"Excuse me, Miss? if I asked you to participate in a fitness class right now, in broad daylight, in the middle of Union Square Park in a sports bra, would you do it?"
"If you get me drunk first!"
Yes, that happened. I spent the past couple of days in the middle of Union Square Park, New York City, asking women if they had the courage to reveal their midriffs during a fitness class in a public place. After speaking with close to two hundred women of all ages, sizes and ethnicities, I was shocked at how uncomfortable and defensive women became when confronted with a question about how they felt in their bodies. But, what I found to be most surprising, was how upfront and honest some of these women were about all the way they do not like their bodies.
"I simply wouldn't wear anything as little as a sports bra because well... I am a woman, so I am not okay with my body." This came from a slender woman in her early thirties, implying that as women, we are programmed to hate our bodies.
"I wouldn't be caught dead in a sports bra. NO WAY, and good luck finding someone who will," said a middle-aged woman, who I personally thought looked healthy and in great shape.
What I thought was a simple yes or no question turned out to be loaded. Women were becoming restless, bothered and extremely defensive about their body image. I needed an explanation. Why are women so insecure about their bodies? Where is this pressure coming from? Themselves? Society? Peers? Family? Two reasons kept coming up among these women...
Lack of confidence
Women admitted that they were not happy with their bodies and no matter the situation, nothing would change how they felt. A woman in her late thirties said, "I wouldn't feel comfortable [in just a sports bra] because I am not comfortable with myself or my body so why would I show that to anyone?" I followed up her response with my dying question, "Why?" Silence.
I found my answer with my next interviewee: "Oh, I am certainly hiding something deeper than my body. I think the confidence I lack in my body is reflected in other aspects of my life. By covering up my body, I am covering up a piece of who I am -- a piece of my individuality. I guess I am not being real with myself and I am not being true to who I am. I lack confidence as a person." Now we are getting somewhere.
Ladies, we can be our own worst enemy. A bold young woman explained that since she judges others based on their appearance, she only assumes all women do the same to her. "I don't have abs of steel so I won't reveal my stomach. If you don't have a good body, don't show it. I choose to judge people. It's fun but I don't want people to judge me." She then continued to explain that she couldn't participate in a group fitness event in a sports bra because she would be too distracted, "I would be judging people the entire time instead of working out."
Unfortunately, she's not the only one. Women are constantly comparing themselves to one another.
I asked a couple of women if they would wear a sports bra if they were surrounded by women who were heavier than they were. They all said yes. I then asked the same question again, only instead of heavier women, they would be surrounded by skinnier women. The answer? No. This was hard for me to hear. Obviously female on female peer pressure is taken too lightly. How did women become so judgmental of one another?
I found that teenagers were the most informative in finding out where our body image issues stem from. Two teenage girls stopped and talked for a while about the pressures they feel from their own friends. One of the girls said, "I think my body image issues come from my peers. If I was asked to wear a sports bra in front of my friends I wouldn't do it... if asked to wear a sports bra in front of strangers, yea I would do it because I don't care what they think!" Her friend added in, "I would be worried about what my friends think. I would NEVER wear a sports bra near school because body pressure, for me, comes from my peers whether they mean to put that pressure there or not. I know my friends would judge me and compare my body to people in the media and to the popular "barbie" girls at our school."
Women. Where is the support?
After my interviews in Union Square Park, I am beyond excited thinking about the reactions people are going to have about The Sports Bra Challenge 2012, an outdoor group charity fitness event that encourages to to put their insecurities aside and to step out of their comfort zones; whether that's by wearing a sports bra, by participating in a group fitness class, or both!
The Sports Bra Challenge is about giving women an opportunity to see themselves differently, as well as how they view other women. This goal is to bring awareness to how restrictive our insecurities and body image issues are to living a self-fulfilling life. I want to bring awareness to how we stand as a community of women in one of the biggest cities in the world and how we need to support one another to overcome the insecurities most women in our society are facing.
The last person I spoke with was a single middle-aged mother. She said, "Being a woman and raising two children on your own, you learn to accept who you are. You want to realize who you are and it's not about appearance -- it's about experience and being in the moment. I am who I am and if you don't accept who you are you aren't living a fulfilled life."
Now we are getting somewhere.
For more information on The Sports Bra Challenge 2012 please visit http://www.seakfoundation.com