Is There a Me Inside of Here That Is Dying to Get Out?

I suppose there's nothing wrong with it, seeing uber-fit young women as a way to imagine and motivate ourselves to go to the gym, but that's not really the kind of inner-motivation I need. Personally I find these type of images a bit demotivational.
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I made the mistake this morning of starting some Twitter growth strategy for the FitbyTech account. And by searching for #fitness I hit the very crowded and slightly misguided hashtag #fitness. I suppose it's the right hashtag (think of hashtags like a focus term or search term to find tweets) for my content, but it's littered with this kind of "motivational porn."

And I suppose there's nothing wrong with it, seeing uber-fit young women as a way to imagine and motivate ourselves to go to the gym, but that's not really the kind of inner-motivation I need. Personally I find these type of images a bit demotivational. And while I respect the amazing amount of work that goes into creating a body like this, I am not all that attracted to the rock-hard abs. Not to mention these are women who are well out of my age range, and therefore not personally motivating to me. Of course, I don't look at men's muscle magazines or pictures to get myself up for a workout either.

This approach to fitness doesn't (or hasn't in my 51 years) provide much inspiration for me. In the same way that checking into The Chive or some other cheesecake site doesn't inspire me to go out and look for a relationship. It's off the mark for me. Where is the heart or soul of the six-pack abs model? I'm sure the young woman in the bottom image has a strong sense of self and amazing motivational skills, but I'm not into the objectification of her body. Where's the woman?

In our modern culture we are hyper-focused on fitness. And the young and uber-fit are the models that are held up for our approval, inspiration, and motivation. But they are often motivating us for some advertising purpose. And as we focus too intensely on the woman's abs, we lose the picture of the whole person. It's no less objectifying than a picture of her impressive chest. That's not what I see first, that's not what I focus on, and that's not where I "see" her. But in the tweet above, theoretically to "motivate" me or others (men or women) to get off the couch and hit the gym, I find myself less motivated. It's like showing me a vanilla milkshake. Sure it looks good, but I'm not heading in that direction either.

So what is motivation for me? It's something more internal and interpersonal. I didn't decide one day to be overweight. And I didn't decide on another day to start a fitness program to lose weight. I've been struggling with my fitness for my entire lifetime. And I would guess the balance of the U.S. population is in the same boat. We are not ever going to achieve washboard abs, and seeing them on a 20-something hottie does little to engage my hope and energy.

The only thing that engages MY hope and energy is something much deeper. Pictures of body builders don't represent my goal or my inspirational imagination.

Hmm. Maybe I need a motivational inspiration that does work for me.

I have had a "story" in my head that says something like, "I was born with love handles, and I'll die with love handles. I can make them larger or smaller, but I have very little chance of eliminating them all together." I have great pictures of my chubby little self that I can point to in my baby book. I can identify with that kid.

And as I was growing up I had varying degrees of love and hate for my large-framed body. On the football field I was a force to be reckoned with. I was strong and more powerful than most of the kids on the field. In my Pop Warner team the coach used to joke about calling the plays "McElhenney Left" or "McElhenney Right." And we won a lot of football games even as I was frequently challenged to get under the weight limits for an 8-year-old player. I loved the way I could blast through others on the field. The idea of "fat" wasn't in my vocabulary yet.

So, I might need to scroll back in my memories and photos and find the moment when I got "fat." Or when the idea of being fat entered my consciousness. I do remember a moment in 7th grade, when one of the cheerleaders said something about how she hadn't known I "was so fit" while passing in the gym. It was at that moment that I got really good at sucking in my belly. She became my girlfriend for a few weeks, whatever that meant in 7th grade. But I learned if I sucked it in a bit, and tried to look more fit, that I could attract prettier women.

And I've often recalled, in my biographical narrative that my peak fitness happened as a sophomore in high school. About three weeks ago I found the swim team picture from that time.


Aside from the fact that I was struggling with one of the most unhappy periods of my life, I was at this moment uber-fit. What was fascinating to me: I didn't have any love handles.

Okay, so this image began to recalculate my own self image. I knew I had qualified for the state championships in the 100-meter freestyle, but I didn't really have an image in my mind.

For a day or so I had this photo as the lock-screen on my phone, until my son said it looked like I had an A&F model on my phone. But the motivation was there, for me. Not to return to this body, but to recognize this young man inside me. The effort to get that body required twice-a-day workouts, very healthy lunchroom meals, and the youth and testosterone of a 16-year-old.

What I don't want to show you is my senior year graduation photo, where I was grossly overweight. But I can embrace all of these "me" forms. I had been a three-sport athlete in high school and then I dropped off the charts into an emotional depression and sadness that may still have some tendrils inside me now. Certainly the idea of being fat vs. uber-fit conjures up some feelings. But it's more of compassion for this young man in the picture above, who was about to have his world ripped apart by sadness, death, and poor choices.

But that athlete is still inside of me. And I have never forgotten my own healthy love for sports and competition. Today my motivation is much more about how I feel in my body. I'm not aspiring to a six-pack stomach or my 16-year-old 32-inch waist. My goals are less specific and more health and "feeling" oriented. I wonder if that's an issue that I'll need to address?

Perhaps I need to set specific goals and targets. I think I'll wait until I need them, during a plateau perhaps. Today I don't need sexy male or female bodies to inspire me. I am inspired. Tomorrow or next year, who knows what I'll need. I'll take it from here.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

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image: my 10th grade swim team photo