Self perception is a complex psychological and emotional topic. I certainly would not presume to have all the answers or even touch the surface in a two minute blog post, but I do know this, learning to be comfortable in your own skin is not all about weight loss.
At varsity I had two friends that were physical polar opposites. The one you would describe as overweight, the other as skinny. One thing they had in common however is that they were both absolutely comfortable in their own skin and exuded self confidence.
The ‘overweight’ guy was a power lifter and one of the strongest men I have ever met, (he could squat and dead lift over 300 kg and bench press over 240 kg), we’re talking serious strength! But he didn’t have what society would regard as an aesthetically pleasing physique. At about 1.8 m tall, weighing 115 kg with a higher than average body fat and built like a barrel, he was overweight by societies narrow definitions.
The skinny guy was a middle distance runner, one of the best I have ever met! He regularly posted sub 2 minute 800 m times. Whilst some may describe him as athletic, most people who didn’t know him would say he’s just skinny. Again, he didn’t have what society would term the perfect physique, you know, the well muscled, lean with six pack abs look.
They exuded self confidence. Both these guys would comfortably walk around in a vest or without a shirt if they could, all day long. They were seemingly immune to the ‘behind your back’ judgments and criticism that they were no doubt subjected to by the ever watchful general public, for not fitting into the ‘normal,’ body-beautiful mold.
Maybe it’s guy thing. Why did they have so much confidence? Maybe guys are just not as concerned about their physical appearance as girls you may be asking. In my experience, I have known guys with amazing physiques that have literally needed to visit the bathroom every 30 minutes on a night out, to do push-ups in an open cubicle to keep from feeling skinny! We’re talking serious self image problems. On the flip side, I have known larger women that exude the same confidence as my friends described above.
So what is it that makes them so confident? Interestingly, in almost every example I can think of, with my friends and clients that are comfortable in their own skin or have grown in self confidence, there is a common denominator: There is a physical performance component that is more important and meaningful to them than weight loss or overall aesthetics.
Whether they are working for strength gains, improved running or cycling times, speed and power for a sport or aiming to complete a marathon, the physical performance component always seems to trump weight loss and the way they look. I have also seen this time and time again with beginners who set their goals on completing their first park run or a personal best in the squat room. The sense of confidence is visible: people start walking upright-not slouching to hide away from the world; they become more outgoing, more daring, capable and sexy, despite relatively modest weight loss results, if any.
There is something magic that happens with physical exercise directed towards performance enhancement. I think it has to do with the lessons you learn through the hours of hard work to achieve your performance goals. You learn how strong you are physically and mentally; you learn that failure is your friend and biggest teacher; you develop a sense of camaraderie with those in the same boat as you; you learn the joy of movement and to love and respect how capable and amazing your body is. You learn how to hold your head up high and say “look at me, I’m an athlete!”
Compare what I have just described with someone who starves themselves to lose weight. You can see how that feels kind of meaningless and empty. The great thing is, that if you do need to lose weight, in the process of working towards performing optimally, you will likely make better choices that result in weight loss – without it even being your primary focus.
Find your strength. There is no right or wrong type of exercise. If you are naturally strong and enjoy lifting weights, lift weights. If you enjoy endurance sports, run, cycle, hike, do what you love and what you’re good at! But whatever you do, don’t do it for the sole purpose of losing weight, and don’t do it to try and conform to an acceptable norm in terms of your appearance. Don’t get me wrong, weight loss is a good and often necessary goal, it’s just not everything, and you are not like everyone else, find your strength and go with it! For me, weight loss should be considered a piece of a much bigger puzzle.Rather, Focus on your strengths, the performance aspect, the enjoyment, the challenge, the hardships you will endure and the character that will be built. Far more than weight loss, or any narrow aesthetic standard, this is what’s going to ultimately develop the confidence and love for your physical self.