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How Getting Into Fitness Gave Me A Negative Body Image

Body Image, Most PopularWhitney Carlson52 Comments
How Getting Into Fitness Ruined My Body Image | He and She Eat Clean

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I think it might be easiest just to start from the beginning. It is difficult to give this much information but I think it will help ME and hopefully others out there. I don't want this taken the wrong way but I'm seriously putting everything out - with no filter. I'm sure this post sounds choppy but this is very hard to write about...I am crying as I write this and re-read it. This post has been in the works for a LONG time...LONNNNNG time. I finally decided to include it with our "He and She Unfiltered" series and got the final push I needed to release it when my friend Pam opened up about her body image struggles in this post.

Most people probably don't know this but ever since a few years ago I've struggled with body image issues. I've shared bits and pieces but not the whole story until now...

I've wanted to shut down this website numerous times. Sometimes I feel like a fraud because I'm probably not as lean as people think I am. I cringe when someone emails me that they want to prepare for a competition or photo shoot...

I don't like the person I've become. This isn't me.

I posted the picture below but no one knew I had shirt on because of the "fat" around my hips...

The one below wasn't posted because the "fat" around my hips comes over the sides of my swimsuit (both pictures were taken on the same trip last year).

I ignore the fact that my legs are strong and can hike up the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mount Whitney, and my arms are strong enough to climb half dome (and hold on for fear of falling!)...when I saw this picture I was only fixated on my "fat".

Looking back I DO think this was so silly/stupid to think this way but the truth is I still look at myself this way day-to-day. It's only when I'm looking back that I see how foolish it really is. But I haven't always been this way. It started about two years ago. The first year and a half that I was "into" fitness was AMAZING and I never had negative body image issues.

But now I struggle with this EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Growing Up

Thankfully I wasn't brought up to hate my body or really even pay attention to it in terms of being "fat" or "skinny". I didn't have your typical childhood either though. I was raised on a farm but in a pretty developed area. Ever since I could walk I was basically working. I would help my grandparents plant and pick the vegetables on the farm. I didn't grow up playing video games or watching TV. I also didn't grow up eating out - if we did it was a RARE treat which happened MAYBE 1-2 times per month. I did eat a pretty balanced diet but I was never restricted from anything. The fridge or pantry was never "off limits" but I never remember really snacking either because I was ALWAYS outside doing something. I remember cereal or eggs for breakfast and then we had your typical nights during the week: spaghetti, tacos, etc. I ate what was prepared for me and that was it.

I wasn't like most of the other girls growing up. Like I mentioned, weight or looks were never a priority for me. I rolled out of bed 10 minutes before I had to leave (I showered at night), washed my face, brushed my teeth and left. I didn't get into make-up in middle or high school either - It never made sense to me. I didn't understand why I should cover up my face with it. I think I wore make-up 2-3 times in high school (and that was to prom). I STILL cannot even put on eyeshadow. It was actually on my "30 Before 30" list to learn and I even took a lesson but I think I've worn it twice since then. :-)

I also didn't EVER get into the "celebrity worship". I think that helped me to not care about weight. I still don't understand the obsession we have with "celebrities". Most of the time when someone talks to me about a celebrity I have no idea who they are. My sister, who was the exact opposite of me growing up, would buy those celebrity gossip magazines and I would always say something to her about what a waste of money they were. She would buy them weekly and I would add up ($156 per year) how much she spent on those dumb magazines and let her know. :-) Now you know why we started sharing the financial/minimalism side of our life!

I WAS very self-conscious but for other reasons. My family was always telling me how beautiful I was and how I had a body that most people would kill for. What I had was a DDD/F size chest and a 24" waist. This led to we walking around with my arms always crossed in front of me because I was so uncomfortable with my chest - even though it's what most people wanted (or so they thought). I had to have all of my swimsuits and bras made for me and couldn't wear tank tops. I had a breast reduction at 16. I was small - probably a size 6 with a large chest = back problems. I remember coming home one day and just laying on the ground because my back hurt so bad. So at 16 I had a reduction down to a "full C". At the time it wasn't an out-patient surgery, I had to stay in the hospital overnight. It wasn't that bad of a recovery though and I was super happy with the results. I felt proportional but I was still very self-conscious. Now that I think about it I probably never cared about make-up because I thought it would just draw more attention to me. I wouldn't walk into a store or even put our name down at a restaurant by myself until I was in my 20s.

Below is a picture from Scott's prom in 2001 - before the reduction. I apologize for the quality (it's old!) but you can see how I was shaped then. This prom dress had to have special bra built into it and the straps added to still help hold it up.

Below is another one from high school spring break. It was in a scrapbook and I used those cool scissors to cut it - those were the days! :-)

Married Life

When we got married is when we started gaining weight (you probably read that in "Our Story"). It was a combination of  a lifestyle change (sitting at jobs), getting older, and eating out ALL the time. I remember being anywhere from a size 6-10 but, again, it didn't really bother me until Scott started to eat healthier and had so much energy and started a bunch of new hobbies (working out, hiking, kayaking, etc). I wanted to be part of those too!

The pictures below are from when Scott started working out (obviously) but I hadn't even entered the gym yet. I was eating "better" because Scott was but I didn't feel "fat" here. I didn't have any problem wearing a two piece and just had a great time at the beach. I think this was May/June 2010.

No negative body image issues.

