And The Importance of Distinguishing Between External and Internal Motivation
Let’s get something out of the way because I know this article is going to infuriate some people: Women can, and should, do whatever they want with their bodies.
The why behind our goals and actions in regards to changing our bodies, however, may benefit from an evaluation.
First, I stated in a previous article that I refuse to ‘embrace my flaws,’ and encouraged you to do the same. Things like cellulite and stretch marks and wrinkles are labeled ‘flaws,’ and we’re told to fix them, or embrace them.
I think that’s stupid. There’s nothing to ‘embrace’ because these things aren’t flaws in the first place. To me they’re not good, or bad. They’re just there. Like my big toe on my left foot; I don’t look at it and think, “Well, damn. That is a sexy toe,” nor do I declare, “Oh my goodness that thing is hideous. I’m so embarrassed by this flaw.”
We can choose for ourselves how to label our physical features. We don’t have to passively accept the declarations of marketers or society.
A reader posed an excellent question after the ‘don’t embrace your flaws’ article was published: Am I suggesting that women shouldn’t change anything about themselves? What about getting braces, coloring your hair, or operations like breast augmentations?
I remember years ago questioning a woman about her decision to get a breast augmentation. I didn’t get it: “Why do you care what other people think? Why can’t you just be proud of your body the way it is?” I asked. Her response still rings in my ears: “I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m doing this for me.”
This woman wasn’t getting breast implants to gain the praise of anyone else or because she thought it would make her more valuable; she didn’t care about what anyone may think and, thankfully, that included my opinion. It was about her and doing something that would boost her confidence.
This ‘for her’ part is crucial.
External Versus Internal Motivation
There’s a difference between losing weight or augmenting your boobs to increase your confidence and doing it because you think it will make other people like you more. I know many women who’ve had breast augmentations, tummy-tucks, and braces because it was something they wanted to do, for themselves. It was a catalyst for confidence.
I’ve also known women who thought getting larger breasts or losing weight would make them more valuable or happy; that doing so would gain the approval of others. Unfortunately, these individuals usually still are not happy, even after the operation or weight loss. That’s because their reasons for making these changes were external: other people’s opinions, etc. (Some had an underlying issue that needed to be addressed.)
This mindset can be applied to daily activities like determining what clothes you wear, how you shape your eyebrows, and the makeup you use. For many the choices revolve around what makes them feel most confident. As an example, I don’t wear much makeup because if I did, I’d feel uncomfortable.
Then, there are some who are applying a façade each morning. They’re playing the part they think the world expects them to embrace.
So, should women change their bodies?
You know the answer to that, but I would encourage women to analyze the Why? behind her goals and actions.
Is your desire for a physical change driven by a rational, internal desire (e.g., I want to improve my health, boost my confidence, make my life better) or is it fueled by an obsessive, absolute, external force (e.g., I have to reach my goal weight so other people will finally like me)?
Take the time to understand the Why? driving your choices and actions.
What About Women Interested in Aesthetics?
Back to the world of health and fitness, let’s not forget the group of individuals who love the challenge and thrill of training for purely aesthetic purposes. To many who prefer a typical bodybuilding- or figure-type approach with strength training, to them it’s an art form. They enjoy the process and challenge of enhancing certain muscles and learning new methods to make others ‘pop’ and grow.
The individuals I’ve seen who don’t end up with body dysmorphic disorder or other issues (like binge eating) are in it for the process and their happiness isn’t dependent on a specific outcome. Likewise, they know being in ‘contest shape’ (i.e., having very low body fat) year-round isn’t sustainable or practical. I’ve seen the dark side too: those who are never satisfied and think the next goal will make them happy, or they attempt to maintain very low body fat levels year-round despite losing their period, hormones being out of whack, feeling like a steamy bag of poo most of the time, or other negative effects.
As a personal example, I’ve tried to change my body because I thought it would gain the praise of others and ‘make me happy,’ versus internally driven goals. There was a time I tried to ‘hate my way’ back to skinny; I was trying to attain the physique I thought other people would approve of. I thought achieving my ‘goal weight’ would make me happy. None of it did.
Contrast that with why I strength train today: because it’s fun; because I like the challenge; because it’s an activity that makes me the best version of myself. It’s about the process and not a specific result. The workout I do today is its own reward. The next meal I eat will be enjoyable, leave me satisfied, and help me perform at my best — there is no guilt when I eat something like ice cream and I never use exercise for punishment.
Other people praising or disdaining my physical appearance is irrelevant; I don’t do these things for anyone but myself. I like getting stronger and discovering by body’s potential.
That said …
Your body is your body. You can, and should, do whatever the hell you want with it. You don’t need anyone’s permission, nor should the opinions of others* be a determining factor in what you do with your body. Do what you want — straighten your teeth, lose excess fat, build muscle, or get insanely strong — and own the hell out of it. Do so because you want to, not because you think it’s a flaw that needs to be fixed, and not because you think achieving those goals will make you happy.
(*For goodness’ sake I’m not suggesting you wear pajama pants and have a disheveled appearance when you go to work in the name of ‘not caring what other people think’ in regards to any action you take; that’s typically a trait of a psycho- or sociopath. There’s a way to dress and act with integrity; that’s what I’m referring to. As an example, I don’t care if someone thinks my outfit would look better with high heels — I’d rather use sandpaper for my dinner napkin then have those things on my feet.)
If something would be your catalyst to greater confidence, then go for it.
If you think looking a certain way or reaching a certain bodyweight will make you more valuable or make other people like you more, then reevaluate your actions and goals.
Motivation should be internal — that’s what allows you to become the best version of yourself.