Head Games: A Reality Check On Self Acceptance

It's easy to get hung up on physical flaws when you strive for perfection. Debunk the idea of a perfect body and learn how to redefine your self-worth.

Admit it. You secretly check that "problem spot" you are self-conscious about a few times each day. Whether it's the fat deposit on your hip or the spot on your thigh, you've poked it, squished it, or just stared at it for minutes on end. Really, how do you feel about your body when nobody else is looking? The answer may affect your self-worth more than you think.

There isn't a week that goes by where I don't get an email or a text message from someone saying something along the lines of "Abby, I wish I could do what you do," or "I'd kill to have your physique." And, while I'm so grateful for the compliments, I'm no better or worse than anyone else out there.

Fitness modeling is fun, but it perpetuates the illusion of perfection. I'm not perfect. I have problem spots. Just ask the judges who see me on stage. Stretch marks, breakouts, cellulite? You bet I have them. Heck, I was born with cellulite, struggled with my weight for many years, and even now, five years into my fitness pursuit, I still strive for balance between contest living and normal life. It's pretty normal for me to gain 15 pounds after a show even though off-season gains are only supposed to be 5-8 pounds, tops.

The funny thing about getting in shape is that no one warns you that it takes years for your brain to catch up to what you see in the mirror. I can logically understand that I'm a size 4 or 6 when I'm not "contest lean." I know that's awesome, especially coming from a size 12/14. Yet, even though it's not realistic, my brain expects me to be contest lean all year round.

If you struggle with head games that keep you from achieving true self-acceptance, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Pass on Perfection, It Doesn't Exist

"The fitness models you idealize as perfect specimens also have things they're self-
conscious about. We all criticize ourselves."

I was lucky enough to shoot with a world-renowned fitness photographer back in March, which was an incredible and eye-opening experience. I remember wincing as we went through some of my unedited proofs because the images were not what I was hoping for.

He started laughing. All the top fitness models he'd shot, he said, had reacted the same way. "Even some of the most beautiful men and women on earth find something that bothers them on their bodies or in photographs," he said.

The fitness models you idealize as perfect specimens also have things they're self-conscious about. We all criticize ourselves.

Remember that the models and icons you see in magazines and online didn't get that way overnight. They worked hard and were dedicated to their goals for years.

Everyone starts somewhere and it's about challenging yourself, growing, and constantly learning.

Step Away from the Computer Screen and Hang up the Comparisons

What is the No. 1 way to drive your physique straight into the psych ward? Page through other people's Facebook pages and professional photos and compare their bodies to your own. You'll likely never take into consideration lighting, better angles, professional cameras, or the possibility that this could just be one stellar shot out of dozens—even hundreds. Nothing will leave you more discouraged.

According to researchers at the University of Houston, time spent on Facebook is linked to depressive symptoms and a tendency to compare ourselves with others.1

Many fitness models drive themselves insane comparing themselves to fitness models X, Y, or Z. These are gorgeous women with physiques that 99 percent of the population would swoon to have. And yet, they incessantly compare themselves to the Jamie Eason-Middletons, Chady Dunmores, and Jen Jewells of the world. I ask them: "Do you realize you're someone else's Jamie?"

"It's OK to respect Jamie Eason-Middleton, Chady Dunmore, and Jen Jewell (from left to right), but you don't have look just like them. Be your best self and find happiness with your own figure."

Accept Your Genetic Predisposition

It's important to accept the cards you were dealt at birth. I was born with cellulite, and there isn't much I can do about it. I can train and diet, but that doesn't make the problem go away entirely. I'm also naturally pear-shaped and am a hip-and-thigh gainer. I have to work with what I've been given, and it might take me longer to attain my ultimate goals. Just as I can't help these things, you can't change the cards you've been dealt.

You might be genetically predisposed to specific fat deposits. Your ethnicity might play a role in how lean you're able to get. You might have a harder time metabolizing carbohydrates efficiently. Help yourself achieve results by researching training techniques for your specific body type. Be willing to tinker and experiment with your training and diet techniques.

Recognize That Everyone Is in a Different Spot in Life

"Just 20 minutes of cardio or weightlifting per day is major progress. Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator. Get started."

Not everyone can be held to the same standards. You might have two or three kids at home, may be unable to afford a gym membership, or simply don't have the time to work out every day.

The people you see doing physique contests and gracing magazine covers may have totally different schedules, lifestyles, and demands than you. Don't let their accomplishment lessen your own.

Major progress can be made by doing just 20 minutes of cardio or weightlifting per day or opting for the stairs instead of the elevator.

Be sure to set doable goals that act as milestones to keep you on track and challenge you without being so far out of reach that they're unattainable.

Doing a circuit of 20 burpees, 20 lunges, 20 V-ups, and 10 planks four times won't take long, but will produce a sweat.

Try taking family walks in the evening or involving your children in your fitness. Are you still short on time? Make sure your diet remains clean.

Having healthy food and snacks available will make all the difference.

Value Character and Experience First

It all boils down to one quick statement: Looks aren't everything. Don't forget that the person you are far exceeds the physique you walk around with. Your body can be fantastic, but if you're a rotten person, who cares? Having a better body won't fix personality flaws, past mistakes, or looming personal conflicts. Fitness isn't a Band-aid.

Don't fall into the trap: "If I just looked like X, Y, or Z then everything would be better." It simply isn't true. The eyes tend to lag behind the body a bit. You might not be able to see progress as quickly as you hoped.

Pass on the scale and instead gauge your success by how your clothes fit, how well you sleep, your alertness during the day, and your energy as a whole.

You're Awesome

You know you are. You have your own skill set, abilities, intelligence, and accomplishments. Focus on what makes you unique. Who cares if you have a body part that isn't perfect? Everyone struggles to turn down a homemade brownie and the occasional slice of pizza. Don't get down on yourself. It's not worth it.

In your moment of struggle, re-assess your goals. Remember why you started. Recall the feeling of belief that sparked your decision to make a change in the first place. Grasp it again! Hold your head high and push past the occasional slip up.

"Focus on what makes you unique. Who cares if you have a body part that isn't perfect? Everyone struggles to turn down a homemade brownie and the occasional slice of pizza."

Channeling frustration and anxieties from day-to-day life is a great way to expel them, but never exercise as a form of punishment. Look at your training as a form of catharsis. Grind out your woes and turn those feelings into a sense of empowerment. Training should be a cleansing for your body—emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Mental clarity and "a-ha" moments often occur during workouts. Make sure to use the energy expelled to better you, not hurt you in the long run. Stop beating yourself up and be proactive. You're amazing!