September 07, 2015
The Gym Culture and Toxic Body Image: My Experience

After turning her life around and losing a lot of weight, her problems just began: she was never thin or toned enough for trainers and people at the gym.

by Citra Amelia Rachmadani
Lifestyle // Health and Beauty
Share:
In recent years, Indonesians, especially in urban areas, are increasingly aware of healthy lifestyle. From fitness center, running races and yoga festivals to various diets – all aim at raising public awareness on the importance of being healthy.
 
I was considered obese once. In mid 2013, during my last semester at the university, I was determined to lose weight. Back then I had been looking for a job, when I found out that every job ad seemed to require the applicants to look “attractive”. And then of course there was the health reason.
 
I decided to join the gym on campus. Within six months I had lost a lot of weight, which was when the problems began. By that time I had attained the so-called ideal weight, but  a personal trainer at the gym began to criticize my body shape: the cellulites on my thighs, my flabby abs, and the muscle mass that was far below his ideal.
 
In mid 2014, I decided to take weight training more seriously and bought several fitness supplements to support my body-shaping program. I became more ruthless toward myself. I trained two to three hours a day for six days in a row without a break. I took two exercise classes on the same day and went on a rigorous diet. Still, I wasn’t even close to being satisfied with my body. It didn’t help that people I know at the gym and my personal trainer continued to criticize my body shape.
 
At one point, in March 2015, I began to hate my own body. I didn’t have flat  abs and I didn’t feel attractive. I believed the people in the gym when they said that I wasn’t thin enough and still looked chubby. My pear-shaped body, with wide hips and thighs, made me look curvier than other body shapes.
 



I started to deliberately throw up my food and drinks because of acute stress. The motivation to exercise at the gym was no longer for health reason, but for the visual satisfaction of the people in there.
 
As it began to upset my psychological condition and my relationship with other people, I talked to a friend whom I had known from Instagram about it. Deb Mahatmasari is a personal trainer in Jakarta, and she told me: “We spend so much time hating our own body because of what other people say, don’t we? Exercise is important because it is a form of gratitude to God. Making your body healthy is far more important than satisfying other people’s wish. Remember, people will always criticize you for everything.”
 
She was right. Women face a lot more pressure to be thin. We are always expected to meet the standard of beauty. My personal trainer and the rest of the people at the gym were reinforcing this perception of beauty and body image.
 
What we see in magazines, models in bikinis, showing off their washboard abs, tiny waist and thigh gap – those are the results of Photoshop and lighting techniques. Weight-loss pills that claim to help us instantly lose weight are none more than marketing gimmicks. The media is a major tool to project the wrong body image, which has led to the rise of anorexia and death caused by weight-loss product abuse.
 
So, what have I learned from this incident? That we have to be comfortable with what we have. My definition of sexy is a healthy and strong body and soul, with a dash of  self-confidence. Strong and fit is the new sexy. So today, my main motivation to exercise is to be healthy. A tone body is just a bonus.
 
*This article was originally written in in Indonesian
**Photo by Charlotte Astrid

 
Citra Amelia Rachmadani is a graduate of Brawijaya University in Malang. She loves doing weight training and motivating other women to be healthier. She idolizes singer Andien Aisyah, and can be found on Twitter through her handle @ctramelia.