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Battling body image

Why comparing oneself to others is counterproductive

It’s impossible to tread the McCormick Bridge during peak class-crossing hours without catching a whiff of pungent athleticism running through the veins of our University. To many, the sea of sneakers and nylon shorts is just part of their lifestyle. But to others who are less physically inclined, it’s a constant reminder of our own ineptitude.

When I realized my usual studying routine and simultaneous cheese puff bingeing wasn’t really benefitting my waistline, I decided it was about time I hit up the gym. Though I’m not overweight, I felt the shape of my body just wasn’t good enough to fit the University standard.

I craved toned legs and brisk posture. Immersed in a pool of audacious mountain climbers and debonair tennis players, I was just an awkward existentialist who much preferred the smell of fiction novels to the burn of sweat. But I was determined to craft myself into an athlete.

To spare my dignity, I made it a habit to first perform a thorough check for any recognizable faces upon entering the gym. Then, if the coast was clear, I proceeded to gracelessly pounce away on the treadmill. I wouldn’t let myself be seen lifting weights — I felt my outfit brought out my curves. I feared the judgment of other people more than I worried about tracking my own progress, because my motivations for being there were primarily extrinsic. I became so concerned with trying to mold into the golden ideal of “fit” I forgot about actually improving my health.

Then, one morning, I went out on a run before class. It was before the sun peaked and the sidewalks were depleted of their usual jogging traffic, so I was left to focus on nothing but myself. And though I didn’t run far, all I could think about throughout the day was how good I felt.

Exercise pumps you with endorphins, which induce a natural high, so workouts equip you with just the right amount of energy you need to power through the day. It blows the fog right out of your mind, leaving you far more focused and reasonable when you’re forced to attack a pile of schoolwork or make tough decisions.

What I’ve learned is the benefits of exercising have to come from within before they translate into visible change. If your motivations are derived solely from your tendency to compare yourself to others, you’re only channeling in a stream of self-hatred that will impede your productivity.

That being said, I’ve never been particularly proud of the way I look. A slight swell of body fat brings forth a surge of self-consciousness. And it’s far easier to shield my imperfections than to feign confidence.

But the reason for this is because I fail to see myself as an individual. I’m under the impression that looking a cut below the societal norm is doing some sort of malicious injustice to myself.

In the grand scheme of things, we tend to force ourselves into these mindsets for the sake of feeling mentally at ease. Somehow, we value conformity over individuality.

Addressing the needs of the individual starts with thinking about one’s own happiness. And to be satisfied with ourselves, we have to learn to accept ourselves instead of dreaming about an idealistic vision set forth by others.

So, what’s most important about getting in shape is adopting the right mentality. I’ve found it’s much more effective to think of the way I look as a means through which I can help myself rather than an inherent flaw in need of drastic change.

Vega’s column runs biweekly on Tuesdays. She can be reached at