The last fitness associated course I took was Fitness Theory and it introduced me a more detailed world of fitness and nutrition. While watching a slideshow with my fellow students, we were asked questions, and upon answering them, she would unveil the entire slide. Much like a less exciting episode of Family Feud.
When we were asked, “Why do we work out?” I heard the expected answers: it is good for your heart; build strength, lower cholesterol, and others. Much to my surprise no one said, what was the first thing that sprang to my mind.
So as she started revealing the answers on the slide, as she always did, when we had provided all the correct answers, I raised my hand. Now, as a student for many years, I always like to see a surprised expression on the face of a presenter, and her response did not disappoint. When I said, “to be a role model,” she asked me to explain my answer. She knew my children were too young to be active in fitness classes, and the older ones were not interested in fitness as a pass time.
I told her that although my girls were not involved in fitness, they see how positively it affects my life. My children think it is normal to go to a fitness class every day. They are not surprised when I make classes a priority, when it comes to planning events in our home. This is what Mommy does, everyday. Fitness everyday is expected and normal.
All my life I have been big, small, smallish, biggish, and in everything in between. I have cried in front of a mirror, fought eating disorders, and always thought I was too big or not quite “small enough”. I was that woman who didn’t want to go to a gym or class until I lost weight. Then when I did go, I secretly hated the skinny girls in class. I still remember the girl with the long black ponytail in front of me, who wore her bra top and black shorts from my first year of going to a gym.
After years of going to classes, I started to teach classes. Each class I taught gave me more confidence, I felt stronger, and my body started changing. I wanted every woman to feel this good. I wanted to show people that if I could do it, they could too. It is so sad that some people may never know what they can do, only because they didn’t try.
We all need to be a role model for the girls in our lives. I want my daughters to want to be strong not skinny. I want the young teens I know to be proud they can do push-ups and sit-ups. I like overhearing a teenager answer, “I have no idea” when someone asks them how much they weigh. I enjoy the look on a woman’s face when she does something, she could not do last week in class. I try to educate on muscle, fat, body types, and stay away from discussing anyone’s weight or size. This is the example I want to set. A wise woman said once, “The only thing a scale can tell you is the mass of whatever it is on it.”
When I go to schools and talk to young adults about fitness and nutrition, I have a fitness test I do to open their eyes about strength. I gather them all up and ask them who they think is the strongest person amoung them. It usually is the biggest, most athletic, boy and girl in the group. Then I get them to do a simple core exercise. It has never been the people they thought should be the strongest. I will never forget, one year it was a boy no one suspected. During the last few seconds of the challenge there were fellow students cheering him on, clapping and excitedly proclaiming how strong he was. He was a hero, everyone spoke of him for weeks…. about how strong he was. I was so proud for him. It is times like this in which I love what I do. This experience really opened their eyes to the meaning of a strong body.
It took me forty years to get here. You don’t have to go to classes or join a gym, but make activity and a positive healthy language a priority in your family’s life. Stop saying, “I can’t believe how much weight she gained”, or commenting, “aw, look that poor boy”, and start using positive praise. We are teaching our children that it is ok to say these things, and in turn, may make them a victim in someone else’s conversation.
This vicious circle has to stop. Try to lead by example, both physically and mentally.
Be a role model for everyone around you.