A guest post by Ashley Brooks…
It’s no secret that many women have a skewed perception of beauty. Thankfully, our generation of women has stood up and said, “Enough is enough.” Little by little, we’re fighting these lies about health and beauty for ourselves, our daughters, and the generations to come.
I’m proud of us for that. But there’s one lie that somehow seems to persist. So let me shoot it down before we get started:
Skinny is not synonymous with healthy.
Take a look at Pinterest’s Health and Fitness category. You’ll find photos of young women with rock solid abs, perfect butts, and no arm jiggle. These pictures are upheld as “motivational,” and they usually include a ten-minute workout to give you the same results.
What you won’t find in this category are women who are an average weight for their height, who have three kids and are middle-aged, who don’t wear a size 2, and don’t have six-pack abs. You won’t find women who spend an hour on the treadmill and who try their hardest to include vegetables in their dinner every night. These women may not look like models, but they are healthy.
For the past eight years, I’ve been that skinny girl who thought she was healthy. I’m 5”4’ and weighed 105 pounds through most of high school. I didn’t like vegetables, and my lunch everyday consisted of chips and cookies. I was never athletic, so exercise was out of the question.
But when I was sixteen, a friend talked me into joining track and field as a shot putter. In a sport mainly dominated by big-boned men and women who use their weight to their advantage, my body suddenly felt scrawny and inadequate. I watched my teammates—girls who weighed 40 to 50 pounds more than I did—and felt a twinge of envy at their ability to bench and power-clean, to really use their muscles.
About a month in, I was sick of being the skinny girl who could only bench the bar. I determined to push myself and my body to something better. I put my all into intensive weight training. I felt stronger every day, and my muscles burned with that daily reminder that I had used them well.
By the end of track season, I had improved my throwing distance by more than six feet. I could bench more than my body weight and do thirty pushups without a second thought.
I had also gained more than ten pounds. I was sad to see my muscles fade away over the summer but pleased to watch my scale gradually return to 105. My first stint with health left me feeling trapped between what my muscles wanted and the number on my scale. Eventually, the scale won out. I didn’t rejoin track the next year.
In college, my attention shifted to the infamous Freshman Fifteen. Mine didn’t come freshman year, but it did gradually sneak up on me after four years of exclusively eating pizza rolls and ramen. By the time I was a senior, I weighed 115, the same weight I was at the end of track season. But oh, lordy, it was a different kind of weight.
I felt slow and sluggish. If I had to walk quickly to class with my heavy backpack, I arrived out of breath. I halfheartedly did Pilates in thirty-minute increments on our shabby dorm carpet, but it never lasted long. By all accounts, 115 pounds is still skinny, but in my case, it wasn’t healthy.
I was set to get married in January 2012, in between semesters during my senior year. I didn’t have time to implement a pre-wedding workout routine, so I just shrugged and tried to be okay with my lovehandles. By November, I noticed I had lost two pounds through no active effort on my part. I silently rejoiced. But by the end of December, despite hefty holiday eating, I had lost nearly ten pounds. Stress I hadn’t even noticed was making itself physically apparent. I had my final dress fitting and crossed my fingers.
On my wedding day, I weighed 103 pounds, less than my average in high school. I love my wedding pictures, but my face seems too thin in many of them. My dimples are nearly invisible; my clavicle sticks out, angular and harsh. It was the first time the thought crossed my mind that I was thinner than ever, but I looked unhealthy. Two weeks after our return from the honeymoon, I was back at 115. Now, more than a year later, my body has finally settled on a happy 120.
In high school, I’d have fainted to see that number. Now I almost never weigh myself. I’m determined to never again be the soft, sluggish weight I was throughout college, nor the unhealthy stick figure I was in high school. I go to the gym regularly for cardio and yoga, and I make an effort to include healthier foods in every meal.
A friend in college who ate very healthy once told me I was lucky I had the genes to eat cake and ice cream every day if I wanted. Which got me thinking: was it really a blessing? I realized I’d had no motivation to eat healthy when I was younger because I had no extra fat. I thought I was doing fine.
I had never understood that food is here to nourish us. My thin, beach-ready body was not being cared for as it should have been.
And what I ultimately learned is this: don’t exercise and eat right to look like a Victoria’s Secret model in a bikini. Take care of your body because it’s YOUR BODY, no matter what its size, no matter what the scale says.
Ashley Brooks is a freelance writer and editor living in Minnesota. She enjoys reading anything she can get her hands on, knitting, cooking from scratch with her husband, and drinking iced mochas. She’s forever grateful for the revelation of what it means to be truly healthy, and she is now a self-proclaimed gym rat. You can get in touch with Ashley on Twitter @BrooksEditorial, through her website and blog at www.brookseditorial.com, or via e-mail at [email protected].