Note: this post represents my opinion as a personal trainer. I encourage you to respectfully voice your opinion in the comments below.
Let’s talk about what’s normal for women. Let’s talk about the picture perfect women we see in ad magazines and then discuss what’s realistic. Many of us want to look like a model. Some are on a quest for six pack abs, perfectly toned arms or that dreaded thigh gap. I’m not going to bash on those goals, but I’m also going to tell you that it’s ok if you never have a six pack.
Fitness is different for everyone and you don’t have to be a size 2 model to be physically healthy and fit.
Where Pressure Comes From
Social media, as awesome as it is in connecting people, sharing ideas and spreading knowledge, also has a downside.
The sexy things get shared the most.
Think about magazines, advertisements, commercials, and plain TV. You’re seeing images that sell. You’re seeing the most beautiful people in the world as the faces of TV, plastered on advertisements, or center-fold in magazines. The human eye has an affinity for beautiful things and the perfect people you see are the most common denominator for the general public’s eye. And this article isn’t condemning that. It makes sense from a business perspective to choose attractive people to represent your brand.
However, it can put pressure on women (and men) to strive for an unnecessary standard. If we’re surrounded by beautiful images and we don’t feel confident in our own NORMAL beauty, it’s natural to feel less than, to feel like we aren’t ok just how we are.
One thing that I’d like to address, is how much work celebrities and other women put in to looking like they do.
For example, Adriana Lima starts preparing for the runway four months in advance. She works out every day, and twice per day when there’s three weeks left. Nine days before the show, she stops eating solid foods. Yes, she only drinks protein shakes for nine whole days before the show. Twelve hours before the runway, she doesn’t drink or eat anything at all.
I’ll admit that she looks absolutely fantastic. But she doesn’t look like this on a regular basis. She’s probably 10-15 pounds heavier before she starts preparing for the runway show.
And she’s not the only one doing this. I’m sure we’ve all heard of Beyonce’s lemon and cayenne water detox. Here’s a few more:
- Jennifer Aniston has eaten baby food, only baby food.
- Gwyneth Paltrow has followed a macrobiotic diet, only eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains, cereals, seeds and algae.
- Model Petra Nemacova only ate carrots, tomatoes, and seafood for a period of time. It turned her palms orange from the excess beta carotene!
- Elizabeth Hurley drinks six cups of watercress soup a day.
- Victoria Beckham lost baby weight by only eating five handfuls of protein rich food per day.
I tell you this so you can see how these beautiful people go to ridiculous measures to look the way they do. Sure it’s their job, but who wants to do that? It’s obvious that they put their bodies through unhealthy starvation diets to look tiny. They aren’t naturally like that.
How We Can Respond
So, as normal people who have jobs, responsibilities, and limited time to devote to appearances, what do we do?
We accept that our looks do not define us
All the people in your life love you not for your looks. Your friends love you for your sense of humor, the joy you bring them, and how you care about them. Your kids love you because you are beautiful to them, because of the love you show them, because of who you are, not because Ford says you look like a model.
It’s important to accept yourself for who you are, where you are right now. It’s only then that self-hate and deprecation can stop, that you can work out and desire a healthy life because you enjoy it, not because you shame yourself in to it.
We truly are lucky that the objectification of women has been recognized and toned down to say the least. Advertising companies and brands are in this game to make money, not all will take the welfare of women in to account. Once you recognize that many of the images companies spread are not healthy, then you can look at an image and say “I’ll never look like that and it’s ok because that’s not me.”
Today’s “look” is a thin, waif-like woman with tan skin. It used to be that ad agencies wanted curvy women with fair skin. Some women are born with the “look” of yesterday and some are born with the “look” of today. Neither are bad, one is not better than the other.
There’s also nothing wrong with working out for aesthetics. Some women want to look hot and that’s ok. But it’s important to realize that we all have different shapes and sizes. We all work within a certain frame of what we’re blessed with and we don’t need to resort to unhealthy practices to conform to an imaginary standard.
What Normal Looks like
I said that we’d talk numbers, so let’s do it. Body fat percentage is the best metric to use because it provides a reference of body fat to lean mass. It’s calculated by taking the amount of body fat in pounds and dividing it by the amount of lean mass in pounds.
- Essential Fat: 10-13%
- Athletes: 14-20%
- Fitness: 21-24%
- Average: 25-31%
- Obese: 32%+
As you get older, the acceptable range of body fat percentage increases. This is because we store more fat in organs and within muscles as we age. I’ve included a chart below that details this. If you want to see what a woman’s body looks like at different body fat percentages, click here.
Why do I talk about this? Because the higher your body fat percentage, the higher the risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension, stroke and all those other diseases that come with obesity.
This isn’t bashing on people with a higher body fat percentage, but it’s best if those who are overweight take steps to get within the acceptable range for optimum health and longevity.
What a Real Fit Woman Looks Like
So what does a normal fit woman look like? Fortunately, I know of a few people who are willing to put them and their perfectly imperfect bodies on the internet. Here’s a few of these brave women and their sites. Head on over to their blog to show them some love!
Laura has a degree in exercise science and is the founder of Girls Gone Sporty, an awesome social community of women. She writes a lot of great articles about various health and fitness topics. Check her out!
Irene lost 80 pounds, loves to run, and is on the road to Ironman 70.3 in 2015. Head on over to her site to follower her journey!
Brooke lost 172 pounds and loves to exercise at home with fitness DVDs. She lives a healthy and balanced life, enjoying the occasional beer and cupcake!
Liana is a marathon addict living in Boston. She loves to eat, travel, hike and play with her cat, Jack Meower.
Montana loves obstacle course racing, otherwise known as tough mudders. You can find her and read more about her journey to fitness here.
These women are healthy! And normal! They are different shapes and sizes and that is awesome because none of us are the same, nor need to be the same.
Let’s do our best to accept who we are and celebrate that.