The One About Body Image
By AJ Mottley
Regardless of New Years resolutions for diet and fitness, most folks constantly ask me questions about nutrition and fitness throughout the year (I have a BS in Health Promotion and Physical Education, minored in Nutrition, certified personal trainer, and an accredited nutritionist). Beyond my education, I’m a cancer survivor (cervical if you must know), and currently hold the world record for all three lifts (back squat, bench press, and deadlift) for the WNPF in my weight class.
Health, wellness, nutrition and fitness are my passion.
This isn’t about me though…but this will get personal, so you can understand some secrets, burdens, and proud moments I deal with on the regular as a woman in the fitness industry and as a woman in general in today’s society.
If there’s one thing I get asked about DAILY, it’s my diet…
"You have to eat like your life depends on it, because it literally does." - Susan Labunski-Saxe
My biggest pet peeve from a collective "you all" is that I eat the way I do in order to look a certain way. When going through treatment in 2014 and 2015 my diet changed DRASTICALLY for survival: cancer breeds off of sugar. My current regiment of nutrition is because of the constant hormonal relapse I have when I get too comfortable with cheat meals and binging on what I shouldn't be and I have to go back into treatment because of it. I'm strict on my diet for survival, not for looks. This in turn sparked my deeper curiosity to use food as therapy (not comfort food!) and avoid surgeries, pills, treatments, etc. for not just cancer but for every thing else that simply changing our diet can do.
"You should model," vs "don't you think you look like a lesbian."
The shape of my body is not for your praise nor is it up for your ridicule.
As a former middle school and high school health educator, I taught body image and cannot tell you how far off modeling is from my philosophy of health and wellness. Contrary to what some may believe: I'm extremely self-aware about the shape of my body. I prefer to use “self-aware” as opposed to “self-conscious” because of the negative connotation that society ties with “self-conscious”. I’m aware of how my body looks- my thighs are big, my boobs are small, my shoulders are broad, and my muscles are outlined no matter the outfit.
Growing up, my biological mother would constantly cut me down (and even in my 20s she'd try to tear me down) by telling me no man wants a woman with my shape. She'd blab to her friends that she thinks I'm lesbian (nothing wrong with being a lesbian, but it's painful to be mislabeled and judged)- what about a strong body makes me a lesbian? I, as my own worst critic, struggle between both schools of critique as well, on any given day.
Some days I think I am too muscular, some days I want to get a boob job, some days I wish I knew how to wear make up and do my own hair other than straight or a pony tail…
But most days I love my body.
Most days I feel like a beautiful woman in my muscular curves. Most days I enjoy seeing the shape my body has taken from my diet and weightlifting. If you’ve ever had a person slander your name and image, you know you have to be your own hero. There was nothing more painful than growing up with a biological mother who was outspoken about calling her only daughter “an ugly duckling”. There is one thing I can be thankful for about her crude statements: she taught me that I had to be my own hero, I had to love myself (because even my own biological mother couldn’t), and she taught me that I was responsible for my own confidence. Not even she was going to save me. I learned at a young age that when “they” said “you have to learn to love your enemy,” that it meant learning to love myself.
"Once we begin to celebrate what our body does rather than how it looks, we begin to appreciate our body as an INSTRUMENT rather than an ornament." - Unknown
I used this quote to open up body image discussions when teaching high school junior health. I would ask my students to dig deep into body image on all levels: shape, skin color, freckles, glasses, teeth/smile, etc. (For this posts purpose, I'm sticking to shape/physique to shorten and focus the rabbit hole.)
Once we start to change our focus from look and shape and appreciate the ability it has to be strong on so many levels: to lift weights, to bear children, to carry luggage, to do house work or yard work, to entertain our children, to play an instrument or sport... we instantly lose focus on shape.
I cannot bear children. My biological mother ridiculed me for this: she lost sight of my movement in choreography, saw shame in my strength with a barbell, and forgot I love to play the piano- let alone that I was the one with the strength and able body to help her move during the divorce, carry her endless shopping bags or cases of wine, or clean the house for her.
My instrument, my body, is sacred, and not up for judgment.
It has beaten cancer. It has gone through neck and knee surgeries. And I need to be the biggest lover of my instrument because too many others criticize it. I encourage you to reflect on what your body can do to find your love for it.
"Necessary thickness: healthy bodies, strong minds." - Britta Winans
If you've never met Britta, you need to. Her campaign of "necessary thickness" is something I stand behind on so many levels- she's got a really good message going on that I think more people need to find refuge in. Her campaign has helped me personally with my own body image as it’s been a struggle during cancer and now post-cancer, it's helped me teach self-love to my former students and has given them a platform to appreciate themselves, and I'm lucky enough to have athletes and a gym that stands by her message (and her!). You can check out her blog at:
I can't exactly help or change my shape because of my nutrition needs and personal goals, all I can do is appreciate the changes it will go through as I start to get healthier and stronger, and change my mind frame and attitude to love myself for what I can do.
As you set your goals and resolutions, please think about the aspect of changing your mental focus on shape, and revert to ability. It's amazing how much less pressure you can put on yourself with some self-love and some confidence.
Be your own hero. And as a fellow woman, be supportive of each other.
You have no idea who envies the shape you have, learn to love it.