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No shame.

Jane Fonda probably had good intentions in the 1980s when she said, "No pain, no gain" and "Feel the burn." (this was waaaay before Bernie Sanders, by the way.). It was just a few decades after the 1960s and '70s when women in the U.S. worked hard for equal rights, equal opportunities, and greater personal freedom. Thank goodness. As a side-note, I'm a grateful daughter of a feminist mother and I can proudly say that I knew all the words to Helen Reddy's, "I am woman, hear me roar" when I was 11 years old.

With regards to women's health and fitness, in the '80s there was a movement that was about strength and being healthy, but it slightly missed the mark. As a teenager, I remember being lured into the images of Shape magazine which always seemed to show unrealistic ideals obtained through brute force. Almost as if we had to prove our physical equality to men, yet still be able to look good in a leotard, matching headband and leg-warmers (insert embarrassing 80's photo of me here :) ) Health and fitness was about being physically powerful, but a lot of the messaging came from shame. You'd have to "earn" your dessert with a certain amount of activity and "feel the burn" while doing it. Even now, I sometimes hear from others, "I'm having a cheat day." Which also rings this outdated shame bell.

Many years ago, I would shame myself into a run, a workout or eating healthy. This was such a subtle habit that I developed in the 80's. I remember waking up and one of the first few thoughts would be, "Did I exercise yesterday?" or "What did I eat or drink last night?" so then I could properly shame myself into a run, eating better and shame myself into a day or two of radical self-care. The "self-care" I practiced had such tight, unrealistic rules that would only lead to more unkind thoughts and behaviors.

Today, I don't perfectly move forward with my goals of health and well-being ("perfection" with self-care would also be missing the mark). But, that harsh voice from the 80's is down to a whisper. Those times that I notice that unkind, shameful voice in my head; I greet it with a bit of a smile, tell her to "shhhhh," and carry on with my day. Shame has no home here.

Just to make a distinction. There are studies done on the difference between shame and guilt. Here's one. In the social justice system, shame is often framed in the same context as guilt and is viewed as necessary for preventing moral transgressions and deviant behavior. However, shame is increasingly recognized as separate from guilt. "Shame focuses on the negative global view of the self, whereas guilt focuses on negative behavior...Studies show those motivated by guilt (for their transgressions towards someone) are more likely to accept responsibility and take positive pathways to make amends for transgressive behaviors."

Fast forward from the 80's, we now have technology that we wear on our bodies that carries this message of "no pain, no gain" forward. These apps aren't entirely bad and the good aspects are that they promote community, connection, and we get that nice dopamine hit when someone "likes" an activity we've accomplished. Nothing wrong with feeling a sense of accomplishment and connection with others.

But, what I've seen with being in the fitness industry for 15 years, is that there can be an even better way to practice strength and reach our goals for health and fitness that has nothing to do with shame and comes from a place of kindness and self-care.

Moving forward with our goals for health and fitness without shame is possible. It's also possible to be compassionate and kind towards ourselves without being soft or weak. Another misconception with compassion and self-care practices is that it's ego-based, that we're just going to sit around, navel-gazing, until we convince ourselves that we are worthy. True compassion practice starts with ourselves and is not about being "better than" others. Nope. It comes from being kind to ourselves and keeping in mind the importance of our connection and impact on others. It's being compassionate and kind towards ourselves, so we can truly be kind and more caring for our families, friends, communities, our world. It's caring from a place that is resourced, grounded and it's courageous and fierce! (see the books referenced below).

So, "In a world where you can be anything, be kind." Let that start with ourselves.

I'll be attending a Self-Compassion workshop this Wednesday evening (on Zoom). Here is a little more info on the workshop: Dr. Kristin Neff is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin's department of educational psychology.

For more reading on compassion:

A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives," by Thupten Jinpa

"Compassion in Action," by Ram Dass

"Fierce Self-Compassion" by Dr. Kristin Neff

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