Oh the joys of being a woman. On the one hand we are supposed to be effortlessly feminine, you know all demure and polite like Audrey Hepburn. But then don’t forget we’re also supposed to be sexy and cool like Angelina Jolie. Then one month everyone’s trying to be rake thin, and the next the fashion is curvy and big-bottomed. We are supposed to be non-intimidating but also clever and well-read, and don’t even try to be proactive at work else you might come across as bitchy (when really, you’re just doing your job).
This is why I feel so strongly that exercise should be LEFT ALONE by those who stereotype women. Don’t tell me I’m supposed to look pretty exercising – I don’t want to wear ‘sport’ make-up thanks Clinique. Don’t tell me I look like a man because I just happen to have ‘strong’ looking arms. And please don’t mistake my efforts in the gym as being an attempt to look better for anyone but myself – I’m here to get healthy not sexy.
There are so many women out there who are ready to put their health first when they step in the gym/pool/track/garden (which literally makes my life) but if you still need persuading that exercise is so much more than a tool for a ‘better looking body’ here are my top 5 reasons why we should put athletics before aesthetics.
ONE: Healthy Does Not Have a ‘Look’
They can say all they want that a good diet/no booze/exercise will give you glowing skin, shiny hair and that ‘I’m a yoga instructor’ look but more often than not that’s good genes and even better lighting.
Remember when Kate Moss was at her prime (career-wise) and caught on camera on benders with a fag in her mouth. I’m no expert but I doubt she was getting up at 6am the next day for a wheatgrass shot and yoga. She looks that way because she looks that way, and that is ok. But if we put all our hopes and dreams on exercise making our spotty chin go away and us looking like Gisele we’ll be disappointed. Especially if, like me, you’ve always had at least one spot on your chin despite periods of super fitness.
TWO: Exercise Supports Mental Health
I can say from experience that nothing is more important than your mental health and you’ll miss it when it’s gone. Exercise has a powerful effect on moderating mood and can help those who err on the side of depression or anxiety.
When exercise has such a positive role to play in mental health why on earth would we belittle it and use it instead for vanity reasons. We must be careful that we use exercise to boost mental health and not use it as a way to abuse our body instead, magazines do a good enough job of that for us.
THREE: Exercise is a Gateway Drug to Amazing Adventures
None of us are ever going to be on our deathbed saying, “oh I wish I’d looked sexier/less sweaty in all those spin classes”. We’ll be saying “I’m so glad I lived a full life” and that is where sport comes in.
Imagine all the places you can go, all the people you can meet, all the stories you have to tell if you push yourself out of your comfort zone and enter triathlons, join netball teams, take your bike on holiday with you or learn that new skill. I interviewed an amazing friend, Patience, on the Strong Women Podcast a while ago (you can listen HERE) and she talked with such joy about how learning Karate in her 40’s was one of the best things she ever did. Let’s all jump in.
FOUR: You’ll Never Feel Good Enough
If you treat exercise as though it is a wonder drug to ‘looking better’ how will you really measure success? Do you think you’ll ever look in the mirror and say “wow, I am banging hot now”? Or, will you forever strive for more?
In sport you can measure progress, whether that’s gradually working through the Couch to 5k app or learning how to swim front crawl (if anyone wants to teach me please do!). Exercising for weight-loss/aesthetics can lead to a cycle of ups and downs as the journey may not always be smooth (you go on holiday – you put on a couple of lbs, you get food poisoning – you lose a couple of lbs). But imagine the feeling when you complete your first 5k or marathon. That’s the real joy of exercise.
FIVE: You Are Already Beautiful
Every woman (and man) is incredible. Your body does amazing things EVERY day and you deserve more than self-hatred. You deserve to be able to run, jump, hop, leap, skip and dance without fear of injury, pain or embarrassment. You deserve to be able to put on your leggings and not give 2 sh*** what they look like or what size they are whilst going about your favourite exercise or sport. Don’t let unobtainable standards of beauty, body shape and skin colour get in the way of you doing one of the most incredible things you can – movement.
Athletics Not Aesthetics – The Revolution Begins Here
Today I have set up a new Instagram page ‘Athletics Not Aesthetics’ (@athleticsnotaesthetics) that will help to rebalance the perceptions of what exercise looks like. There’ll be sweaty red faces, wet scraped back hair, camel toes, back sweat and the occasional stubbly armpit. We NEED to relearn what exercise actually looks like.
I therefore need you. If you have a photo of you, without filters, during or post exercise that represents what exercise ACTUALLY looks like please tag the page @athleticsnotaesthetics with the hashtag #thisisexercise and I will share these images on the page. Thanks in advance you amazing amazing humans.