I was recently chatting with a friend of mine, who I shared workout and diet plans with several years ago. We would trade “progress” photos and encourage each other that we looked more ripped, or leaner, or if things went in the other direction, that the changes weren’t that noticeable. Catching up with him made me realize that I’ve gradually let go of the “Goal Body” illusion, which made me think about all the reasons why I had body goals in the first place. It made me think about what kind of life I thought my goal body would bring me. It made me think about the paradigm “body goals” sets up, that our bodies are objects to be improved, not living beings. It also made me think about the time, energy, and stress I spent trying to achieve them.
The truth is, even at my smallest and leanest, I wanted to be smaller and leaner. My body goals were photos of women who had spent lifetimes at the gym, and counting their macros. I’m hoping for their sake that was the extent of commitment. I’m hoping it didn’t include anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, bulimia, or orthorexia. If it did include those things, they weren’t sharing the details in the caption of their perfectly edited bikini photos.
I thought having my goal body would make me more acceptable and give me greater social currency. Our society does reward thinness, so I may not have been totally off base here. What I didn’t realize was everything I would need to trade for the goal body.
I thought having my goal body would give me more confidence and raise my self esteem, but chasing the goal body constantly reminded me I wasn’t measuring up. It taught me somehow I could always be working harder and committing more. No matter what, I never quite looked like the women I idolized, (shocker, I’M NOT THEM) and seeing their photos filled me with both longing and shame. I couldn’t ever fully appreciate the massive amount of effort I put in because of how easily that “progress” could slip away. I spent most of my free energy focusing on what I should be eating and what kind of workouts I should be doing.
I once lashed out at my husband for buying me candy when we went to the movies, because body goals. I pushed myself through workouts when I was sick, because body goals. I “fasted” before going out to eat because body goals.
I was mostly really afraid of getting fat. Again, there’s an entire social dynamic built around demonizing people in fat bodies, so this isn’t shocking. But my fat phobia told me body goals were an insurance policy, to being treated decently, as a human.
To have my worth acknowledged, I felt I had to jump through painful, exhausting, and limiting hoops.
Today, I honor my body for carrying me through my days, enabling me to soak up nature, to spend time with my loved ones, and accomplish goals so much bigger than my aesthetics. The most tempting goal body illusion for me to fall into now, is one of a past self where I worked out harder or ate a different way. It’s easy to look back on past versions of myself and wish for that version of my body back. I know others experience this too, especially moms with the incredible social pressure to “bounce back”. I want to remind all of us, whether we have real babies or book babies now, that we are not past versions of ourselves. I’ll take some extra pounds with all the experiences of the last several years any day.
Letting go of body goals has been a gradual, but incredibly freeing journey. My journey won’t be prescriptive for anyone else, but maybe these guide posts will help someone release the idea of a goal body:
Practice Self reflection: Do some soul searching and ask yourself what benefits you believe achieving your goal body will bring. Does this line up with your core beliefs and values, or does it come from stories society tells us?
Practice Compassion: When you notice a thought judging your body or the bodies of others, inject some compassion into that moment. Remind yourself that your body has adapted to support you as best it can, and remember that you don’t know others stories.
Practice Gratitude: Think about all the ways your body has supported you in life. All the amazing things you have been able to experience in your body, the moments you’ve been able to share with those close to you, the times your body alerted you to danger or your reflexes saved the day. Take a moment to thank your body for all it does.
Practice Embodiment: Do you think of your body as an object to be improved or as a living being? Is it a someTHING or a someONE? When we learn to respect the full breadth of our bodies as beings instead objectifying ourselves, our perspective shifts.
Zoom Out: One of the most helpful things for me has been zooming out and realizing where the social emphasis on thinness comes from. Reading and researching the history of diet culture, and realizing that it’s a marketing scheme designed to steal our money, time, and energy, has been galvanizing. Pay attention to how powerful structures in society treat folks in different kinds of bodies, and decide how you want to interact with them. Will you let them dictate your worthiness? It takes a while for knowledge to influence how we FEEL about ourselves, but it’s an important beginning.
Curate: Do an evaluation of how much media you consume glorifying a perfect body, weight loss, and thinness. Start curating your social media and looking for ways to opt out of diet talk in person. Unfollow anything that makes you feel ashamed of who you are, and follow / subscribe to folks who build up the authentic version of you.
Focus: Take stock of how much time, energy, and money, you spend on achieving the Goal Body and evaluate if that’s where you want to be spending your resources. Does chasing the elusive goal body bring you joy?
Let's find ways to release this illusion of a "goal" body together.