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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Buyer

#20: Seattle Culture… LOL, JK it's Body Dysmorphia

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

Most people in Seattle are passionate about outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, paddle boarding etc., but it seems that very few people have a passion for fitness beyond the outdoors. It makes me feel out of place. I don’t know if it’s because at home I was surrounded by people who love to lift or if it’s because lifting is less mainstream here. I’m sure it also has to do with the tech industry here—People who work in tech aren’t known for being in great shape or caring about it. They make so much money they don’t need to anyway…

I’ve talked to plenty of people who played sports growing up or are in intramural leagues now. By people, I mean dudes because Seattle is a bunch of dudes. (I have yet to meet a girl here that I don’t immediately get along with though 😊.) In general, it doesn’t matter to me whether someone lifts or runs or sits on the couch but I don’t want to be the biggest person in the room—as much I thought I did for years. At home, I felt small compared to my friends and peers at Lifetime. It was frustrating to feel like I could work harder than anyone else and still be the smallest, but it taught me to push myself and made me feel like a woman.

I’m so proud of myself for the PRs I’ve hit recently, but the PRs and 2 lbs I’ve gained (and want to get rid of) make me feel huge. Compared to anyone at Lifetime, my recent deadlift (205x6!!) and bench (95x5) numbers are warm-up weight. As I look around my new gym (and Seattle), I don’t see many people lifting heavier than me. This gym has an older crowd, especially in the morning, so I know my perception is skewed, but still, I feel huge.

If I saw someone with poor form at Lifetime, it was usually a muscle-y dude trying to do bicep curls or ego lift, so I knew that nobody wanted my advice. I never want to correct someone whose doing his or her (or their) best, but I don’t want to see anyone get hurt or not make progress. Given that I’m considered strong here, my advice might actually be appreciated. It DOES NOT matter what anyone else is doing in the gym. Each person deserves to feel comfortable and deserves recognition for showing up. I know I shouldn’t compare myself, but it’s hard not to. I need to remind myself of how I felt after I lost weight. I looked like I was swimming in my old tank tops while shoulder pressing 15 lb dumbbells next to guys curling 50 lb dumbbells and couldn’t help but feel like a shell of my former self. I’ve come so far since then and I’m proud of myself.

I’m not sure if it’s reality or not, but my arms and legs feel bigger and more muscular than before. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was liked this, even though it’s what I’ve technically been working towards. The more that I think about it, the more I realize that my conflicting feelings are only result of how I see myself.

On one hand, I’m excited to wear tank tops to show off my arm and chest (this is new!) definition. I want to wear the jeans that make my legs look muscular. I want people to see me and immediately know that I lift. I know of many other women who lift and feel like this too, thanks to my Tik Tok For You page. In this version of my thoughts, I look muscular and strong rather than fat.

However, the other side of my perception of myself is when I wear the same clothes and look at myself in the mirror, I feel huge and wonder how I became “fat.” Ironically, seeing myself this way never makes me want to stop lifting even for a second. Rather, I feel like I should restrict my calories and workout more. I’m grateful that this feeling usually passes before I change my diet, but it’s always in the back of my head.

Yesterday morning I was exhausted, so I decided to sleep in and go to the gym after work. I’m not sure if I’ll ever learn, but it’s always the wrong decision to go back to sleep unless I’m hungover. I was anxious for most of the day. I couldn’t figure out why until I thought about the differences between that day and other days (more on this to come). Of course, the difference was that I hadn’t gone to the gym yet. I felt horrible at dodgeball. (I recently joined a league😊.) Everyone around me looked so athletic and I felt inferior. I went straight to the gym as soon as I got home at 8:30 and did my best to complete my scheduled workout with the limited equipment.

After ¾ of my workout, I found myself in front of the mirror for shoulder raises. I stared at myself in awe and thought, Did I look like this all day? Is this me? I was wearing the same Equinox t-shirt I wore to work and camo Lulu shorts I changed into for dodgeball. I was amazed to see definition in my quads and find out that I didn’t look like an Oompa Loompa. I could finally take a breath. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s not an exaggeration. I couldn’t see myself properly when I felt like I was slacking a few hours earlier, but I finally felt like the version of myself I want to be after 45 minutes in a shitty gym. I think I remember looking at my hands and arms at work and feeling like a whale.

The issue of how I see myself has become more apparent since I started work—likely because I can no longer live in gym clothes. I recognize myself in athletic attire. I can clearly see my leg muscles in leggings or shorts or my arms and stomach in crop tops. When I’m wearing regular clothes, especially semi-professional ones, there’s no difference between muscle definition and fat to me or anyone else (I think). It’s my body taking up too much space.

I’m afraid that if I try to fix this perception issue I’ll make excuses and end up where I was before. Yesterday, I wore the same gym outfit as a few weeks ago, so I recreated the selfie I took for comparison. I think my quads are bigger, and it would make sense since I’ve gained a pound. (Which would have to be fat because a girl can’t gain muscle that quickly.) I sent Lizzy the pictures. She saw no difference. I want to feel better knowing she can’t see a difference, but at the same time I know the pound had to go somewhere. I know I can’t see myself clearly, which makes it more difficult to know when there’s a difference I need to be worried about or when I’m being crazy.

Why does it matter if there’s a difference, especially if it’s so small? Five or six marginal differences become a noticeable difference. Again, why should this matter? It matters because I HATED how I looked before and I never want to go back. I want to have chances to look in the mirror and be in awe of myself, instead of having to convince myself I look good and realizing years later I was making a fool of myself like I talked about in an earlier post. The confidence I have in my appearance now finds its way into other areas of my life and makes me a happier person, so these struggles are always worth it. My bad days now would’ve been the best days before.

When I started writing this post, I intended to write about how I hate that my arms are bigger than men in Seattle. The more I wrote, the more I realized that I’m the “problem.” (Again, not to be politically incorrect and say that it’s a problem if someone chooses not to workout.) I’m really not attracted to someone who has smaller arms than me because of my own body image issues…Maybe more on this later. Besides, weight lifting is so much of my personality that I need someone to share it with.

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