Shaping Up

Shapes of colours!

A good example of shapes. Image by Alessandro Pinna via Flickr

Here’s another expression to add to the banned list: “get in shape”.  Let’s just throw it out, along with cankles, fat days, bikini body, and all those other insidious phrases that really only serve to highlight all the ways in which we find ourselves inadequate.

I will readily admit that lately the idea of getting into shape has been sneaking into my thoughts a bit too often.  I woke up this morning feeling sore from the yoga I did yesterday.  My first thought: ugh, I’m so out of shape.  My running has been a bit inconsistent lately, and I find myself wondering if I need to get into better shape.  Every now and then, I’ll catch myself thinking this way and feel the urge to grab myself by the shoulders and give a good shake.  “Wake up!” I want to yell to myself. “Get in shape?  What does that even mean?!”

Obviously I know what the meaning of the word ‘shape’ is, and I also understand what’s meant when people use the term ‘get into shape’.  However, the phrase’s implications extend beyond its literal meaning: when I tell myself I need to get into shape, what I’m really saying is that the body I have is wrong, and I need to change it physically in order to make it right.  After all, what ‘shape’ are we talking about if not the shape of the ideal ‘healthy’ body?

Although I’ve said it a million times, it always bears repeating that health and fitness do not come in one size.  They don’t come in one shape, either, and when we use expressions that even benignly suggest that they do, we do ourselves a big disservice.  I may be sore from yoga, but what that means is that I should probably start practicing more consistently again; the quality of my runs may be uneven, but that could be the result of a number of things, like the intense heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing lately.  Neither of these things has anything to do with my body, and there’s no guarantee that they would be any less a problem if I were to trim my problem areas, flatten my tummy, and firm up my glutes in order to fit into the ‘shape’ that we tend to associate with being fit and healthy.

And so: a ban on getting in shape.  We can replace it with descriptions of what we actually need, and do away with this idea that being thin and perfect will solve our problems once and for all.  Maybe we can even come up with some new, more positive phrases.  Any suggestions?  Share them in the comments below!

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  1. I love this post, Emilie! I couldn’t agree with you more. The words seem innocuous, but when we stack up all those “benign” phrases, we get a big load of body-negativity and thin-pressure.

  2. I think this is fascinating. Even when I was practicing yoga regularly several times a week it was still possible for a particularly challenging class to leave me sore. Or when I was a much faster runner (so when I was a “better” runner, don’t get me started on how speed is equated with ability in running) hard track workouts could beat me up just as badly as they do now. I never saw that as an indication of being unfit so much as it was a positive thing – like, that was hard and made me sweat and now will make me a better yogini or runner. (I guess what I’m trying to say is, also consider that “I need to get in shape” or even its replacements of “I need to run more” or “I need to practice more consistently” are another form of self-criticism, sometimes valid and sometimes invalid.)

    I never really gave any thought before to how “getting in shape” was ultimately a reference to one’s body, aka one’s shape. Thanks for that!

    1. Very good point on the alternate form of self-criticism. I was just about to self-criticize and say how bad I am about that–LOLZ. It’s really interesting, though, how self-criticism becomes so common that you get to a point where you no longer realize you’re doing it. Having someone else point those things out can be really helpful, so thanks for that 🙂

  3. Interesting… because I’ve been thinking to myself a lot lately, “When I get out of this boot/cast… I’m going to work hard at getting in the best shape of my life.” And you’re right, it’s not really the way I should be approaching this. I still have the desire to be more balanced in my approach to health and wellness, which is all part of my plan to be in “the best shape” but I need to rephrase my approach! Thank you!

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