Freedom from the Ideal Body Image


The first time I remember realizing I was self-conscious of my body was in 4th grade. We were in class and a group of high school or college students came in to do a survey about elementary school kids and body image. They asked us to draw a self portrait of your body then to write about anything you would change. I remember drawing myself with disproportionately large thighs and writing that I hated like my thighs and hips. To repeat, I was in FOURTH GRADE. 9 years old. 

Looking back it makes me so sad to think about that little girl, because I see photos of me in 4th grade and I see a silly, strong & smart 9 year old girl, not someone with giant thighs. But that’s what I saw when I looked in the mirror then. 

Most of my friends were skinnier than I was. I secretly wanted thin, stick legs, just to be like everyone else. Why would a 9 year old be self-conscious? Why did I think that how my body looked was important enough to even give a second thought to?

Sometime in middle school I remember being a size 16 at Abercrombie kids and crying at the Mall because my mom wanted me to move up to Abercrombie and Fitch. (In retrospect, I can’t imagine paying that much for jeans that kids grow out of each year. So God Bless all of our parents for dealing with that.) But to be in middle school and be a size 0/2 in adult jeans vs 14/16 in kids felt like it just highlighted the fact that I had these horrible thighs and butt that just kept growing. I wanted to be skinnier, not keep getting bigger. This goes against human physiology. Kids grow. Vertically & horizontally. Did I really think that I could go against human nature just in an effort to be thin? Why was being thin so important? 

Playing football was not only empowering because I was the only girl playing with the guys at recess(GRL PWR!!), but it also was a respite. Playing with the boys helped me focus on what my body could do, not what it looked like. I loved sports & playing games. Of all the genres in fitness, sports & weight lifting feel the most empowering and up lifting. I am focused on my performance, having fun, challenging myself, trying something new, or learning something new. I want to feel strong & powerful. I allow myself be free from tracking workout calories, from punishing myself for what I ate by trying to burn it off & from listening to fitness instructors babble on about doing a those reps just to get a “bikini body”. 

Realizing how good I felt through physical activity, sports and strength training kept my body image issues at bay. Whenever I doubted myself or started to compare myself to others I would remind myself what my body could do that helped me. It still helps me.  

Now we get to the summer after Sophomore year of College.

I was invited to go to a beach where there was a little pier that my brother and a couple friends were going to fish & hangout. 

I didn’t want to go because I felt fat. 

I never experienced “the freshman 15,” but I did experience a post-marathon “15.” I had gained some weight in the months after running a marathon, because I was still eating like a marathon runner, even though I wasn’t training for a marathon anymore. This was a body that I had never felt before. I was softer. I felt fat. 

I didn’t want my brothers friends to think I was fat or to see me a few pounds heavier than I was the previous year. That insecurity was preventing me from going out and having fun just because my body was less perfect than what I thought my beach body should look like. I remember telling him that I didn’t want to go. (Even though I 100% wanted to go)

I went to my room and broke down because I was so disappointed in myself. Was I really going to let the fear of how other people might judge my body keep me from having fun? Am I just going to sit in my bedroom and not have fun anymore? Is that going to be my life now?

That doesn’t make sense.  

I decided then and there that I wouldn’t let that limit me. Why should I miss out on having fun just because of what other people might think about how I look? 

So I went. And I had a lot of fun. 

The two biggest lessons from these stories that I tell to my clients and myself every day are:

  1. Celebrate what your body can do, rather than obsess about what it looks like. 

  2. Don’t let your weight, size or shape limit how much joy you let yourself have in life. 

We are inundated with images of photoshopped, plastic people. The barrage of headlines, pictures, videos will never end, so it feels like your body image issues may never end. 

I have found freedom within my health and fitness lifestyle that allows me to enjoy my life. 

I have a passion for holistic health & nutrition coaching as well as strength and conditioning coaching because I think that freedom does exist. I feel free and I want others to experience the same freedom. I want to free people from hours on the elliptical trying to burn calories to get “toned.” I want to free people from a diet culture that deprives you from the foods you enjoy. I want to free people from weight loss pills, diet cults, & gimmicky fitness equipment. 

I want this for you right now. But I also want this for every little 4th grade girl that thinks her thighs are too big. I want us to set an example for the generations to come. It shouldn’t matter what your body looks like. It matters what you do with it. Play. Compete. Create. Innovate. 

Amy Potter