By HPRS Staff Columnist Christopher Mellott
Find your most recent race photo and take a long look at it. What is your first thought? Mine is usually somewhere between “I look so out of shape” or “I would love this photo if I was just a little thinner”
Everytime I see a photo of me running negative thoughts storm into my brain. I immediately struggle with the idea of body image. Negative body image is something that is often associated with women, but men are equally susceptible to it. The idea that what we see in those photos is not what society deems “attractive”, it’s not what magazine are publishing, or what the celebrity on the silver screen looks like.
I have struggled with my body image as long as I care to remember. In middle school I didn’t look like the popular kids. In high school I remember being terrified of taking off my shirt after wrestling practice because I wasn’t thin, or ripped like the other wrestlers at my weight. I ran cross country and was probably close to the heaviest athlete on the team. I didn’t feel good about myself or how I looked.
The media and to an extent the girls I was interested in told me that I was undesirable. I didn’t have to big biceps or six pack abs that other guys in school had. I remember all the comments made around me about how so and so looked, or how that guy just had biceps. I remember all the comments, and for a while I truly believed that if I had the abs and the arms that I would magically be living in the perfect world where I never struggled to find a date, people would find me incredibly attractive and all my problems would disappear.
Throughout high school and into college I struggled daily with how I looked. I struggled with my weight and more recently with the idea that I didn’t look like a runner. I struggled with my body. I spent hours in the gym trying to get “swole” I tried diet pills, I tried everything I could legally do to get those abs and the biceps. I really believed that being thinner would make me happier.
Eventually I started running in college again and eating better. I lost 60 pounds. Guess what? I magically didn’t get end up with a supermodel and a million dollar home. In fact I wasn’t happier. I may have been healthier but wasn’t happier. Instead of the comments about the weight it became comments about how thin I was, people asked if I was eating, or commenting that “a strong wind may blow me over”. I couldn’t win and my body image didn’t improve because I was thinner. There was no satisfying the critics. The harshest one between my ears.
I can tell you from experience that bigger biceps and losing 60 pounds doesn’t automatically make you you happier or life better. I can also tell you that as much work as I have done on myself the feeling of not looking like you think you should doesn’t completely leave you. But I have learned to navigate the negative self talk.
I had a treadmill in my home and it was right next to this giant ass mirror. I was running on the treadmill and it was getting hot, and nobody was home so I took my shirt off. All of the sudden it clicked for me. I was a runner, regardless of how I looked, I was a runner. I didn’t see the definitionless stomach, the pale white limbs, or small biceps. Instead I saw the strength of my lungs, the power of my heart and the muscles I had to propel myself to bigger and better goals. I was transformed and instead of being upset about how I didn’t look, I was excited because what my body could do.
My body can run a marathon, it can power up mountains, occasionally it can speed up to under seven minutes a mile pace. I no longer see what I wish I was but what I am. I am a runner. I may not be the fittest, I may not have a six pack or bulging biceps, and I may not be as light as I sometimes think I need to be but I am healthier, more content and most importantly I am happier. Happiness bleeds into everything including confidence. When I became happier with what my body could do versus what it looked like my confidence grew. I can tell you that confidence is a look that looks good on everybody.
Next time you see that race photo. Take a long look. Look past those “flaws” or “areas of improvement” and remember how you felt and what your body is capable of.