Of athleticism and beauty —
I remember a time when strong wasn’t always beautiful. Growing up as both a dancer and an athlete, I’ve always shared a tenuous relationship with my body. Piling on expectations after expectations, pushing limit after limit; I guess that can sometimes make you want, more than what you’re given.
As an athlete, your body is both your temple and yet can at times feel like your worst enemy. It is at once the holy place of growth and also a battlefield where you may feel undermined and incompetent. I vividly recall when I didn’t like the size of my calves, or growing up feeling like my thighs were too muscular to be considered “beautiful”.
Yet, we know fitness to transcend physicality. So this week, I ask strong women: what role does fitness play in their life, and what lessons has it taught them. From spin and barre instructor Tiong Jia En, to YouTuber and personal trainer Tyen Rasif, as well as host, DJ and yoga enthusiast Naomi Yeo, we explore the relationship between athleticism and beauty.
What Should A “Woman” Look Like?
While everyone exercises for a different reason — Jia En for the mental challenge it offers, Tyen in her quest to become stronger, Naomi for pure enjoyment of the art form; being in the spotlight often renders negative comments a commonplace. Interestingly, but (unfortunately) unsurprisingly, much of the narrative centers around what it means to “look like a woman”.
Jia En has been told that she is “too skinny, too “vein-y”, too toned for a lady”. While Tyen has to put up with opinions that deem her “too muscular” for a girl, some dictate that “women should not lift weights [for it makes them] bulky and unfeminine”. Naomi, on the other hand, confesses: “the most negative comments I’ve heard about my body came from my own mouth”.
Reclaiming Our Stories
We are our harshest critics and it doesn’t help that the world seems to have an opinion always ready to be shoved down our throats. This begs the question: how do we deal with comments, be it from others or ourselves, that make us feel less than worthy, or compare ourselves to other people?
Jia En adopts a nonchalant stance to online comments: Having an online presence for years made me pretty bullet-proof to external opinion.
Tyen turns inward with a laser focus that blazes the path towards self-acceptance: I realised that the only opinion I needed to accept was my own.
Naomi confronts the conversation she has been having with her own body, digging deep to figure out her own insecurities: It made me self-evaluate the kind of relationships I’ve been having and the kind I’d like to have in my future. It was tough confronting myself with some hard honest truths, but there is courage and total freedom when you wholeheartedly believe in your worth!
What does that leave us with? Perhaps it is the simple understanding that no amount of exercise and external change can make you see yourself and all the light you carry. Acceptance and love swells from within, when you open your eyes to the incredible things this vessel does for you.
The Pursuit Of Self-Love
I end the interviews asking the ladies how fitness has transformed their relationships with their body; investigating how the transformative powers of exercise go beyond the physical.
Above: Jia En
For Jia En, a career made out of fitness has made her “more conscious about giving my body the balance it needs, learning to tune in and listen to my body”. Tyen has learned that “Fitness is more than the way you look. But more importantly how you feel!” Working out and eating well is in the pursuit of a strong, healthy body: “I am grateful for a healthy body that helps me fulfill tasks everyday to my full potential”. For Naomi, Yoga has taught her to “always try.” Beyond that, as a person that is often hard on herself, the knowledge that “there is no comparing in yoga” has also brought her much peace.
One thing becomes clear: fitness as a lifestyle transcends the superficiality of “body goals”. It is the pursuit of well being and self-love in the fullness of itself, that renders all comments and judgement as superficial and irrelevant. Someone judging your body and commenting off their first instinct will never see or understand the amount of work (both physical and mental) you have put in to get here. Self-acceptance is a process, but there are definitely lessons we can learn from working with our physical body.
I Want To Thank My Body
So I want to thank my body for the amazing things it has done for me, for holding the weight of my existence, for allowing me to create, for taking me places, for challenging, changing and most of all accepting me, in the entirety of my complex self.
Whether you’re an athlete, a fitness fanatic or just an everyday person who’s dabbling into the world of fitness, exercising has something to offer. As you delve into the world of sports and fitness, I hope you can always remember: Exercise because you love your body, not because you hate it.