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Mad Positivity | Introducing Body Image


Image via Instagram @friendswithmythighs

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By Jessica Vander Zaag

I want everyone to ask themselves a question:

Would you still exercise if it didn’t change how you looked?

Be honest. There’s no judgement here.

I have been active and athletic my whole life. I did an undergrad in Kin studying the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, and I work in a hospital at a cardiac centre. I can list a myriad reasons for exercising. Yet, unequivocally, I would not work out with the volume and commitment that I do if it weren’t for how I perceive exercise to change my physical appearance.

Now if you can say that physical appearance doesn’t matter to you, congrats and you’re free to go. Keep up the good work.

But let’s do some digging for the rest of us.

Start with the broad strokes: we’re human creatures and sight is arguably the most significant sense we use to take in the world around us. Looking at something is an easy way to judge it. Think about how much we communicate non-verbally, like the way we dress, body language, and facial expression. We also live in a world that is increasingly digital—you can’t put touch or smell on social media. So image matters. Appearance means something.

We care about what we look like, and for the sake of this discussion I’m going to refer to this as “body image.” In the day-to-day, body image manifests as the thoughts that pass through our minds when we walk in front of a mirror, or see a picture of ourselves. These thoughts can be largely positive and encouraging, or negative and degrading. Maybe we’re thinking about our body only rarely, or maybe it consumes our waking hours. It’s not for me to say what body image is appropriate for everyone, but simply to explore different ways we can challenge these thoughts and reach a place where we’re comfortable.

Why does this matter?

Because body image is subjective and based on our perception, and we know perception is malleable.

Because I do love fitness for how it makes me feel more competent, how it makes me a better athlete and teammate, and how it benefits my mental health.

Because there are so many better things that I’d rather spend my energy on than worrying about how I look, and I think you might feel that too.