Think of somebody that is “in shape”. What came to mind? There is a pretty good chance that the image you imagined looked something similar to an Instagram fitness model; Lean, confident, tanned, and probably has ripped six-pack abs. Typically these are the qualities that are associated with being a healthy, in-shape individual.
I’m not here to tell you that all people that look like this aren’t healthy or that they should be looked down on for being the “Instagram model” type. I am going to talk about my journey of trying to look “Instagram perfect” and how it sparked my passion for body image in the fitness industry.
Four years ago, I decided to embark on my fitness journey. I wanted to lose the “extra weight” that I had gained after graduating high school. I had it down to a science; My daily workouts consisted of a full-body, light-weight-high-rep resistance workout with 15 minutes of the Stairmaster and 30 minutes in the sauna (to sweat out any extra water weight). I was only to eat when I was hungry and even then, I could only eat chicken, vegetables, rice (or quinoa to switch it up!), protein shakes or bars, and snacks that had less than 2 grams of fat/carbs per serving. After following my regimen for a few months, I saw huge changes. I went from having skin that rolled over itself in certain positions to an always defined six-pack. I finally reached 10% body fat. I “looked good” and I knew it, but my mental health was suffering.
I knew I looked good because that’s what the likes and comments on my pictures told me. I knew I looked good because I fit into a size 2 dress. I knew I looked good because that is all my friends, family, and acquaintances could talk about – how lean I was and how great I looked.
This is the body that is idolised in society but not all bodies are made to look this way. Nobody talks about all of the different body types and how most of us physically can’t get ourselves to look a certain way or have specific measurements safely. No matter how hard we try we just can’t to do without some sort of repercussion. For me, my mind suffered. I was tired every day but no matter how tired I was I couldn’t sleep at night. I was always hungry but could still only allow myself to eat very strict food. I hit a point where I didn’t think I ever looked good enough – my abs always needed to be more toned. Eventually that lifestyle came crashing down around me and I binge ate, hated the thought of the gym, started drinking heavily, and very quickly changed my body.
What I want to do is make it normal to be normal. I want to promote balanced lifestyles. You can be healthy and active and promote fitness but not need to be the typical Instagram fitness model. It should be normal for somebody to have a slice of pizza or a beer without them having to feel awful for doing so. We need to remember that we need “life weight” too. The extra five pounds you might be concerned about is from that time you went for brunch with your friends, or went to the hockey game, or a holiday dinner with your family came around.
I still love fitness as much as I did four years ago. It’s still hard sometimes to look online and see that I don’t look that way when I look in a mirror. But I am so much happier now than I was striving to be something that was unrealistic. I go to the gym a few times a week, I live an active lifestyle, I eat healthy most of the time, but now when I eat a donair on the couch once a week I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t force myself to go to the gym to work it off. I look at being “in shape” as making my body healthy in the healthiest way possible, physically and mentally.
Shae-Lynn Jastrzebski is a NAIT Personal Fitness Trainer student in her final year of the program. Shae has been a dedicated cheerleading coach for 6 years and is an elite level cheerleader herself. Throughout the past few years she has become very passionate about body image and the affects that society has on confidence in the fitness industry. This has inspired her to change the perception of what “looking healthy” is among athletes.