When I was younger, my exercise came in the form of soccer. Soccer was my first love, always has been and always will be. I played for the love of the game and for the joy it brought me to spend countless hours of my week with a ball under my feet and a goal in front of me. Then, when I was 15, I gave up on my first love, and I will always regret that.
What does this little anecdote about soccer have to do with exercising for the approval of others around me? Well, during the summer, just prior to my last season of soccer, I suffered from an undiagnosed eating disorder. I won't go into all the gory details about that here because that isn't the point I'm trying to get across, but it does deserve to be mentioned because it was during that time that my mindset towards exercise completely shifted.
The girl who had once played soccer simply for the love of the game became the girl who spent hours out in the sweltering North Carolina heat running because she was trying to transform herself into this "ideal" person based on society's standards. Let me tell you something, striving to be something that you can physically never be in order to fulfill this unrealistic expectation that society presents us is both physically and emotionally draining.
That summer, my mindset towards exercise was solely focused on what everyone else thought of me and how much I needed to work out in order to continue to lose weight. It wouldn't be until well into my freshman year of college that my mindset would shift once again — this time for the better.
When I first started college, I loved the idea of having free access to a gym that was only a short walk from my dorm. I hadn't really had that in a long time, seeing as how by this point it had been nearly four years since I'd given up soccer, and running around my neighborhood brought me back to the summer of 2012. First semester I didn't really find a ton of time to get to the gym, mostly because I was still trying to figure out what it meant to be a college student and how to balance all of my responsibilities. That all changed spring semester of my freshman year. I found myself going to the gym almost every single day, and if I'm completely honest, I hadn't felt that good in a really long time.
For the first time in four years, I was working out because I enjoyed the feeling it gave me or to help deal with the stress of a long week, instead of having the hurtful words of someone ringing in my ears the entire time. That was the moment I made a promise to myself. I promised myself that if I ever started to feel that way again in the gym — as if I wasn't good enough or I was working out to make someone else like me — I was to immediately stop whatever I was doing and leave right then and there.
In the three years since I've been in college, I have yet to have to implement that self-imposed policy. To some people, it may sound stupid or as if that isn't that big of an accomplishment, but for me it is. I went from being the girl who ran for societal approval to the girl who remembered what it felt like to fully enjoy a workout again. It was at that moment, freshman year me carving out the time in my chaotic schedule, that I fell in love with exercise again.
Words can't fully express how amazing of a feeling this is to me. Now I long to get back in the gym because I love the feeling of accomplishment of completing an intense workout. I may not get to the gym every single day, but I now realize that it's perfectly OK if I miss a day or two, or even a full week. I'm done letting other people dictate how or when I workout. I'm letting myself fall back into exercising for the sheer love of it. So this one goes out to the 14-year-old soccer-loving girl inside of me that has been brought back out by letting go of societal expectations.
Stop letting an unrealistic societal standard of beauty dictate how you live your life, whether it's in exercising or how you dress or what you eat. Be the person God created you to be, and don't apologize for that.