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5

Exercise, Confidence, and Attractiveness

Does exercise make you feel more confident and attractive? According to research, the answer is Yes.

happy friendsIn 2014, Mayo Clinic released a study that stated, “Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.”

Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Click To Tweet

And the journal Evolution and Human Behavior did an analysis that noted, “this study provides limited empirical evidence that more facially attractive people (N = 100) may be physically healthier than unattractive people.” Makes me wonder if the reverse is true – are healthier people more facially attractive?

In both my education and writing career, I use (and respect) good research, yet I wonder how much culture influences our self-perception of our attractiveness.

Grove of tressI am especially wondering this lately, as I recently went on a walk with one of my best friends. I’ve known her for over 30 years, and she has always been considered attractive. I find her to be still attractive, and have assumed she had the same opinion. She exercises regularly and is very disciplined about her health habits. Yet (after a 6-mile hike together), she mentioned being frustrated about her weight and “unattractiveness.” I put it in quotes because I strongly disagree with her, so refuse to give it legitimacy.

According to research, all her exercise and healthy habits should lead to her feeling pretty dang good about herself. Yet that definitely wasn’t the case. If she were in Russia or Greece (or most any other country), she’d be the cultural ideal (think blond hair, blue eyes and Marilyn Monroe curvy). Yet here in the U.S. we still reward women who are size 0 (how can someone be a null and actually exist) or 4. The average U.S. woman is size 12, so quite clearly reality and cultural expectations are not in sync.

Do you judge yourself by your smiles or by your weight? Why accept outdated cultural norms? Click To Tweet

This makes me sad. Women, whether your age is 35 or 55, do you judge yourself unfairly, with an emphasis on looks? How often do you judge yourself based on your health? I have several friends with lifelong issues (MS, Hashimoto’s), yet every day they work really hard to have good health. To me, they are attractive because their faces reflect their determination, spirit and feistiness.

post-exerciseBe honest, do you judge yourself by your smiles or by your weight? Why do we accept outdated cultural norms? Why do we compare ourselves to our 25-year-old selves? How can we possibly win against unrealistic opponents such as these?

When I was a grad student in systemic counseling, we learned the expression “Fake it till you make it.” It was advice for our clients, based on cognitive-behavioral theory. I think it’s good advice, and I use it on myself.

Here’s how – My “resting” face is more of a frown than a smile. I don’t have the classic nose, cheeks, eyes or chin that our culture says is beautiful. Yet I don’t want to be 75 and wish I’d appreciated my 50-year-old self. When I was 50 I regretted not appreciating my 25-year-old self, and vowed not to do that to myself anymore. So I tell myself NOW that I’m good-looking. I work on my posture, which is an easy way to look more confident. And if you look more confident, you feel more confident. “Fake it till you make it” in action. I pose for lots of photos and I smile in them all. Then I post the best ones online so other people can comment about how much fun I’m having. My brain hears that and the repetition makes it part of my self-concept that I have a fun life. When someone tells me I look great, I say, “I agree (except on genuinely bad photos, such as a recent close-up of my sweaty nose).”

Alexandra in West Berlin 1983

See how adorable I was at 25? Yet, no smile. I thought I was ugly.

Vista Point, Palm Springs

The is me now – the cutest cutie-pie you ever did see. Because I’m smiling.

Focus on good posture. If you look more confident, you'll feel more confident. Click To Tweet

If I tell myself I’m attractive, fun and confident, that’s what I’ll exude. And that’s how I’ll be perceived. So this post is dedicated to my truly beautiful friend, and I hope every woman who reads this thinks I’m talking to her. Dear ________, you are attractive, fun, and confident. It will make me very happy if you would do me the honor of agreeing.

ACTION: Now, get out there and kick some ass. And subscribe while you’re at it. You’ll look, feel, and move better for it.

Alexandra Williams, MA

Photo credit for birthday party: Ross Barrett.

FYI, none of the fabulous women in these photos are the friend I mentioned, though they are all definite hotties too.

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6

Muscles, Myths and Miss Informed

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

Dear Fun and Fit: K and A

Will weight training make me huge? I don’t want to lift weights if it makes me have huge muscles. I just want to look better.

Miss Informed, Anywhere, USA

Dear Miss Informed:

A: Aaaaarggggh, excuse me while I beat my head against a wall (which burns 150 kcals per hour, by the way). This is what we in the industry call a Big Fat Myth (myth: an unfounded or false notion. Thank you Merriam-Webster.com).

For some reason, many women still believe that lifting weights will somehow make them “hyage.” You can only get hyage if you participate in bodybuilding, which is a competitive event. For that you’d need a specific training regimen and a very small bikini. I don’t think this is your intent so let’s talk about what some weight training can do for you.

Although this may sound like you’ve just moved to Opposite-Land, you can actually lose weight by lifting weight. How? You burn 8-10 kcals a minute lifting weights. That’s kind of cool by itself, but there’s more. (trumpets here please) After you are done weight training, you get a present delivered by DHL (Definite Hot Looker). That gift is called a metabolic spike. It lasts for about an hour and means that you’ll zap an additional 25% (approx.) of the kcals you just burned during the workout.

K: Here’s the low-down with higher math. Let’s say you are lifting enough weight to burn 10 kcals per minute (okay, it’s really just an easier number to use than 8), and you train for 30 minutes, hard. That works out to….(need to get out toes as I ran out of fingers)…300 kcals. By this calculation, you will then wave your magic metabolic spike in a non-threatening manner after you leave the gym and sit at the red light texting (illegally, you bad girl), and gain an additional burn rate of 75 kcals. So, you little worker-outer-weight-lifter-bee, you just tossed 375 kcals out the window (along with that cell phone…oops).

A: Then there is the fact that it takes more energy to sustain muscle than it does fat, you little metabolic heater, you! So if you are a super-snacker, with no plans to change those bad-girl eating habits, at least you’ll veg easier, knowing that your increased muscle mass is burning extra kcals at a higher rate than before you touched the weights (by “touched” I don’t mean the way Gene Wilder touched his food in “Young Frankenstein.” Also notice how I snuck in the word “veg” so you’ll suddenly have a desire to eat veggies? But that bit of nagging is for another day.

So, dear Miss, get up, grab some weights, and get going with the pumpity-pump.

Dear Lady Readers: Are you afraid of weight training? Dear Men Readers: What myths have you fallen for?

Photo credit: Creative Commons