I don’t talk a lot about body image–not because I don’t have thoughts on it, but because I don’t want to say the wrong thing or be insensitive. However, the fact of the matter is that I was incredibly insecure about my body for a long time. Unfortunately, I think this is an issue that affects everyone at some point: There’s always media images telling us what is and isn’t acceptable, and what is and isn’t considered to be beautiful. Now with social media, we are constantly exposed to “flawless” images of friends, models, influencers, and others–many of whom appear to be super confident about themselves and how they look. In part because of how much our lives are on display, I think it’s more difficult to today than ever before to become secure in your own skin. That’s why I want to talk about how running has affected my body image for the better—especially when there is so much already out there about the link between negative body image and running.
Here’s something I don’t usually admit: I originally started running to lose weight. In my early teenage years, I carried some uncomfortable extra pounds around my waist that at the time were probably just due to not hitting puberty yet, but in the moment, made me feel hideous. I didn’t love the person who looked back at me in the mirror. I hate to think that my relationship with something I love so much now began as a vain endeavor, but it did. The summer between eighth grade and my freshman year of high school, I cut out all snacks in between meals. I would eat a single Lean Pocket (lol, remember those?) for breakfast, and started running for 20 or 30 minutes in the evenings. At the time, I hated running, but I equated the practice with burning calories.
My hard work paid off so that by my next physical, I had lost eight pounds despite growing several inches. It’s kind of crazy how I’ll never forget that number: eight. It wasn’t a significant amount, but enough that the doctor noticed. She asked me if I had intentionally lost weight, and I proudly confirmed that, yes, I had.
As time went on, I got heavily involved in high school sports. I’d always been athletic, but I think running really helped me become an asset to my teams–most times, I could beat an opposing team member to the ball during a field hockey match. I could tackle the 3200 during track meets, a distance most of my classmates wouldn’t even attempt. My confidence on the field, in the gym, and on the track helped me feel more and more secure in my body and with myself, and eventually I stopped, and forgot all together about how much I nitpicked myself in the mirror.
Today, I run religiously most days out of the week. Sports, and running specifically, has taught me to appreciate what my body can do, versus what it looks like. I don’t need to be a world class athlete to appreciate how my body feels strong when I run up a hill, and I don’t even need to compete or race to feel the satisfaction of finishing a 10-mile run. Shifting my mindset from “How do I look?” to “What can I do?” has induced an overwhelming calmness about my appearance, and in my opinion, has helped me avoid falling into any unhealthy eating patterns. While I still struggle like everyone else once in awhile, I ultimately am happy with myself because I know that my worth isn’t based on my appearance. Of course, my worth isn’t based entirely in my athletic abilities, either–but that’s a topic for another day.