By Brian Grissom
It was still dark outside and the coffee had just finished brewing. My weekend ritual of putting on my running clothes, getting a cup of coffee and then sitting on the couch was in full swing. 10 years ago I used to be able to roll out of bed, put on my shoes and hit the trails without a thought to things like “stretching” or “warming up”. But it’s different now, and the couch plays a big role. I only sit for a few minutes. Once the coffee hits the system, I’m awake and head out into the pre dawn. But it’s those few minutes on the couch that can sometimes make the difference.
I think I’m like most people. When I have a few minutes of downtime, my first thought is to open up my phone and get some thumb exercising in. Part of that rhythm is going to your favorite platform to...I don’t know...see what’s up? I’m a runner, so most of the people that I follow are also runners. I love the sport and love keeping up with races locally and internationally. So most days when I look at images, it’s beautiful vistas accompanied by impeccably in shape athletes. Their strides...perfect. Their kit...on point. Their physique...every runner's dream. And,while some of the time I can appreciate the image for what it is, there are other times that, well, I can’t. As I open the door and start my morning shuffle those images that are meant to inspire can do quite the opposite.
Someone asks me recently if I thought that men had the same body image issues as women and I replied, rather quickly, “I don’t think so.” But the times that I spout off an answer so quickly, it’s either because I’ve thought about it a lot or, I haven’t at all. In this instance, it was the latter. Also, just a quick reflection of my last weekend's run could have told me otherwise. So I started digging, and what I found was eye opening.
According to a recent study, “95% of college age men are dissatisfied with their bodies on some level” (Daniel & Bridges 2013). Another study suggests that “over 90% of men struggle in some way with body dissatisfaction and negative affect and emotions towards one’s body” (Castonguay et al. 2014). I’m no mathematician...but that’s a lot. When I see numbers that high I instinctively reflect on my experience. Am I part of the 90%? If so, what is fueling that negativity? And most importantly, why haven’t I ever felt the need to talk about this if I’ve felt this way?
If I’m honest, just reading those statistics gave me a sense of freedom. I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder, but I know men who have. That said, I’m not sure you have to have an eating disorder to suffer the effects of negative body image. Because body image can be a voice that we’ve become so accustomed to listening to, we can forget that it’s a negative voice.
The trail running community is a beautiful mix of people. That’s one of the reasons why I love it so much. When I completed my first 100 miler, I ran with all kinds of people from all walks of life and all looked completely different. It was amazing. But just like any community, it’s so easy to compare ourselves. Whether that be wishing you were 10lbs lighter to wishing you were 10 years younger to wishing that your knees didn’t pop so much (I’m totally speaking from experience). But it’s what the comparison can do overtime that can lead to unhealthy choices and toxic thoughts about our bodies. Teddy Roosevelt said it perfectly, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and isn’t joy one of the feelings we long for when we run in nature? Joy is the manifestation of what a healthy body and healthy community look and feel like. Joy isn’t just a happy face, it’s a deep peace and full understanding of where we are in the moment and the gift of life we have.
This even connects with nature. Think about this for a second. Nature is infinitely honest. It can only be what it is at that moment and in that season. Maybe that’s why we all love running in it so much. It constantly reminds us what honesty looks like. It reminds us that we have an infinite amount of possible versions of ourselves, but today we look like this. It doesn’t mean we’ll always look like this and that’s not a bad thing. But in order to get from one version of ourselves to the other, we have to be honest with ourselves...now. That’s the heart behind this. Honesty. Just because male body image isn’t talked about doesn’t mean it doesn't exist and as a trail running community this dialogue is vital because our body types are so diverse. Because the more honest we are with one another the more healthy we can become and as we become a healthier community, joy is bound to follow.