I remember my first "aerobics teacher" back in the day. Yes, kids I'm dating myself -- before it was "group exercise" it was actually called "aerobics" -- and I still have the leg warmers (and shin splints) to prove it!!
Anyway, this woman made a very powerful impression on me, because she was far from the stereotypical idea that I had about what a fitness professional "should" look like.
In my head an aerobics teacher was: very petite, very skinny and very blonde with big boobs. But Patricia was really tall, very muscular with small breasts -- and she was a Latina. And she was gorgeous!! I was fascinated with her. Not only was she one of the most graceful movers I have ever seen, it was clear to anyone watching her that she was completely okay with who she was. She was so comfortable in her own skin that just being in her presence made me feel good about my own body. After months of taking her classes I found myself much more accepting (even appreciative) of my own perceived flaws.
Years later, I am still struck by a woman who likes her body. Because being happy with your looks is truly the exception (not the rule) for our gender.
Over the years I've trained literally hundreds of women (of all ages and all shapes and sizes) over the years and I can count on one hand (without using all the fingers even!) the number of women who said that they actually liked the way they looked.
Even more disturbingly, females start obsessing about their appearance at a very young age. According to one study the number one wish expressed by girls ages 11 to 17 -- was to be thinner. Think about that for a second. These little girls weren't dreaming about winning the Nobel Prize, traveling the world or being an Olympic Gold Medalist -- but about weighing less on the scale. Has to make you wonder if the next Madame Curie ended up in a bathroom somewhere trying to stick her finger down her throat.
And things don't get any better as we age. A study of women between the ages of 30 and 74 found that 70 percent of them were unhappy with their weight -- even though all of the women in the survey were of "normal weight" for their size.
Why the collective insanity? Well, there are several factors, but I believe a major one is that most women have a totally unrealistic idea of what the female body is supposed to look like in the first place. In fact, virtually every woman I have ever trained has told me that she wanted the same things.
* Long, lean legs.
* No visible body fat
* A small and round butt-- but not too big.
* Big boobs --but not too big (and please make sure they stand up on their own)
* And a totally flat stomach
Then one day it hit me -- everyone is describing Barbie!! The only things that they didn't request were: to be perpetually standing on their toes or have nipple-less breasts. Honestly, I think that most of us played with Barbie as girls to the point that we internalized her. In other words, most of us thought that this was what we would -- or should look like as women.
Sure, on a rational level I think that most of us understand that this is unrealistic. But on another level I think we still long for it. And guess what? It ain't gonna happen! Because Barbie's body has nothing to do with the real female form.
In fact, in a recent study, a group of scientists created a computer-generated model of a woman with Barbie's proportions, The researchers came to the conclusion that such a body would not be able to digest food -- or support the weight of her upper body. In other words, no flesh and blood woman is supposed to look like that. We're supposed to have different shapes, different sized butts and breasts -- and we're supposed to have some body fat.
Ultimately, in order to move away from obsessing about their appearance every woman needs to get real with who she is -- and who she isn't. At some point in her life, I believe every woman has to take an honest inventory of her own unique body type.
For example, if you have short legs -- you'd better learn to love them, work them out, make them their best and appreciate their own beauty. Because despite what some exercise programs profess -- no workout is going to make you "longer and leaner". Well, leaner -- yes. That's a function of having better muscle tone, which is certainly a realistic and desirable goal. But nobody on this planet has ever gotten LONGER from exercise. Limb length is determined by the length of your bones. And no matter what you've read -- no exercise program on earth is going to stretch out your bones!
A good way to start to feel better about your own body is to "fake it til ya make it". Or to act "as if". In other words, to carry yourself as if you felt you were the hottest thing since slice bread -- even if you don't -- yet.
Pick someone you know is okay with herself and copy her attitudes, her behavior. What would this self-confident woman say to herself? What would she say to other people? How would she move? How would she treat her body? I recently read somewhere that it is "easier to act your way into thinking, then to think your way in to acting". You may not feel it today, but just keep at it -- and before too long you will. Better yet -- once you feel good about who you are, you will inspire others to do the same just by your example.
Geralyn Coopersmith, MA, CSCS is the National Director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, an educator, exercise physiologist, certified personal trainer and author of Fit and Female: The Complete Fitness & Nutrition Game Plan for Your Unique Body Type.
Geralyn has been featured many TV shows, including: The Dr. Oz Show, The Today Show, CBS Morning Show and Fox and Friends. She has been quoted in:The New York Times, Shape, Self, Fitness, People, Us, Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Oprah.com, Yahoo.com and more.