No More Body Positivity: Build Your Self-Esteem With Fitness

Everyone wants to feel good about themselves. It is an instinct to desire confidence and feel accepted.

In recent years, the body positivity movement has grown as a response to the narrow standards of beauty that have dominated the media for decades. Body positivity encourages self-acceptance rather than conformity. It teaches us to love ourselves rather than trying to change to meet unrealistic ideals.

However, ungrounded body positivity can also hold you back from growth. While positive self-talk is crucial for self-acceptance, true self-worth comes from self-improvement. If you become too complacent with where you are, it's easy to miss opportunities that can improve your life, including health and fitness.

Getting in better shape requires more action than mind-setting. It requires perseverance against doubts and insecurities. It means setting aside excuses while having the ability to recognize problems and the courage to face them with concrete actions.

This article will explore how you can build your self-esteem with fitness and achieve genuine progress in your health by taking action.

While body positivity is a great way to elevate mental well-being, it can also breed complacency. Simply feeling positive about your body does little to actually better yourself— less so on health and fitness.

Although genetics play a role, lifestyle factors have a far greater impact on your body and health. Fixating your mind on comfortable explanations such as "I'm just big-boned." "It's just my hormones," "I'm a hardgainer," or "It runs in the family" can be more harmful than good.

It creates an illusion of having little control over your life and absolves you from the responsibility over diet and activity levels. This removes your power to address underlying health issues, weight management, and overall fitness.

The key is balancing a positive self-image and the drive to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

Ungrounded body positivity can lead to complacency.

Negative self-talk refers to the internal dialogue within ourselves that focuses on our flaws and doubts about our abilities. Research suggests that they stem from early life experiences where others judged or diminished us until they eventually became our "truths" or limiting beliefs.

It's important to realize that negative self-talk is excessive and illogical criticism that could hold you back from pursuing your goals. If left unchecked, long-term negative self-talk can chip away at our self-confidence and self-worth. Worse, it can also contribute to increased levels of stress and the development of anxiety and depression.

Negative self-talk is illogical criticism we have about ourselves.

One of the most effective ways to counter negative self-talk is to do something about yourself, especially your health. Improving your fitness and taking better care of yourself gives you a sense of control in life.

This feeling of being in control can gradually build your belief in yourself, allowing you to push yourself to greater heights and create new and positive truths in your mind.

Studies have shown that the more fit an individual is, the higher their confidence level and interpersonal skills are. According to studies, lower body strength, speed, agility, and cardio aerobic fitness positively impact self-esteem and the ability to handle relationships.

Other benefits of exercise and fitness on mental health:

Through fitness, not only do we grow stronger and mentally resilient, but we build concrete self-esteem based on achievement. We prove to ourselves that we can set goals and work hard to attain them.

Rather than just positive self-talk, we need to take action to better ourselves.

Whether counting reps, logging steps, or weighing yourself each week, metrics make gains concrete. Concrete data combats negative self-talk and gives you tangible results.

Whenever you feel your workout doesn't matter, or you are having a bad day, check out your tracker and read your improvements throughout the month. You'd be surprised how much progress you've achieved despite all the challenges you may face at a particular moment.

This would help you put things in perspective and create a long-term vision of how you can achieve your fitness goals.

You can’t improve what you can’t measure.

Regardless of whether you consider yourself "big-boned" or a "hard gainer," it is impossible not to see improvement in your physique if you dedicate your time to working out and improving yourself.

Documenting your journey with photos serves as an unbiased "fitness diary." Before and after images do not lie— the visual progress speaks for itself (just be sure to take your photos in the same angle and lighting conditions).

The best way to see your progress is to have someone take a photo of you every week. Of course, a mirror selfie can also do the trick!

When it comes to fitness progression, it is most constructive to compare your present self versus your past self rather than comparing yourself to others. This self-referential comparison provides a healthier, more empowering way to track growth.

Fitness is about self-improvement. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Most gyms have group exercise sessions. You'd be surprised how encouraging people are in the gym, especially when you work out together.

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Essentially, the gym is a place where like-minded individuals come— people with goals and an immense drive to achieve and pursue them despite the challenges and discomfort. Being around these kinds of people can uplift your spirit and gradually build your confidence.

Studies have shown that people who surround themselves with more positive, helpful, and understanding people have a healthier quality of life.

The gym is a place where you can meet people who want to better themselves too.

Here’s a plan for women you will enjoy:

And for men:

Validate yourself based on consistent effort and discipline and not only on the result you would achieve. Judging yourself only on outcomes sets you up for frustration. You need to love the process and appreciate your efforts along the way.

Why? Fitness doesn't happen linearly. It's not uncommon to see your weight fluctuate or lift the same weight for months despite continually showing up and pushing yourself.

Rather than tie your sense of accomplishment solely to reps, new PRs, weight loss, or visible muscle growth, make sure you give yourself credit for showing up and putting in the work daily.

Persevering and showing up no matter what builds mental resilience and reaffirms your trust in yourself, allowing you to gradually enhance your self-esteem over time because you know that you can and you will.

Reward the process.

Pushing yourself past the point of comfort when fatigue sets in requires tapping into your inner grit and belief in yourself despite physical limitations. This allows you to train not only your body but also your mind over time.

In addition, studies have shown that most lifters can do an additional 2 or more reps before they fatigue their muscles and reach actual failure. This means that even if your mind tells you that your body is already exhausted, you can still perform 1 or 2 more reps before you cannot lift for another rep.

Pushing past your physical limitation builds character and self-esteem.

Body positivity has merits in promoting self-acceptance and overcoming unrealistic standards. However, positive self-talk alone cannot build genuine confidence or empowerment. Lasting self-worth requires self-improvement through real effort and perseverance.

Pushing past doubts, fatigue, and plateaus builds grit and resilience that translate to everyday challenges. Tracking tangible metrics like added weights, faster paces, or progress photos makes growth concrete when negativity sets in.

Fitness is about improving yourself. Embrace discomfort, celebrate small wins, and focus only on your progress.

Remember: Striving to achieve a better version of yourself is a greater form of self-love and acceptance.

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Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.

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