by Pam Kalstad, MS
Women come in all shapes and sizes. We’ve all heard that multiple times. Intellectually we know that. Emotionally………. a large population of us want to come in the same shape and size; tall (but not too tall), lean (but not too skinny) and beautiful (often defined by the media’s beauty de jour). Oh, last but not least young, hot and sexy!
That’s a tough bill to fill. Especially since approximately 25% of the US population is part of the “Baby Boomer” generation. That’s right a quarter of the population in the United States was born between the years 1946-1964. I missed it by a year. Not sure if I’m happy or sad about that. I sort of fall into the donut hole of generations. I don’t even know what my generation is called if it’s called anything. All I know is I’m not in the all talked about Baby Boomer and I’m not in the new younger generation. However, I’m so thankful that 40 is the new 20. Which by default would make 20 the new infant. Which makes sense to me because every anti-aging beauty product seems to be promoted by a teenager.
I don’t know about you but this forever youthful appearance we are programmed to chase is getting old to me. Women are getting and staying fit, healthy and strong well onto their eighties but we, as a society, keep moving the bar. And not a good bar like the Olympic bar, which I do highly recommend moving. How is this possible that a quarter of the population, who by the way has way more disposable income, buy into this notion? Why do we continue to compete with the eventually unobtainable? Why do women have this self-imposed pressure to stay looking and much to my dismay acting like a 20 year old? Why can’t we appreciate the 20 year olds for who and where they are and be joyful in our own age? I know this may come across a little hypocritical coming from a woman who appears on stage in what I refer to as “hooker heels” and a bikini. Nope, I’m not a stripper. I’m a Figure competitor in bodybuilding. And yes, I have competed with the young in the Open division and with women my age in the Masters division. Aren’t I adding to the pressure? Some may say yes, but I say no. When I train or compete on stage I am not emulating the 20 somethings. I train and compete with full acknowledgement, appreciation and respect for myself. I know my age and as of this date I’m am 49 years old. I’m not ashamed of it. I respect it. I have lived a lot of life. I have had great joys and great sorrows in my life as I’m sure most have as we get older. I am getting older. There’s no way around that. But who would want to? All of those: trying to please, where do I fit in, do they like me, what am I going to be when I grow up are thrown to the wayside. Who has time for that now?
I say enjoy the life you’re in. If you can’t enjoy it do what you can to change it. That’s what I did a few years ago. I started training for a figure competition at the age of 46. That’s right. At the time in life when I was expected to only take group aerobic classes and long for my youth I did the unexpected. I have no problem with aerobic classes. As a cardiac rehab therapist I highly value them for your cardiovascular health. I myself partake in one every now and then. But at that time in my life I needed more. Not to prove I was still young but to focus on something positive and challenging. I needed to overcome and regain control and power in my life. What better way than to push my body past its limits? I know competitive bodybuilding isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t need to be that extreme. It can be
starting an aerobics class. It can be incorporating resistance training in your workout. Learning to appreciate your body may take a little time. Be patient. We have often neglected and have taking it for granted for so long we don’t know where to start.
I like to start at the beginning. For me, that was accepting the challenge for what is was. Giving myself permission to love my body and all of its abilities. It is OK to actively create a beautiful body for yourself. You do not need to compete with any other body out there. However, I did and still do have a body image in my mind. I truly admire Monica Brandt’s physique. I think she incorporates beauty and strength perfectly. There are other amazing female athletes that I admire. Some for their physique. Some for their work ethics. Some for their struggles they have conquered. Not all of the females that I channel are famous. Some are just simply amazing humans. I think having mentors, whether they know they are or not, is helpful. It can give you a path to follow until you are able to blaze your own. And you should blaze your own. No two people are alike. You may never obtain exactly what your mentors have. Great! That was and is their success. You need to create and have your own successes no matter how big or small they may seem.
I hear a lot of women say, “I could never look like that.” “There is no way I would post pictures of myself like that.” Here’s the great news. You don’t have to! For some of us, we were not born into social media. Our birth was not announced on FaceBook. Our first steps were not tweeted. Our first day of school photo wasn’t on Instagram. We feel uncomfortable with what appears to be self-promotion and lack of privacy. Before you start longing for the good old days aren’t you glad you can see how your child is doing in college? We can now be more connected with our loved ones. How absolutely fantastic! Unfortunately, these can also be frightening. People are now able to post images of themselves instantly without thinking of the long term.
In today’s social media world we are inundated with those selfies. In case you are one of the many who read selfie in the title and thought what the heck is that?, a selfie is a picture one take of themselves and post on their social media sites. In the world of fitness these were often taken in front of a bathroom mirror. I don’t know why. My original thought was the lighting. However, as the time elapses there are more and more of these in front of a mirror out in the gym. Some of these photos display the fantastic results of some heavy lifting. People proudly displaying their hard work. These can be very motivating. People can see their mentor and re-energize themselves. But then …. There are the others. Those oh so provocative photos. They seem to me to be mostly young women wearing as little as possible and showing as much as possible and trying to pose in a very seductive sexual manner. Why? I have my thoughts of course. These same individuals are the ones at the gym who talk loudly, walk around and try to take up as much space as they can desperately trying to be noticed. I think one of the gym chains refer to these people as a lunk. They can be intimidating to anyone who is new to fitness. They can make you feel inferior, fat and ugly. Who needs that? Right? They do. They need the attention. They need a hole in their soul filled. So fill it! The next time you see this person desperately seeking attention smile at them and tell them they look great. Then go about your work. You are not there to work on them or to compete with them. You are there for you. And that is powerful.
Your purpose may be to improve your health. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can vastly improve your health and longevity. A healthy diet and exercise positively impact the major risk factors for heart disease: excess weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and stress. An important but often neglected point is that your results are correlated with your efforts. The more healthy actions you take the better the results. You can do the minimum just be sure to expect the minimum results as well. There is no magic pill. There is actions taken by you. Period. So put your maximum in. Get the maximum back. You deserve it.
You may have neglected and have taken your body for granted for years perhaps decades. It has probably served you well despite of its neglect. I’m not saying that to be snarky. We have all done it time to time. Priorities in life may have been different. You were climbing the financial ladder, you were raising children, taking care of a loved one. All noble life choices. This is not a judgment it is a call to arms. Reward your body for hanging in there for so long. Your soul will also appreciate it.
The thought of going to a gym, joining a fitness class or heaven forbid get a personal training may be overwhelming. Who do you think you are? An athlete? Who are you trying to fool? You’re too (fill in the blank.) You’ll never look like that! These are not unusual thoughts of women when they think about starting an exercise and healthy diet program or when they entertain the idea of challenging themselves. It’s fear talking. Fear which stands for: False Evidence Appearing Real. You do not need to ignore your fear. It’s there. You should be brave. Bravery is facing your fear and moving through it. Taking action in spite of it. I personally think that resistance training, also known as strength training, should be part of that action if you have no physical disability preventing it. You are not required to become a power lifter. But I will tell you there is something intrinsically empowering when you find yourself pressing 300 – 600 pounds away from your body with just your legs. You will walk stronger and more purposeful. Does this make you young? Who cares? You are strong! You may start at 30 pounds. Great! You started. That is what matters. As you get physically stronger you may just find yourself standing up for yourself more. Declining requests of others that are detrimental to our health and instead, put value on your health and LOVING how your body looks and feels. You will no longer worry what others think of your actions. You will enjoy the change and enjoy the sense of power and confidence you have. Sometimes through physical strength we can achieve emotional power.