Most of you who are reading this blog know that I have a fine arts degree, and if you’ve seen any of my recent Facebook posts, you also know that my current work is focused on athletes performing their sport. I have been privileged to portray a few of my friends, but I have also done pieces based on pictures I’ve seen on the internet. One of the first pieces I made (which has been bisque fired but not glazed) was of Major League baseball player Prince Fielder, who plays for the Texas Rangers. Now, I’m not a personal fan of Fielder-I really know nothing about him other than he is said to be good at his sport. Rather, I chose to portray him because I fell in love with his picture on the cover of ESPN magazine’s 2014 body issue. Fielder posed nude, in a stance that suggests he just smashed a ball out of the park. His head is cocked to the side, a slight smile on his face, and the impression I got from the photo was of an athlete who is proud of his strength and abilities.
Now if you have already clicked the link above, you have seen that Prince Fielder is a big guy. He doesn’t have the typical ‘lean’ build of most baseball players. I happen to like the way he carries himself. I certainly would not consider him to look obese, and obviously since he made it to the Major League, he is fit enough to get the job done. And that’s what matters, in my opinion.
So that’s why I was disgusted and disappointed when I found this article about people who trashed ESPN magazine for putting Fielder on their cover, and criticized the athlete for being ‘overweight’. Begin rant: Really, people? We are collectively one of the most obese nations in the world, and I bet we are also one of the most body image-obsessed societies in the world. Is there a correlation here? YES!! We need to stop shaming people for the way they look!!! I mean, when we go as far as to shame a pro athlete for being a little on the stocky side, that to me is bordering on disorder! Not that they’ll ever read this, but to the people who dissed Prince Fielder, what the fuck have you done today? Hmm? Did you get out on a baseball field and hit under pressure? No? Didn’t think so. You probably didn’t even go to the gym. So shut up and mind your own business. End rant.
There are many reasons why our nation is so overweight, but I speculate that a big reason why overweight people stay overweight has to do with body image issues. We think we need to ‘get in shape’ so we can ‘look good’ like the thin, tan, sculpted, air-brushed models on magazine covers. Not only does this thinking perpetuate the idea that the only way to ‘be in shape’ and ‘look good’ is by obtaining a version of this esoteric body type that is far, far from the norm–if it is our only motivator for working out, we will quickly give up, precisely because it is unobtainable for 99% of us.
So why work out, then? Why bother, if we can’t look the way we think we should? We need to change our thinking, people!!! Why does Prince Fielder work out? Because he has a job to do, and he needs certain strengths and skills to do it. I like Fielder’s response to his critics:
“A lot of people probably think I’m not athletic or don’t even try to work out or whatever, but I do. Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn’t mean you’re going to have a 12-pack. I work out to make sure I can do my job to the best of my ability. Other than that, I’m not going up there trying to be a fitness model.” -Prince Fielder
I like this attitude. Athletes don’t have to fit into the ideal mold of what we think an athlete should look like to be good at what they do. Neither do we! I have been thin all of my life, but that doesn’t mean I’ve always been happy with my body. At different points I’ve wanted to be thinner, more muscular,prettier, have less wrinkles and spider veins, etc. To a certain extent, this is normal. I’m not saying one can’t aspire to look one’s best. But we need to stop trying to look like somebody else. Why can’t we just be the best version of ourselves?
One more thing before I get off my soapbox. Here’s what I suggest: When you’re working out, what is your main motivator? Is it so you can ‘look good’? Is your main motivator guilt or shame? If so, I suggest a new motivator. Do something that you love, or that helps you to do what you love.
I’m a runner. So my workouts focus on running, and doing things that help me to run better, like certain weight training exercises, stretching, and using an agility ladder. What do you like to do? Play tennis? Walk? Ride a bike? Hike trails? Whatever it is, as long as it gets you moving, do it! Enjoy your body for what it can do right now. Don’t focus on surface results like weight loss or looking a certain way. Just move your body. I guarantee you will feel better if you do.
And don’t let the way you think you look stop you. As I said, I am a small person. When I joined my gym last fall, I got a free session with a personal trainer. When he started talking about weight lifting exercises, I sort of laughed internally. There is no way you’ll get me in that weight room with all of those big macho guys, I thought. I was worried about looking weak and afraid of being looked down on if I made a mistake with an exercise. Then I started listening to a podcast by personal trainer Nia Shanks. (Not to digress, but ladies, if you haven’t read her articles or listened to her speak, you simply have to. She is amazing.) My thinking did a 180-I realized the only thing keeping me from lifting weights was ME, not my size, strength, knowledge, or what other people thought. Now I lift weights regularly. Those ‘macho’ guys I was afraid of have never laughed at me, and I’d like to think they might even respect me.
When I stopped focusing on how I looked lifting weights, I realized not only could I lift, but I enjoyed doing it! It makes me feel strong, and it has definitely helped me be a better runner.
In closing, I want to share something I wrote in my personal journal that relates to body image.
‘I am a woman. I am strong but not perfect. I am good at many things, and there are also many things I am not good at or capable of. I accept my imperfections. I accept the fact that I have limitations. I am not a lesser person because of them. They make me who I am.’
Today, I encourage you to be yourself. Love yourself. Do your thing. And don’t let the haters bring you down.