A New Then and Now (or, a Thick Girl’s Manifesto)

I prefer “Then and Now” to “Before and After” because I am a work in progress, and always will be. My after pic will be of me in my coffin. I do like to document my progress with pictures though, and I encourage everyone else to do the same, especially when the goal is body recomposition. Once you get to a healthy weight, change happens so slowly that it’s difficult to see on a day-to-day basis, and that can be discouraging. Taking pictures and comparing them to older ones can really give you an idea of how your body is changing over time. The pic on the left is 2 years old. My husband took the pic on the right this morning as I was finishing my workout (yep, that’s sweat, sorry about that…). I am the same weight (160) in both of these pictures. See how much more balanced my top and bottom halves are? I’m carrying more mass in the form of muscle on my upper body (lower body too, though it’s not as evident, as my lower body has gotten smaller); that means less mass in the form of fat on my lower body.

In June of this year I had a hydrostatic body fat test, with a result of 12.5% body fat. I was surprised that it was that low. My focus up until then had been fat loss, and getting that result kind of threw me for a loop and required a re-evaluation of my goals. 12.5% is really toeing the line of minimum fat requirements for healthy hormonal function. It’s absolutely possible to get lower, but it’s difficult and not necessarily healthy to maintain lower BF levels for extended periods of time. So I had to sit myself down and figure out where to go from there. I decided to focus on building strength and improving performance, without worrying about scale weight. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 6 months. I’ve been eating liberally to fuel workouts and give my body the nutrients it needs to recover and repair adequately, and that’s resulted in a 5 pound weight gain, of (I’m thinking) mostly lean muscle mass. I certainly won’t be winning any figure competitions or getting any modeling contracts at this weight, but I’m healthy and strong, and were I to need to drop a few pounds of fat to get in shape for a competition (IF that were my goal, which it’s not), I could do it fairly quickly from this starting point. In other words, this is a healthy, sustainable, comfortable body for me to live in. Do I sometimes wish I had perpetually rippling abs? For sure. Do I sometimes see pictures of women with long, delicately slender legs and get a little wistful? Absolutely. But as my 40th birthday approaches I’m finding it easier and easier to accept my body for what it is: big, strong and powerful. In spite of my solid thickness, I don’t actually have a whole lot of body fat to spare, and attempting to force my body into the lithe, graceful and delicate mold society deems ‘beautiful’ would put my health at risk. I’m just not slender, never have been. Even at 12.5% body fat I am not slender.

But I can power clean 130 pounds and do 10 dead hang pullups in a row, and that’s pretty freakin’ awesome. I’ll take it. And I’ll rock it. And I’ll cheer on all the other women out there who have the guts to reject society’s mandate that women must be small and weak (or even small and strong) to be beautiful. Beauty is putting more weight over your head than the guy next to you in the gym is squatting. Beauty is not being hungry all the time. Beauty is knowing that the women you see in magazines and competition photos don’t look like that year round and have spent weeks or even months dieting down to their photo-shoot or competition weight, and are frequently dehydrated and even air-brushed. Beauty is embracing a healthy, sustainable weight and body composition, even if it isn’t quite what you wish for or what our culture deems ‘feminine’ or ‘beautiful’. Beauty is striving for strength and health, because strength and health is what you can still have in 50 years if you build it now.

I’m beautiful because I love my body and appreciate it for what it’s capable of. Doesn’t matter how many people disagree with me (a woman on the Women’s Health Facebook wall called me gross, to my ‘face’, recently, and a fellow blogger dedicated an entire blog post to ridiculing me for being ugly and manly, and speculating that I must be using steroids to achieve the results I have. Sorry, no steroids. Just hard work, lots of food and a pinch of genetics), I am beautiful because mine is the only opinion that matters when it comes to MY body. Ladies, join me! And hit the weights. Because, as my pictures up there illustrate, even if you don’t lose weight, you will be healthier and stronger and more balanced and functional. And THOSE things are beautiful.

Edit Nov. 2012:

Still 160, still thick, still strong and awesome!

11 thoughts on “A New Then and Now (or, a Thick Girl’s Manifesto)

  1. Bless.

    I can’t even tell you how encouraging this is to me.
    I am also short and thick,
    and often get frustrated that my body will never be “lithe” or “skinny”.

    (I have been working on being okay with that.)

    Thank you for being proud of your strength and ability–
    you are helping me work towards that, too.

    • I’m so glad I can encourage you! I like to keep pictures of the Williams sisters around to remind me how beautiful strong-and-not-skinny women are, plus I think it’s great for my daughter who is shaped just like me. Hopefully she can escape some of the pressure I’ve felt in my life to be something I’m not!

  2. I LOVE this post so much. I think being strong and powerful are much more admirable qualities than scrawny chicken legs and being super skinny. I hate when I hear women at the gym talk about how they’re only there to lose weight. I’M there to get stronger!
    I’ve alway been thick and muscular myself. even when I weighed much less I did not really have that skinny look.

  3. You and I have a similar build even though I am much shorter. Even when I’m in peak shape I’m not going to be wearing any form of skinny jeans. I’m built to be a powerhouse and not a waif. Which is good and I appreciate it. I like lifting and I like having a solid, compact form. I am nowhere near my peak and seeing this entry has made we want to ramp it back up. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Thanks for the feedback Katherine! I like to say ‘my thighs still touch, but not from fat any more’. I can squat my husband! Appreciating your body for what it can do, rather than for how it looks, is SO empowering. Good luck with the training! Keep us updated. 🙂

  4. I am really working hard at body acceptance and I just appreciate your posts and encouragement so very much. I think that might be the most beautiful part of you. Keep going!

  5. Your attitude is amazing. My body and I battle daily for who gets to be in charge (thanks to multiple sclerosis), so I don’t know how much weight will ever go over my head. But, I can run. I wish more people would realize that it is exhausting to constantly strive to be someone else’s ideal. Be your own ideal. Celebrate what you can do. Work hard. Don’t give up. Ever.

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  7. I’m a massage therapist, and every once in a while I get a model or an actress on my table. They don’t usually feel very healthy or energetic to me, and they seem to have particular difficulty in relaxing. I think they’re just a bit undernourished, and when you’re actually in close contact with their bodies, it’s clear that things aren’t quite right. Cameras may adore them, but — speaking for myself, anyway — health and energy are what make real human beings attractive in the real world.

    Of course, there are skinny people who feel just right, too. It’s not that there’s any particular right shape to be: it’s just that what you should be tuning to is not what pleases the cameras of fashion photographers, but what makes you feel vigorous and alive. The attractiveness will take care of itself.

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