not enough.

Consider the possibility that you are fit enough

In this moment, you and I are exactly as fit as we need to be. That doesn’t mean we can’t work towards being fitter tomorrow but it does mean we can stop being hard on ourselves today. Self-doubt and self-hatred may spur a brutal workout in the present, but what do they mean for how we treat ourselves in the future? If my self-image has to take a hit in order for me to work harder, something has gone seriously awry.

So I’d like to invite you to join me in congratulating yourself for being fit enough in this moment. Take time to thank yourself for anything and everything you do to look after your body. Celebrate the part that it plays in your varied and beautiful life. Think about what you want to do to work on your fitness in the future, but see it as a profound act of love for yourself and the people around you. Resolve, in this moment, to accept your body as a perfect expression of where you are now – without judgement, hatred or disdain.

And if you fancy, have that biscuit.


To read more about face-to-face or online personal training with F*it Swansea, visit here.

 


* There are many studies looking into aspects of this so it was hard to find a couple that really summed the situation up. The gist is that drug use, body/muscle dysmorphia and eating disorders are sharply rising amongst the gym community.

Some articles which begin to discuss the issues are included below.

One in Three Gym Users Take Drugs or Supplements to Lose Weight – Study | Society | The Guardian,” accessed March 23, 2017.

Warn Gym Users about Steroid Risks, Says Watchdog,” accessed March 23, 2017.

**My amazing pants and bra combo are from the superb Mardy Bum Boutique.

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