“It always seems impossible until it's done.”
— Nelson Mandela*
Whether it’s in online publications, social networks, magazines, movies, TV series or billboards, the imposition of high beauty and fitness standards is constant. For the most part, these standards are often classified as "impossible", "ridiculous" or "unreal" and, even though in most cases parameters are indeed extremely high, calling them "impossible" sounds a bit extreme to me.
I know this would hardly be a popular opinion, and I have no expectations of coming out of this debate unscathed but, despite that, I believe this is an important —and necessary— conversation that should not be postponed. It has become very common to resort to the simplicity of labeling certain things, or goals, as unattainable or impossible. By doing that, we avoid the responsibility of asking ourselves if what we call unattainable, is simply a challenge that requires an effort we are not willing to make.
Regarding this, there is something that is essential for me to clarify beyond any doubt. We all have our limits; physical, emotional, moral, financial, etc. Some of these limits are unchangeable, while others have been there forever without us even noticing them. Limits, in many cases, have a reason and a purpose. Others, have simply been established by our fears, mediocrity, laziness, or ignorance. And those are the limits that we need to push against, eliminate, and eradicate from our lives. And we must be sincere when defining whether a limit we have drawn is the consequence of a deep conviction, or simple lack of motivation, of our fear to step out of our comfort zone. There are times when laziness masquerades as fear, offering us a justification for our lack of action. Whatever the reason, honesty and education to learn about our possibilities and limitations, are essential to move toward those goals that, today, we can only see as "dreams."
Fear to be better
How many times have you imagined having that slim body, or running that marathon? What made you stop trying? Did you look for justifications to avoid embarking on the path to that goal? Did you say "that's not for me" without even allowing yourself to think it over?
Personally, I think it's okay to reject ridiculous standards when they fail to genuinely appeal to us or inspire us in any way. But doing it because we dare not face the price to fight for them, is a different story.
To put it differently: what makes a standard impossible? The standard itself, or the opinion we have about our own capabilities?
Self-sabotage is part of us. It is a recurring tool that we use to silence any suggestion that implies heading towards a challenge. Paradoxically, by seeking to continue in that fruitless and apparent comfort, we chain ourselves to an even more uncomfortable, annoying and frustrating reality; the one that does not conform to us, that bothers us and hurts us.
What makes you believe that a six-pack is not for you? What reason convinced you that someone who is overweight could never complete a 10K? And where is it written that aging must always be associated with weakness, handicaps, and dependency? Why do we accept that? Why do we classify as "impossible" things that we have not even taken the time to consider or evaluate?
Impossible or unlikely?
"Impossible standards" are represented by people who have already reached them. Therefore, they are not impossible. One of the main reasons why current beauty and fitness standards are singled out as impossible, is the failure to use the proper term: unlikely.
It's true; few can afford to hire a nutritionist, have a home gym, or spend three hours a day on a workout routine. However, I would say with a lot of confidence that most people could establish, on their own, better eating habits, begin to acquire equipment for their home-gym, and save 20 minutes a day to complete an exercise routine.
That's what it's all about, getting started. But because we crush against the difficulty to do so, our goals become, day after day, more unlikely.
The problem is we tend to focus on the result, the goal, but not the road toward them. Obviously, an admirable physique is not achieved in a couple of weeks or months, but if you start today with discipline, perseverance, and determination, you’ll achieve that physique. Why not invest in a couple of dumbbells to start toning your body? Buy them used if you want to, they don't need to be brand new. And I know that’s not a gym in itself, but it can be the beginning of one. That's how I started, with a couple of used dumbbells —which were in poor condition, by the way— and, after more than 5 years of humble and slow investments, our garage has become a gym. More than that, it is my temple, and my favorite place in our home.
There is nothing special in my example. If I did it, so can you.
The actual prize
Beyond the conviction and preparation needed to achieve what I just described in the previous paragraphs, it is essential to focus on the most important aspect of all: the true prize, the real value hidden behind those magazine covers, those sculpted physiques and those strong and rejuvenated bodies.
I am talking about health. Physical, mental, and emotional health.
You look better, you feel better.
You feel better, you look better.
The amazing doses of dopamine and endorphins your body releases when you exercise, will bring relief to your brain, while providing you with an outlet for your stress and anxiety. And by feeling stronger, faster and with more stamina, you will understand that a six-pack is a good thing, but it’s only added value, a collateral benefit, because the real prize, the real success, lies in the strengthening of your whole self. Renewed self-confidence and self-acceptance, physical and emotional strength to face whatever life throws at you. Those are the changes that count because they are the ones that will transform your life.
So… what are your standards? Do you still consider them impossible?
Get out of your own way and go after the improbable. Everything seems impossible at a given time, one way or another, because of this or that. There will always be gigantic challenges, insurmountable mountains and valleys that are too deep. They will always exist as invincible titans, until someone dares to take the first step towards their conquest.
If you are convinced of what you want, and you have agreed to make the sacrifice to achieve it, do not let anyone put the stamp of "impossible" on your dreams.
If there is a standard you want to reach, go for it.
You’ll be surprised to learn how far you can go.
* Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (Jul. 18, 1918 – Dec. 5, 2013), was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, statesman and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.