- January 28, 2017
A few weeks ago in one of my classes, someone asked me if the exercises we were practicing would help build strength. I quickly responded with “yes, absolutely, my entire class is built around strength.” She replied with a hesitant smile and also added that she was interested in getting stronger, but not in getting bulky, motioning to her shoulders mid sentence. When I asked why, she said that she didn’t think it was attractive for women to be muscular. I stopped in my tracks, felt my reactivity, and made sure to address her with compassion, although my blood had quickly come to a boil. As a woman with muscular definition I was immediately insulted, and surprised at the directness of her comment. After a few moments I realized that six years ago I was this student. I had zero physical education, I knew nothing about how bodies actually worked, and above everything else I was trying to conform to the media’s tight grasp on beauty.
This is not a rant on how ridiculous this topic is, rather my goal is to shed light on how we can begin to change the ways in which we educate people on strength and body image. As teachers, families, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, friends and everything else, we all affect how people feel about themselves. My goal is to give some tips and start a conversation on how to educate and empower students, kids, partners and friends to not fall into the cultural media trap, and to live a healthy lifestyle.
Tip 1 – Read Books, Not Magazines
When someone asks me about what I teach or how I train I always refer them to a book, rather than a magazine. Most magazines (in particular the ones marketed to women) have some type of weight loss toning program advertised on the front page. We can’t really stop this from happening, but we can try to stop people from buying in. Books on the other hand are more likely to be rich with information, as opposed to corporation run advertisements for diets.
Tip 2 – Bodybuilders Have to Train Really Hard
In order for most people, especially women, to gain substantial mass, serious training has to be completed on a consistent basis. My body tends to mass up very efficiently, but I’m within the minority. I also have to lift really heavy weights in order for my body to get bulky, weights that most of the general population will never dream of. Its important that students understand the difference between strength training for general health, and strength training for competition or sport. Doing a few clam shells and pushups in class are not going to lead to massive muscle gains, however, they will help with the classic aches and pains.
Tip 3 – Its Not Really About Size
The last time someone mentioned not wanting to increase size, I recommended that she just take a moment to think about the concept. She was surprised, maybe that I didn’t jump into a rant, and that I asked her to go home and reflect on why she felt the way she did. The people who love us, literally love us. I know this is easy to say, but the more we can show the people we love that we don’t care about their bulky muscles, extra rolls or scrawny legs, the more we perpetuate the cultural development we so desperately need. We all live in bodies that are going to deteriorate, the stronger they are, likely the longer they are going to last. This means less commenting on how your kids and friends look, it means parents need to stop mentioning their diets and weight loss tactics around their children. It means talking about the struggles around modern media, rather than comparing ourselves to the CrossFit athletes or models on the screens. Instead of asking what we can do to remain lean and toned, ask how can we get healthy, and fight back against our cultural obsessions.
I believe this conversation is important, for the survival and mental health of our species. I believe that conversation is needed, rather than rants and talking about how negative our current state might be. I believe its not just the job of the yoga teacher to debunk common myths, but the job of the community to change the way we all judge ourselves, and change our relationships to body trauma.