Perspective: You Are Not a Number

Dear internet, you never cease to supply me with an endless stream of information, cat memes (you know you love them!), and differing perspectives on the female body. Each day we are bombarded with differing messages about what the “ideal” female should/is/has to be. First, it was skinny - you know, thigh gaps (wtf), thin arms, and tiny waist. Now it’s “strong” and by strong, they mean “lean”. You know what I’m talking about - the dreaded and utterly moronic world of “fitspo”.

[oh hey look, it's skinny with abs]

I could wax on poetically about my feelings on fitspo but this post really captures all of my feelings and says it better than I ever could. Basically, we get sold the same message just repackaged with OMGabz. We all get told that our self worth is directly related to how many visible abs we have and our body fat percentage. At this point, most people are beginning to see through it, but the notion that self worth = abs is still going strong. We rally and protest with our little virtual picket signs saying “F*ck aesthetics! Get strong!”. We boast about how awesome it is to chuck the scale and focus on our squat numbers instead (and it IS awesome); but in all of our rahrahrahing about barbells and massive deadlifts, we miss the point. Equating our self worth to our back squat isn’t any better than equating our self worth with our body fat percentage or the size of our jeans. Our self-worth should not be tied to a number.

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[wedding dress 2 years later - too big at 10lbs heavier after I chucked the scale and focused on getting strong]

The big shiny spotlight of the fitness world has given the general public, and especially women, a glimpse into the weight room and that is FANTASTIC. Generally, women have accepted, or at least will pay lipservice, to the fact the “weights make you bulky” myth is just that - a myth. The majority of women still won’t engage in serious weight training because deep down, they still believe that weights = bulky BUT at least they are willing to admit that logically, it doesn’t make much sense. For some women, it got us to pick up a barbell and never look back. And that truly makes my heart happy.

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However, in the process of “Yay! Barbells! Squats! Pressing!”, I think it’s easy to get hung up on what we haven’t achieved. Instead of worrying about the number on the scale or our jean size, we obsess over our back squat & clean and jerks. We stop feeling good about ourselves because we haven’t achieved as much as that other girl who can deadlift 2x her bodyweight. We mentally beat ourselves up because we aren’t as fast, strong, or powerful as we want to be. We grow impatient and forget to trust the process - we want that number and we want it now. Now, reread those last few sentences and replace the words “thin” “skinny” “body fat”, etc. in place of things like “deadlift”, “strong”, and “powerful”. It sounds pretty familiar, right?

And when we get to this place, this is when we need a little perspective.

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It’s tough to not feel like your max lifts make you a bad/good/happy person when you spend a good chunk of your time thinking about them, planning how to reach them, and then training for them. (P.S. I don’t think this is limited to strength athletes/sports - I would argue it applies to most passionate recreational athletes in any sport). It should be FUN - yes, there are days/weeks when it doesn’t seem very “fun” but you should still derive some sort of pleasure from it. And someone, somewhere is saying “yeah but I’ve got goals and I have to do x,y,z to reach them and I have to be so dedicated, committed, other value laden word here, to reach them”. I get that - I’ve got goals too - and yeah, you're going to feel on top of the world when you achieve them and you will feel like shit when you go for them and miss (and then you regroup, replan, and try again). But that magic number shouldn’t define how you feel about yourself - you are not your clean & jerk max. Take a second to look back over the past month, year, etc. and appreciate your progress.

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For example, I’m going to squat 300lbs. There is no “I’m going to try” or “maybe I will do this” - I am going to and I've got no doubt in my mind about that. I will be extremely excited about it and feel happy when it happens (and I'll feel pretty bad if I go for it and miss)...but that 300# won’t solve all my problems. Furthermore, squatting 300 is not going to happen right now and that’s ok. The fact that that goal is even in the realm of possibility is major progress for a girl who's old max was 135 x 3. I refuse to feel shitty about myself because I “only” squatted 190 for 5 or whatever the number is - that’s no better than me saying “yeah, well I’m not happy yet because I’m not 15% body fat”. The mentality is the same, we’ve just subbed counting plates for counting calories. So next time you find yourself qualifying your achievements with a “oh but it was only this” or reducing yourself down to a number, stop and get a little perspective.