Monday, February 23, 2015

Motivation and busting the myth of the summer body

Yesterday I went for a 4 mile run. It was 5 degrees and snowing and my eyelids tried to freeze shut and I had snotsicles. It was actually world's better than it sounds on paper. Or, you know, internet. In fact, I loved it. The world was quiet and clear. My breathing was labored and my muscles burned. I felt alive and whole. Isn't that weird? I wondered why something that can be painful and is definitely difficult and ridiculously humbling makes me feel so full of life, clears my mind, and makes the rest of the day feel so much easier to handle. I started to think about motivation and what would make a perfectly normal (ok, we all know that's a joke!) woman leave her warm and cozy home on a Sunday afternoon during the only hour of the day that all of her children are napping or resting to go out and run.

I thought of this saying and all of the accompanying airbrushed pictures that often go along with it:

Let me start off by saying that if this motivates you, then go with it. If you find something that works for you, go for it.

But to me, it's crap.

Summer bodies are the bodies we have in the summer. And they rarely, rarely, RARELY look like that. I mean, .000000000000001% of the population might be a huge exaggeration. RARELY!! Summer bodies are the bodies we have in June, July, and August. The ones that wear shorts and t-shirts because it's hot. The ones that wear swimsuits because we're at the beach. So for goodness sake, put on a swimsuit and swim with your kids or build a sandcastle. If you don't have kids, sit at the beach and read a book and soak up some Vitamin D. If you have a significant other, splash in the waves and flirt a bit. Don't wait for that someday when you have a "summer body."

Does that mean I feel smokin' hot when I wear a swimsuit? Ha. Ha. hahahahahaha. Friends, let me remind you that I am currently breastfeeding my fourth child that was born from my body. My body parts have been flatter and perkier and smoother and rounder in all the right places than they are today. But I still put on the dang swimsuit and slide down the waterslide and splash in the waves and get buried in the sand. Because it's fun, silly time shared with my sweet kiddos and because, please, sweet Jesus, let my sons and daughter know the difference between airbrushed, pretend perfection and real live women's bodies. The ones with dimples and curves. The ones that feel and show the effects of gravity and time. The ones with muscles and cellulite all right there mingled together in a beautiful, human body.

But this body has birthed and nourished our four kids. It has run races. It has come back from injury. It has shot hoops. It has hiked rugged trails. It has made mistakes and loved and forgiven. It has done hard things, all the while looking not one little bit like the picture above.

All of that to say that it's safe to say having a "summer body" doesn't motivate me to get out and run when it's cold and stormy and my book and blankie are an option. Here is what motivates me.

Health: I want to be part of my family's life for as long as possible and I want to be active for as long as possible so I am doing what I can to stay healthy and fit. So long as Monster Cookies are part of the equation. Seriously. For the most part, we eat at home and fill our bellies with lots of fruits and veggies and healthy fats. We play together and move together and think together. Mental health plays a role in this, too, because I am my very best version of me--a kinder, calmer, more productive, energized human--when exercise is part of my week. So I run.

Finishing what I start: Medals are handed out on race day, but medals are earned when we train in the five degree, snowy weather and the 90 degree, steamy weather. I do not have grand goals for my races this year. I am training and racing new races in a new place with new altitude and new terrain. My goals are to run happy and finish strong. I want to be physically and mentally prepared. That requires my time and effort right now. So I run.

Family: I want my kids to see women and men as strong, capable, kind, loving people. I want them to see fitness and health as part of every day life, not a way to lose weight for a reunion or fit into a dress. Not as a test to pass to see if they are worthy of wearing a swimsuit and saying they have a summer body. My kids will never play in the big leagues of any sport, but they can lace up shoes and run or play a game of horse or ski down a mountain. They can find an activity they love and keep moving and shaking for as long as their bodies allow. That's my plan and I'm sticking to it! So I run.

Body image is messed up for so many of us. I've touched on it here and here and they are two of my most-read, most-commented on, and most-shared blog posts to date. We know we are dealing with plastic surgery and airbrushing and lighting tricks, yet we compare ourselves to pretend perfection. And we lose every single time. I mean, really, how could we possibly compete with pretend?

I was playing with my kids at a park while we were in Arizona and I overheard a conversation between two moms. Their little kids were playing in the sand a few feet away. The mom turned to her friend and said, "I used to at least be able to photoshop myself to look good. I can't even do that anymore. Why can't I look more like Jennifer Lopez? I know she has personal trainers and cooks and help with her kids. I just can't look good anymore no matter what I do."

I was so sad. I was sad for that mom and the story she tells about herself and believes hook, line, and sinker. I was sad for the day her kids are old enough to overhear that and get a false picture in their heads of what beautiful is. I was sad for women and the toxic thoughts we have about ourselves. I was sad for men and the images they are bombarded with and the times they tell us we're beautiful and we don't believe a single word they say. I was just so sad.

Maybe running isn't your thing. No big deal. Find your thing. The thing you love. The thing that makes you smile when you talk about it. The thing that leaves you happier when you're finished than when you started. Then do more of that thing. Gardening or pottery. Walking or yoga. Cross country skiing or swimming. Biking or martial arts. Strength training or hiking. Dance or kickboxing. Something that gets you moving and makes you feel whole.

Then do it. And feel your life expand. Your capacity for good. Your outlook on life. Because you are filling your life with strength and beauty and good and then you are better able to share your strength and beauty and good with others. At least that's the plan. I like to think that it's working for me. Some days better than others. But I'm going to keep at it. I'm going to keep moving and working for my health and my goals and my family.

What do you do that makes you feel alive? How does it make you a better version of you? What motivates you to keep going even when it's tough?


  1. Great blog the reminder and inspiration. My mind always seems a bit clearer and my heart softer when I read your work. Thanks for sharing your heart. You make a difference:)

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, Tracy. We still need to talk books. . .

  2. Usually when I need motivation I tell myself to just take it one step at a time, or start asking for help.

    1. I love the one step at a time. A few of my personal mantras that I repeat when I'm gutting out a tough run are: "Every step gets you closer" or this new one: "This is your hill. This is your climb." I'm a huge self-talker when I work out, which gets kind of awkward on a treadmill. :)

  3. I LOVE THIS! I modeled when I was younger and I have to say it both lifted me higher than high and lowered me to the depths of depression. I struggle to this day and I'm 40. Haven't modeled in 20 years. I had my son at 36 and now I am struggling to lose the extra weight. During the day I feel confident and self assured, but at night when no one is watching I feel defeated. Sad, but true. Still, I love running and crossfit, am addicted to obstacle races and love getting crazy with my three year old. I love having a blast with my pups and I adore the time I spend with my husband. It is all a mental battle when dealing with self image. I don't think we are ever truly comfortable in our own skin all of the time. I have learned I will do what I need to do to be happy and healthy. Weight is a number. I weigh 140 and I can still out run a lot of 20 year olds. :-)

    1. THanks! Sounds like we have lots we could talk about over a long run. :) I had my 4th child at 36 so we have that and the running in common. Feeling strong definitely helps me overcome my doubts about my body.