Exercise and body positivity can make for confusing bedfellows. On one hand, working out helps you get in closer touch with your body, makes you feel stronger, and helps you appreciate what you can do — all good things!
On the other hand, group-fitness instructors too often preach the "long and lean" gospel, magazines tell you how exercise can give you a "beach body," and your friends talk about how they need to hit the gym tomorrow to make up for the pizza you're sharing tonight. Not to mention the proliferation of , which makes it even harder to separate working out from trying to achieve a nearly unattainable body type. But let me tell you: It is possible — and fantastic — to make your fitness routine body-positive. (In fact, we've talked right here at R29 about rational fitness and how to work it into your life.) As the creator of the body-positive workout DVD Bettie Page Fitness: Total Body Strength & Cardio , I'm always encouraging exercisers to think like Page (who, though you may not know it, was an old-school body-positivity icon!): She loved to move her glorious body in lots of different ways and didn't give a lick about a bit of cellulite here or a belly bulge there. I rounded up some of my favorite body-positive fitness tips, along with input from a few experts I love. The overall theme: Fitness should make you feel good.
Don’t Do It To Earn Food. Just go ahead right now and disentangle food from any strange equations based on exercise. Getting those two bound up — “How many minutes on the treadmill would this brownie cost me?” — can drain the joy out of both, and is even a feature of certain eating disorders when it becomes extreme. Old-school fitness culture and thinspo have us conditioned to think we have to work up an appetite and “run off” calories. We don’t. It’s not a zero-sum game. If you’re taking generally good care of your body, it knows just how to deal with indulgences and excess. Food: You don’t have to earn it, you just have to eat it. Bon appétit.
Do Take The Inside-Out View. “Don’t be attached to a number as a goal,” says Kathryn Budig, a yoga teacher and author of the recently released book “Focus on how you feel, not on how you look.” This taps into mindfulness, which a Aim True: Love Your Body, Eat Without Fear, Nourish Your Spirit, Discover True Balance! new study linked with less focus on appearance and more exercising for internally motivated reasons such as the health and mood benefits. And, of course, yoga helps: In the study, an eight-week yoga program helped in these areas while also improving mindfulness.
Do Express Your Gratitude. Yes, do it even if it feels corny at first. Budig suggests trying this project, similar to one from her book: “Write your body a love letter! If you remind yourself that you and your body are on the same team, you’re more likely to go into your workout feeling connected and ready to progress without judgment.” Describe at least five things you appreciate about your body, and add to it over time as you think of more. Give it a glance when the two of you are at odds. Burlesque sensation Dita Von Teese illustrates Budig’s point perfectly: “I remind myself of how fortunate I am that I have the physical capabilities to exercise, that I am grateful to my body for serving me well, and exercising is a way to thank it!” Von Teese is the author of , which emphasizes uniqueness and self-appreciation. “I try to replace any negative thoughts I might have about how my body looks with something positive about what amazing things it does for me — how well it works, letting me walk, stand, jump, and dance.”
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Don’t Bore Your Body. It only reinforces that tired “exercise-as-torture” myth when your workout starts feeling like same ol’ drudgery. Body-positive fitness is about pleasure, not punishment. Try as many different types of movement as you reasonably can and want to, including some not-so-obvious options. “I’ve always done Pilates and ballet, but I’ve also done yoga, Zumba, water aerobics, hiking, stretch classes, Body Rolling, trampoline, and fencing lessons, all for the sake of finding new ways to get moving,” Von Teese says. “I recently started seeing a CrossFit trainer and I love it. It’s a whole new world that is such a departure from Pilates and ballet, and it’s keeping me interested.”
Do What You Can. Respect your body's limits, and set your own pace. “If you have to cut out of a class early because you can't do anymore, that's okay — give yourself credit for going and getting halfway through,” says San Francisco-based fashion blogger Chastity Garner Valentine of GarnerStyle. It’s far wiser — and kinder — to work your way up slowly than to get hurt or burned-out and end up not exercising at all. Challenge your body when you can, and back off when needed. If there are moves you’d like to try, but they feel out of reach based on your fitness or mobility level, ask a personal trainer or group-fitness instructor to show you some modifications that might work better for you.
Don’t Make It All About Weight. “I don't work out to lose weight anymore,” says Kierra Sheard, a Grammy-nominated gospel singer, actress, and blogger. She exercises to protect her heart health — and her relationships. For instance, she might do a kickboxing class when she’s pissed off, she says. “That's also a form of self-love to me — it allows me to release my anger and stress, and to maintain my character by not doing what I would really like to do to some people” in certain ultra-annoying situations. Bonus: Regular exercise helps boost body image, suggests a 2013 study published in PLOS ONE.
Do It For You. Avoid the comparison game at all costs. It rarely helps, always hurts, and you can’t measure your success with someone else’s yardstick. You’re on a completely different path than everyone else around you (including on social media!), so “be kind and patient with yourself,” says Blake Von D, a Chicago-based lawyer and style blogger. “As long as you're enjoying yourself and are proud of your journey, you're on the right track.” As sappy as this may sound, this concept is crucial for staying consistent with exercise and keeping it body-positive: Working toward self-acceptance and self-compassion is essential, or else we’re right back to all that punishment stuff.