Lifestyle Change

It was the next summer (2011) that I really began to embrace the lifestyle change that Scott was making. I wanted more energy and I wanted to be strong! I started going to the gym, even though I was terrified, and completely changed my eating habits (again, I had already started slowly just because he was eating better).

I did NOT hate myself, I just wanted to be a healthier version. I never put a timeframe on anything and I never attached a number to anything either.

I quickly went from a size 8/10 to a size 2/4. I say quickly and what I mean is 3-6 months. I didn't restrict myself or create any unhealthy habits. After joining the gym I fell in love with lifting weights and the entire lifestyle. I absolutely LOVED it. I had become such a positive person and wanted to help everyone I could!

I KNOW the reason that I was so successful so quickly is because I did NOT have any stipulations or even really any goals in mind. I know that sounds weird but I didn't. I also did NOT compare myself to others. Instagram wasn't big (it might not have even been around?!) when I started so there wasn't a ton of "fitspo" to look at. I was on Pinterest but I never spent time on it comparing myself to others.

Fast forward to May 2012 (photo below). I was preparing for a photo shoot and working out with a trainer. I was precise about my workout routine and my meal plan. I never even did anything drastic. I didn't cut carbs or reduce my calories that low but I was ALWAYS on track with my workout routine and my meal plan. I was so proud of myself and so happy with where I was. I didn't set out to be super-lean. I never wanted to compete. I just wanted to do a fun photo shoot. And I did!


But now this is what I do - I critique my body in front of the mirror every chance I get. Sometimes I'll have something negative to say out loud or sometimes I'll keep it to myself because I know Scott gets tired of hearing it. I STILL haven't weighed myself since June 2014 (after ending my "scale project") because I know that will make it worse.

Neither picture has been edited in anyway - obviously the lighting is different because of the locations but that's it - same swimsuit, same person. I randomly took the picture on the right one day a few weeks ago. I didn't even care to try to flex my arms or legs because for some reason getting the worst picture seems to be the goal for me lately.

If I were to see the picture on the right of anyone else I would think she looks great, but I compare it to the one on the left and I'm not happy that my stomach isn't as flat as it was and that my hips are starting to bulge over the sides. Yet as I type this I UNDERSTAND how crazy this sounds. I am comparing a random day of just living life to a day from years ago when I was preparing for something in particular. I'm at a different point in my life. My goals and focus have changed and I KNOW that but I still do it. 

It isn't all bad though, some days I wake up and think, oh I'm actually feeling pretty lean today. Then something else comes along (like another mirror) and I feel completely different. Then I start thinking about how crazy this is and it actually makes me MAD! Like the photos I've shared before below. I didn't prepare for these photos but I was just having a "good day". I don't share pictures like this really anymore because of the reasons I'm listing in this post. I seem to just blow these photos off and only focus on the bad ones.

So Why Do I Do This?

I know why I do this now. I live in the past and I observe others. I see other people and think, dang they look like that EVERY single day (obviously because they post the same half naked "selfie" everyday) and I only look that lean every once in a while when I'm having a good day.

In the beginning I just focused on my life and had amazing results. As soon as I started to observe others and pursue "perfection" is when everything spiraled downhill.

Random Thoughts: Why do we look at ourselves so much in the mirror? Why do we take so many "selfies"? WHY does it seem normal to see half naked people all over social media? Sometimes I just want to scream at the top of my lungs - ENOUGH ALREADY.

Even when I was preparing for my photo shoot I only took progress pictures, weighed, and took measurement once a week. But this new "face" of fitness sells - that's why the fitness industry does it. Most women (and even men) are sold on this image they see daily. They want to have abs and toned arms and legs - ya know, the "perfect body".

Why do we get so wrapped up in this image that we think is "fit"?

I've been lean enough where you could see my abs but I feel stronger and healthier and more FIT now. I can sprint uphill at the same speed I could sprint on a flat surface years ago. I can hike more difficult trails in less time. I can lift more at the gym but for some reason my head can't get around the fact that I am not "lean enough".

Who actually decided that fit = abs and XX body fat?

I have been 12-14% body fat before. I did have a flat stomach. I didn't have ANY chest. Remember, I already had a reduction so losing my "full C" that I was comfortable with was really difficult for me.

This comparison and negative body image trap is a never-ending cycle and all it does is make things worse.

I know EXACTLY what to do workout wise and what/how to eat but my MIND is not in sync like it used to be. My MIND is always thinking that I am doing something wrong and that people (YOU, our readers) won't trust me if I'm not super lean. So I second guess myself even though I know what works.

I think to myself ALL THE TIME...what changed? Well, I still eat healthy. I'm balanced - I follow the 80/20 rule and I do not deprive myself. I don't label food as "good" or "bad". I probably don't drink a gallon of water per day but that's not it.

It's not the water. It's my mind. My mind is messed up.

I am a HEALTHY SIZE FOUR and still can't shake this! When I was featured in Oxygen Magazine I even wrote about the importance of keeping a positive mindset and thinking positively about yourself.

Look, it's right here. It says "I built up my confidence with positive thinking!".

So why can't I do that now? How do I (we) end this cycle of negative body image?

I need to get back to the positive person with a positive body image who didn't care what anyone thought or what anyone else was doing. I feel this way when I'm disconnected from social media - like when we are on our hiking trips.

How can we change social media so that it is a positive experience? Is that possible?

Please also read Pam's post on body image here.

EDITED TO ADD: Check out all of our body image related posts below.