I also posted a photo of myself wearing the apparel, with the caption "You can really see how clingy the tank top is here. Please ignore the belly rolls..."
A good friend of mine messaged me later that day and asked if I had time to talk - not just for one or two word responses, but to really talk. I was a little worried, we are both pretty busy and it's only for serious issues that we ever ask to "really talk." Had something happened to her? I made some time for a longer conversation and was surprised when she started to talk about my review. Specifically, about my photo's caption.
I've never been anywhere close to having a body type that could be considered "fat" - in fact for most of my life, I've been skinny past the point of healthy. This was largely due to the fact that I was a year-round athlete, playing soccer and lacrosse for up to five teams at a time, usually devoting every spare moment that wasn't needed for school (and sometimes moments that were) to practice or games. I was "living the dream", eating all the junk food I wanted and never gaining any weight. I LOST the so-called "freshman 15". I quickly got used to having a pretty rockin' bod.
Post pinata-bash. College had some good times.
Then I hit grad school, and sports were no longer an every day focus. I still found places to play, and usually spent my entire weekend on a soccer field, but I definitely wasn't playing at the same level. I started to gain weight. Not tons, just enough that my pants actually stayed up most of the time. I was staying active enough that I could mitigate some of the weight gain, and I even got very sick for a while which helped me shed all the excess weight (and then some). But then, life hit me hard, and after a series of events that I will share when the time is right, I ended up struggling to manage my weight.
Despite finally putting on enough pounds to be out of my personal comfort zone, I was never at any point "fat" - but I started to feel very negative about my body image. My stomach was no longer concave, and in fact was starting to poke out and make my waistband uncomfortable. Rolls became a frightening reality. Dresses and tight tops no longer struck me as sleek and sexy when I looked in a mirror. Sure, I had my husband and my best friend and many others who assured me I still had a good body, but I couldn't see it. That old saying is so true: we truly are our own worst critics.
Last May, during my second race event.
Finally I hit my turning point a little over a year ago. Clothes weren't fitting mere weeks after purchase, and I suffered a serious breakdown. I lost out on a job opportunity because I couldn't stop crying over the clothes that didn't fit to dig for something a little loose and make it to the meeting on time. I returned everything I had recently purchased, and started sobbing uncontrollably when the cashier asked me the reason for the returns. I was miserable - but the picture above from my first trail run last year really shows me at about the biggest I've ever been. To anyone else, I look like I'm in pretty good shape. But to me, I see only the tummy bulge and the shapeless arms.
I couldn't bear it anymore, I had to do something. Over the course of the year, I really turned up my dedication to fitness and started to make some diet changes to help me get healthier, fitter, and (hopefully) back to my old body. So far, I can tell progress has been made, but I am still a long way from my admittedly high expectations. I still have zero confidence in any of my old dresses, and half my wardrobe sits untouched because I can't stop focusing on my tummy bulge.
Yup, that one.
Why did I tell you all of this? Because my best friend was upset that I let my overly critical opinions of my body seep into a review that didn't need my self-judgement. While I may not be drawing thousands of pageviews every day, I do still have quite a few readers who consider me to be fitness-inspirational and readers who consider me to be a good example of a healthy body type. When these people, who are looking to fitness bloggers for advice, confidence boosts, inspiration, motivation - whatever - come to a blog and see the author body-shaming themself, despite being in pretty good shape... Well, what are they going to think about themselves? What example am I setting for readers who are still struggling with their own body-image or weight issues?
Truth be told, none of this had ever occurred to me. I'm so used to looking in the mirror, getting discouraged, making some commentary to myself, and moving along. Yes, I'm working on increasing my dedication to fitness, and I'm still trying to make the right changes in my diet, but I'm still hyper conscious of those parts of my body that have grown over the past few years, because I see it every day. My body-image issues have become so routine that OF COURSE I'm going to make that commentary while I'm writing about the way clothes fit me.
We can do better, self-conscious "skinny" people!
My friend pointed out to me that the offending caption could easily have been written differently while still getting the point across about the shirt's clinginess: I could have pointed out the way the capri waistline was well-defined by the fabric cling, without ever mentioning my "rolls". According to my friend/critic, the caption referencing my love handles drew her attention to something she hadn't even noticed in the photo because otherwise, she would have only looked at the clothes without passing any kind of judgement on the outfit's model.
There's so much going around these days about "fat shaming", and now there's also a movement against "skinny shaming", but the reality is that most of us really fall somewhere in between. I'm neither overweight nor underweight, but that doesn't mean I am immune to body-image or weight issues. And I'm setting a very poor example by "middle shaming" myself on this blog. We are all working towards the same general goals in the fitness world: to manage our weight and body shape while having as much fun as possible. With this in mind, I am going to be making a more conscious effort to focus on positives and successes, rather than lingering on my negative perceptions. I want to set the right example, but I also know that I hinder my own success by holding myself back with negatives.
And I'd like all of you, my faithful audience, to keep me honest! This blog should have a positive impact on readers. If you see me getting stuck in a shaming rut, call me out! Comment sections are there for a reason - healthy debate fosters improvement. I have an open mind and (despite what my mother and husband believe) can handle some criticism, especially if it's spot-on. Don't be shy about giving me feedback!
You can start right now - what are YOUR thoughts on "middle shaming"? Are those of us in the average body range setting the right kind of example? What can you change in your own approach to the body image discussion that would help make the dialogue a more positive experience all around?