With spring well and truly underway and summer just around the corner, the magazine shelves are already being stocked up with the latest "lose weight fast!" and "tone up, get lean!" glossies. Women's Health US may have vowed to ban the words "bikini body" and "drop two sizes" from their covers, but Brit mags are yet to follow suit, and even without those specific words, the insinuation still lingers that, for women, health and fitness means to lose weight, while for men, it means to get strong.
I have to apologise for the slightly misleading post title - I'm not here to tell you diet or exercise tips to sculpt tight muscles and reveal rippling abs. I think we're all starting to learn by now that confidence shouldn't be about aesthetics, and the more we can move away from that unachievable ideal, the better. And, thankfully, more and more fitness industry professionals are shouting this from the rooftops.
In a bid to stand up to the depiction of a healthy and fit body and absolve women of the body dissatisfaction and disordered eating that so often follows the damaging messages we see every day, two such forces, the #GirlGains and Protein Pow, recently came together to put on an event centred around self-love, mindfulness, and the true meaning of health and fitness.
Empower, Educate and Inspire
Feeling frustrated by the fitness industry, the media and their constant misrepresentation of health and fitness, the #GirlGains, founded by Zanna van Dijk, Tally Rye and Victoria Spence, and Protein Pow's Anna Sward, decided to take the issue into their own hands. Together, they planned an afternoon of celebration of female health and fitness topics and Protein Pow set to work making the event come to life, with the help of venue, Third Space Canary Wharf, and sponsors, Holland & Barrett, Linwood Foods and Meridian Foods.
Complete with talks on body confidence, disordered eating, the power of positivity and the importance of mindfulness, there was no stone left unturned. Here are my top three takeaways from the day, which just might help you build confidence:
Decide to be Positive
Not liking yourself is a choice. If you wake up every day and look in the mirror only to pick yourself apart, that's a decision you are making not to like yourself. Life coach, Jacqueline Hurst, explained how we have around 60,000 thoughts a day, and each one of those thoughts has the capacity to dictate how you feel. If you think you're worthless, you'll feel worthless. So decide to love yourself, or at the very least accept yourself.
Look for Inspiration, not Comparison
With the rise of social media, the "show reels" of thousands of women are quite literally at our fingertips. If you can take inspiration from these images and stories without turning it into a game of spot-the-difference then that can only be a good thing. But when inspiration becomes comparison, suddenly self-worth takes a nose dive and social media becomes a place for beating yourself up rather than the community it can be if you look with the right mind-set.
In our fast-paced lives it's easy to get caught up in high stress levels and not give ourselves the time to wind down and relax. Author and yogi Nicola Jane Hobbs took the group through a meditation sequence, dispelling the myth that meditation has to be a structured event with whale song and essential oils. Simply take 10 minutes per day just to sit or lie in quiet, organise your thoughts and reflect. Her advice? Focus on a candle or on your breathing; "re-" on your inhale, "-lax" on your exhale.
Of course an event hosted by Protein Pow wouldn't be an event without snacks, so we set to work on making our own protein bars using Protein Pow's cooking mixes and supplies from the sponsors. The room was filled with the smell of peanut butter and the laughter and excitement of 80+ fitness fanatics rolling protein dough into balls with sticky, peanut buttery hands.
Making your own protein bars and balls means you can more easily avoid the "get lean" messages plastered all over shop-bought products these days, and enjoy food for what it is!
In a world where ridiculous trends such as the #A4waist challenge quickly gain momentum it's sometimes hard to remain grounded and not fall into the trap of body shaming and quick-fix diets. Thankfully, more and more of us are becoming wise to the messages of social media, and the general media, and this is only set to get stronger as communities such as the #GirlGains grow. Join the movement by following @thegirlgains on Instagram and Twitter, and exploring the hashtag. Don't forget to use it on your own posts too!
What are your thoughts on the way women's health and fitness is portrayed? And do you love yourself? I'd love to read your comments below, or you can tweet me @fitcetera.
For more information on the #GirlGains head over to my Getting to Know the #GirlGains post, where I caught up with the girls and recorded a fun Mr & Mrs style paddle round for YouTube!
Photos by James Drew Turner, illustrations by Anna Sward, Protein Pow.