Do you exercise look good? Maybe you have signed up to a running group, or triathlon group, but really you just want to shift some kilos. If you take a look ataxy social media platform you can easily find #fitmums aiming to inspire other women to engage in a fit and active lifestyle. These women are certainly inspiring!

However, I cant help but feel that in SOME of these posts there is an underlying message that we should be exercising to ‘look good’. Post about ‘pregnancy transformation’ photos or women showing off their abs after their daily swim. These photographs often depict women who have ‘rediscovered’ their abs postpartum. They are accompanied by a blurb that suggests that looking good is the most important outcome of exercise.  Whist I congratulate these women, I can’t help but feel that the message that they portray is unhealthy.

We ‘fall off the wagon’

I acknowledge that part of a healthy and active lifestyle is maintaining a healthy weight.   However, in many cases women who exercise purely to ‘look good’ often end up ‘relapsing’. They regain any weight that they lost. This is because they are unable to maintain! If the goal is to see a certain number on a set of scales, making healthy lifestyle choices start to have a negative connotation. Each healthy meal feels like one is ‘depriving themselves’. Every exercise session becomes a chore.  Having such negative feeling towards these lifestyle choices make them impossible to maintain. Hence, women start to skip exercise sessions, start to eat poorly and ultimately regain any weight that they had worked so hard to lose.

If however, the goal is something like ‘to participate in a fun run’, or even just ‘to meet regularly with friends to exercise together’, healthy choices are more likely to be enjoyable and ultimately become part of your lifestyle. Your body will start to change according to the training that you are doing. Don’t waste time thinking about what it looks like. Focus on your training, and your body will do what it needs to to become stronger, fitter and faster.

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We develop poor self image

I have never met a woman who hasn’t, at some stage in her life, stood in front of a mirror and criticised their physique. If you asked a woman ‘Tell me what you would change about your body’ chances are that many would be able to answer with a split second. Ask her what she likes about her body and she might take a while to answer.

When you are exercising purely to ‘look good’ there is often a tendency to continually check in the mirror, look at the scales, and (unfortunately) be disappointed with what you see. Results never seem to come fast enough, and no matter how hard you try your butt is never quite perky enough, and abs never quite toned enough.

Shifting the focus of exercise away from looking good, allows you to start looking at yourself in a more positive way. Rather than criticising your physique, you are able to appreciate your body for what it can achieve. You can look in the mirror and think to yourself… “I ran 1km further today than ever before”.  You can feel proud, rather than focusing on that little bit of cellulite that appears when you twist your body in a certain direction or squeeze your thigh. Nobody else probably even notices it anyway!

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We send the wrong message to our children

Watching a documentary style television show recently, I was deeply saddened when I heard a school teacher say that her female students as young as 6 had already developed issues with poor body image. We are the role models for our children. If they observe their mothers ‘dieting’ and ‘exercising’ to look good, that is what they will learn. They too will start to criticise their physics. This is true for both boys and girls. It is much more powerful to teach our children to engage in healthy lifestyles because we appreciate our bodies and are thankful for our health.

We avoid exercise because we don’t ‘look the part’

Exercising to look good is one thing. Looking good to exercise is another… Social media is full of images of women that look immaculate whilst exercising. The truth is that whilst buying a complete wardrobe full of brand label clothing and accessories to exercise in can feel good, it is not necessary.A pair of runners and some comfortable clothing is all that is required to get started.

There’s also a lot of equipment and apparel out there that can help to improve your performance as an athlete, however it is often not completely necessary. Depending on your budget and your priorities, you may or may not be able to indulge in such equipment. As long as you are never risking your safety, it is ok not to have all the ‘bells and whistles’. Participation is what counts, not how you look doing it.

So please, exercise for holistic health!  Wanting to look good in a swimsuit can certainly be great motivation for some women, but I wish to urge you to exercise for the many other benefits that you can gain, and let looking good be a ‘positive side-effect’ of your healthy active lifestyle. Prioritise your health and wellbeing, and you will find that you become more confident and happy within your own skin.

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