Body Positivity Is More Than Loving That Scale Number

Two things have been consistent about my body: I’ve been naturally thin and I’ve had loads of injuries. The first was welcomed and the second not so much.

I never had to go on a diet or come up with a fitness regime, yet I wasn’t a couch potato either. For over 10 years I took dance classes and performed in annual recitals and competitions. This extracurricular left me plenty busy and I truly enjoyed it, so I hadn’t flirted with the idea of joining a sports team. I always considered myself a good dancer, but I was actually pretty clumsy with a couple of broken bones and sprains under my belt. But when you’re young, you heal quickly and life moves on.

What is this thing called the gym?

My active comfort zone was gone once I started college. Now I had to go to the gym (ew) and learn how to properly work out with an array of intimidating equipment. To say the least, I was lost. With the threat of the Freshman 15 looming over my shoulder, I concluded that the ultimate exercise was running on the treadmill, which I dreadfully hated and still do to this day.

So I ran until my lungs were on fire and ignored the shooting pain shooting up from my right knee. I didn’t listen to my body, but dedicated myself even more to the mission of running a faster mile. It got so bad that I would walk off the treadmill limping for the rest of the day.

Denial, Denial, Denial

Now you may be thinking that I’m not that bright; in my defense, I never had knee issues before so I didn’t take it seriously. Arm? Yes. Ankle? Oh you bet. Soon, the pain and complaining got so bad that my mom insisted that I saw a doctor. His diagnosis was physical therapy to heal an “inflamed Iliotibial Band.” If you’re as lost as I was, the IT band is a large ligament that runs all the way from your hip to your shin. Physical therapy was meant to not only ease the swelling and pain, but strengthen this important muscle. I didn’t realize it, but when I flexed both of my thighs my dominant right thigh was actually much smaller. There was a lot of work to do.

But I went into my one-hour sessions in a cloud of anger. I was angry at my body for failing me once again. Just about a year before this, I attended physical therapy for a sprained ankle and I was sick of getting hurt. I felt like I was getting too old for the crippled dance of crutches and bands and wraps. It also didn’t help that my deadlines kept getting extended and the finish line kept getting farther away from me. Being angry at your body, no matter if it’s because of its weight or weaknesses or whatever, is a toxic feeling. It can lead to a dark hole of self-pity that I willfully jumped into.

No Lie, Patience is a Virtue

I trudged along and changed my outlook on the meetings as the fitness lessons that I never got and strongly needed. I learned that it isn’t enough to sweat it out on a hamster wheel because strength training, stretching and muscle massages were all needed for a balanced visit to the gym. While I mastered the perfect squat and added reps to my lunges, the most valuable tool I took away from my summer of PT was being patient with your own body.

I may be out of the doctor offices and therapy rooms, but the recovery never truly ends. Some days you feel stronger than others and that’s OK. Sometimes you reach your goals and other times you need to accept your limits. One of those limits for me is the horrible invention of the treadmill. I’m still not the avid runner that I wanted to be, but I found my cardio home with the bike and elliptical because they put less impact on my joints. Or I skip the mundane machines altogether and opt for a fun group class. In the end, it’s all about finding the regiment that works for your lifestyle, interests and body.

Beautiful is…

When I was in high school, people still went to shopping malls and bought clothes from overpriced store brands like Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch. These stores had models with zero curves or fat with bored expressions on their faces and that was the epitome of teenage beauty.

But then a few years ago, I saw Under Armour Women’s ad featuring Misty Copeland. I was impressed to see that strong and athletic women were being embraced and I think this is the end of fitness companies marketing to women solely by offering pink sports gear.
So go after another curl rep. Push yourself to hold that plank. Strive for a push-up. It doesn’t matter if you can only handle the teeny baby weights or a modified position because your body will thank you and while you’re sweating it out, you’ll feel beautiful.

Image Credit: Kanaka Menehune

Raquel Nicole DeSouza
I'm a student, storyteller and struggling yogi. The D.C. metro area is my home. Pastimes include searching for recipes and reading 20th century American lit.