HOW TO CONQUER YOUR FEAR OF FEELING JUDGED WHEN YOU EXERCISE
More than half of women fear being judged by exercising, and for many, that fear is enough to sideline them to a sedentary lifestyle.
In fact, the Victorian This Girl Can campaign blames this perceived judgement for the fact 60 percent of Australian women are not sufficiently active. "Women were worried about being judged for being too sweaty, having a red face, changing in front of other people, getting too muscular, or not appearing feminine enough,” VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter tells The Guardian.
"Women [also] felt like they were being judged for spending time exercising when they should be with family, because that’s more important. Or that they should be with friends, or studying, or working. [They also worried about] not being fit enough, not [being] good enough, not knowing the rules [or] holding the team back.”
Shelley Lask, from Body Positive Health & Fitness, believes a lot of this judgement stems from our culture having very rigid ideas of what exercise is and should look like. "'Diet culture' pushes the message that exercise has to be 'hardcore' to count as exercise, which is not the case at all,” she states.
"Diet culture [also] tells us that we're not good enough, that we can't trust our bodies and that the only people who are truly obedient to diet culture and meet the thin/fit ideal deserve to enjoy their bodies." But if we can challenge these outdated perceptions and re-frame exercise, Lask says many women can find joy in moving their bodies once more. Here's how.
Know you deserve to move
Lask is a firm believer that moving our bodies is our birthright and that there are no "right" ways of going about it. "Women need to know that their body belongs to them alone and they deserve to take up space and treat their bodies with unconditional respect and care," she says. "Moving your body can be joyful and empowering and [you] don't owe it to anyone to look pretty, feminine or coordinated while you exercise – or at all." As for the idea of being selfish for taking the time to exercise, Lask says this is sadly misguided. "Being physically active improves your physical and mental health, so taking time out for it is no more selfish than cleaning your teeth or getting enough sleep," she points out. "Everyone deserves to care for themselves and enjoy their bodies … and you can't pour from an empty cup!"
Find something you enjoy
If you're not ready to exercise in public, Lask says there are myriad ways to move from the comfort of your own home that will have fantastic health benefits. "You could do gardening, lift weights, jog on a treadmill, follow YouTube exercise, dance or yoga videos or hire a mobile personal trainer," she says. "If you do want to exercise outside the home, look for a gym, dance studio or sports club with a supportive or inclusive culture or consider some informal outdoor options, such as parks or walking trails." As for worries you're not naturally skilled enough for certain exercises or sports, Lask says it's important to remember that nobody starts out as a master. "Our bodies adapt to the stimulus we provide them, so there's no need to be naturally strong – it's something that can be built up over time," she says. "It can be useful to think of coordination as a skill that can be improved over time too."
Focus on how it feels, not how it looks
If you're worried about getting started exercising, Lask suggests having an "inside-out" focus rather than an "outside-in" focus (where we imagine or check what we look like from the outside). "[An inside-out focus means] noticing the sensations in our bodies, focusing on lifting the weight or catching the ball or feeling determined or invigorated," she explains. "Exercising is an opportunity for us to really connect to our bodies, remembering that our internal experience is important because we are important [and are] more than objects to be looked at."