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As a female, I see pictures like this all the time. My initial thoughts are usually either, “Wow. I want to look like that! I’ve gotta workout more”, or depending on the day, “Sh!t, I’m busting my butt at the gym, eaten like a rabbit for months now, how come I don’t look like that?” Picture like this portray a societal ‘ideal’ for women that is generally unattainable for most of us mortals. Yet through this picture, we are told that this is what female fitness and health ‘should’ look like. That one must be incredibly lean and cut in order to be considered fit.

image001In reality nothing could be further from the truth. *Most* pictures like this are extremely contrived, shot by a professional. Taken at a time when the person has cut their diet specifically for the photo, not to mention all the camera and lighting trickery that goes along with creating the shot. I’m here to tell you that these photos are NOT representative of real life for most women. I won’t lie, these pictures are absolutely gorgeous, but are only a snapshot of a highly manipulated moment.

* I say most because of course there are a few out there who are blessed with the genetics of the gods, who can easily maintain an extremely lean physique without camera trickery and causing hormonal imbalances.

My second point is that maintaining a female body at 10% body fat (or less) is generally not healthy or sustainable for an extended period of time. The fat surrounding your internal organs and breast tissue make up a certain amount of necessary body fat, and is essential for life and a natural hormonal balance. So, what does ‘natural hormonal balance’ mean? One common result is that a woman may stop ovulating as a result of being extremely lean. This is not healthy. It’s one thing if performance is your goal, as winning is the ultimate end game and health may take a back seat. But for others who strive to be ‘ripped’ while still wanting to be healthy, these goals can be at odds with each other.

Despite this, there are armies of women out there who think that they must have this extraordinarily lean physique in order to be “fit” and are willing to try anything and everything to get there. This starts the spiral of despair that I see time and time again. When she inevitably fails to reach the desired physique, or fails to maintain it for any amount of time and is thrown back into the negative mental cycle of not being good enough, fit enough, and now add a failure on top of it all. This cycle will continue, as she repeatedly is unable to reach and maintain this mythical lean physique, all the while crushing her metabolism and endocrine system.

How is this healthy and inspirational?

Now, don’t get me wrong. This post is not intended as an excuse to do nothing. I am not saying that valuing your health and fitness is not important. I am not saying that if being happy with your body means you’d like to lose some weight is wrong. I am here to say that the devil is in the detail. The why, what, and how you go about achieving your goals matter.

So what is the answer? I’m afraid there is no single one answer. It depends on the individual. For me, health and fitness comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s important that people see and understand what “real” fitness is and in turn discover what fitness is to them – not what it looks like in print. Seek out a true fitness professional to work with and learn what real fitness is for you. What works for YOUR body, YOUR goals, and YOUR lifestyle.

– Written by Van