A beginner's guide to loving your body, from a former dancer who knows the struggle
One of the greatest relationships we will ever have is the one we have with our bodies. And, just like most relationships, our connection with our bodies is wrought with emotions, running the gamut of joy, regret, anger, and disappointment. For many of us, our bodies, unfortunately, remain a point of “not enough-ness.” We know that we should love our bodies—that is the healthiest and happiest choice after all—but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Most of us have storied histories with our bodies that affect us so deeply we don’t know where or how to start, especially when it comes to fitness. The comparison narrative that keeps us in competition with our peers on Instagram (think: #fitspo) almost makes self-acceptance an impossible feat when it comes to hitting the gym with confidence.
Personal trainer Camila Mariana understands this. She’s been there. A former professional dancer who danced for artists like Pitbull, Ke$ha, DJ Khaled, and Jacob Forever, she, too, struggled with self-image. “I always used to look at my body and pick myself apart, as most dancers do, and train only to look skinny,” she tells HelloGiggles, adding that she would be “punished” by her industry if she didn’t look acceptable by being put on “weight probation,” which meant she couldn’t dance. In turn, Mariana was “always crash dieting, doing so much cardio, and eating close to nothing. I looked great but I was miserable.”
Back then, Mariana admits she was training only to “look good” and not to keep her body healthy. Exercise, something she used to love, was something she came to associate with negativity. Then something switched. Mariana was going to the gym a lot, but she wasn’t getting the results she desired. “So I decided to shift my approach and start focusing on my performance rather than the way that I looked, and that’s when something inside me clicked,” she says. “I was happy training again, I loved my body so, so much (even though I wasn’t as ripped as I had been), and I realized that I had to share this with the world.” Now, Mariana offers online and in-person workouts infused with this spirit of joy, positivity, and self-acceptance.
If you can relate to Mariana’s story, she shared five easy—but powerful—ways you can learn to love your body while exercising and keeping healthy.
1. Start with some daily positive affirmations.
“I am a huge advocate of positive affirmations,” says Mariana. Some of her favorites: “I am strong, I am healthy, I am doing the best I can, I am worth my maximum effort, I am my most valuable investment.” Pick an inspiring quote or affirmation that feels good to you and learn to become your biggest fan. As Mariana says, “Just like I do not tolerate toxic behavior from people, I had to learn not to tolerate it from myself. So when my internal conversation turns negative, I acknowledge it and choose to change the topic to a positive one.”
2. Do workouts you love.
If you hate slogging through hours on the treadmill, chances are you’ll resent your body if you force it to do that work. Which is why Mariana advocates for doing exercise you enjoy. “I like to suggest workouts that people will be more likely to return to. The happier people are, the more likely that they will continue training,” she says.
3. Find your why.
It’s so important to find the why behind your exercise. “You are more likely to give up on a training program if you are doing it just to ‘get a six-pack’ rather than ‘to be able to play with my kids when I am older,'” says Mariana.
Once you discover and focus on your why, Mariana recommends taking things slowly and going at your own pace, while also remaining present and flexible. “Understand that life happens and that if you skip the gym one day, you will not lose all your progress. Remind yourself that valuable moments should be spent appreciating loved ones and friends and that a workout will not bring those back.” And trust that your why will lead you back to the gym to start again.
4. Unfollow those who make you feel less than.
“People forget that we have the option to ‘unfollow’ everyone,” says Mariana. “Do a social media cleanse and go through all the people you are following. Does what they share make your internal dialogue better? Or does it promote negative self-talk? If it does, click unfollow. There are plenty of body-positive fitness people, influencers, and everyday humans to stock your feed with the words you should be reading and real-life images.” So if you’re scrolling through your social media and feeling icky, don’t hesitate to unfollow and focus back on what and who make you feel good about yourself.
5. Remember: there is no such thing as perfect.
“Perfectionism does not exist. Every moment that we spend trying to achieve it is a moment that is stolen from out present lives,” says Mariana. “If we spend every day trying to achieve perfectionism versus enjoying our time, we will look back one day and wish we changed a lot of things.”
When it comes to loving who you are on the outside and inside, Mariana says it’s less about grueling workouts and more about finding grace. “Loving your body is finding grounding in existence and praising it for everything it is able to do on a day-to-day. Not loving your body is being your worst critic when you should be your biggest cheerleader.”