Listening to a recent group exercise class (yes it was at a box facility) while waiting for Gia at a birthday party, the instructor completely lost me. She didn’t lose me because of some complicated exercise she was trying to explain but rather because of a few words she repeated over and over. “Come on! Get that body ready for your winter beach vacation! Think about how you want to look at those holiday parties! Picture how you will look in that dress!”
“That dress?” My brain couldn’t focus on an image of some random dress hanging in my closet. All I could think about was Gia and trying to process those words. What does my daughter think of what I do? How does she perceive exercise? And how do I look at those words/phrases differently now with my turmoiled body because I used to say them?
Gia’s brain is making sense of the world every single second, taking in verbal and non-verbal cues along with social media influences about how things work and what things mean. And when it comes to exercise, I want her to grow up seeing it as a joy, not a utility…as a gift, not a chore…as an opportunity, not an obligation. I want her to do it for the love of it, not to fit into a dress. I want her to grow up knowing that:
1. Strength equals self-sufficiency. Being strong – particularly as a woman – is empowering. It feels good to be able to carry your own luggage down the stairs if the airport escalator is broken. And it’s important to have a solid shot at outrunning a stranger should you meet one in a dark alley.
2. Fitness opens doors. Being healthy and fit can help you see the world with a fresh set of eyes. The planet looks different from a bike or a pair of skis than it does from a car or an airplane. Out in the elements you have the time and space to notice details, meet people, remember smells and mud, rain and the feeling of warm sunshine on your face. And those are the moments that make up your life.
3. The bike is the new golf course. Being fit may help you get a seat at the table. Networking is no longer restricted to the golf course, and the stronger you are – and the more people you can hang with on the road and trail – the more people you’ll meet.
4. Exercise is a lifestyle, not an event. Being an active person isn’t about taking a class three times a week at the gym. It’s about biking to the grocery store or parking your car in the back of the lot or walking instead of taking a cab or catching up with friends on a hiking trail instead of a bar stool.
5. Health begets health. Healthy behavior inspires healthy behavior – exercise, healthy eating, solid sleep, positive relationships. These things are all related.
6. Endorphins help you cope. A good sweat session can clear the slate. You will have days when nothing seems to go right…when you’re dizzy with frustration or crying in despair. A workout can often turn your day or week around.
7. Working out signals hard-working. The discipline required to work out on a regular basis signals success. Someone recently told me they are more likely to hire marathon runners and mountain climbers because of the level of commitment that goes into those pursuits.
8. If you feel beautiful, you look beautiful. Looking beautiful starts on the inside. And being fit and strong feels beautiful.
9. Maintaining fitness and wellness can prove to be beneficial with recovery when undergoing a health crisis. I know all too well.
10. Eyes are always watching. We learn from each other. You may have a daughter—or a niece or a neighbor or a friend – one day. And that little girl will be watching and listening to everything you say and do. What messages do you want her to hear?
I will not talk to Gia about fitting into “that dress” nor anyone else for that matter. But I will talk to her about what it sounds like to hear pine needles crunching under my feet and what it feels like to cross a finish line and how special it is to see the world on foot. And I will talk to her about hard work and self sufficiency. I will teach her the joy of working out by showing her I love it.
And I’ll leave the rest up to her.