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The Daily Tar Heel

Finding equilibrium: Think about what your body can do, not what it looks like

This column is part of a summer series that will focus on college-aged men and women’s perceptions of beauty and body image issues.

As a fitness instructor, I am constantly barraged with questions that associate fitness with “thinness,” by people who fail to recognize that the two are by no means connected.

I learned this lesson the hard way — the kind of way that leaves you in serious bodily pain for a solid week and your brain shattered from shock and disbelief.

Two years ago, while working as a fitness instructor at a YMCA in Asheville, N.C., I heard tales of a legendary instructor who could both destroy and rebuild you in 30 minutes with her nearly impossible workouts.

I got to her next class early in anticipation and scanned the room for a woman that could embody such physical prowess.

As class started, a woman with unkempt hair and glasses emerged from the group, defied my every expectation and changed my life. She was no Jillian Michaels. In fact, she wasn’t a Michelle Obama or even a Jennifer Hudson. But she put me through the wringer in the most uplifting way I have ever had the pleasure to endure and is now one of my closest friends.

While she’s the first to admit that numbers would suggest she’s unhealthy, numbers are not everything. Bodies are built to perform.

Fitness isn’t about what your body looks like. It’s about what it can do. Those thunder thighs — they’re what power you through stadiums, across soccer fields and studios and propel you in jumps.

Your strong shoulders and arms might be the result of intense dedication to swimming, yoga or dance.

This is not limited at all to athletics. The areas of the body women complain about most are also the most important for healthy motherhood. Appreciate your body for what it is capable of and treat it with respect.

Our obsession with numbers on the scale has overshadowed the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. Rather than making it your goal to lose 10 pounds, challenge yourself to finish a 5k, swim a mile, try a new fitness class or get out and walk. Talk with a nutritionist at the UNC Wellness Center and see what foods fit with your tastes and your needs.

Truly healthy and sustainable lifestyles, in which we are both properly nourished and active, allow our bodies to find their natural “happy place.” Key word: sustainable. Health is about reaching equilibrium.

More importantly, while physical health is important, it’s only half the battle. I was plagued by over-exercise disorder for years. At my lowest point, numbers would tell you that I was as physically fit as they come. But I was trapped in mental anxiety and distress that prevented me from truly living. I abused my body because I refused to accept what it was built for. I now know how to use it to do what I love.

My butt is big because I can take you in squats. Someday, I’ll be that legendary instructor — frizzy hair, glasses, booty and all.

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