Hi Bret! I’m a big fan of your blog and I’ve been working very hard on my glutes over the past several months. I’ve lost twenty pounds, and for the first time, my glutes are beginning to pop out and show some shape. I’m currently hip thrusting 80 kgs for 12 reps, and my squat and deadlift have both increased since discovering your blog and implementing your advice. Despite my gradual progress, last week, I hit a wall so to speak. I was looking in the mirror and I got so frustrated with my body that I just lost it. I started crying hysterically for hours it seemed. Sorry to bombard you with my personal issues, but I see the pictures that you post on your blog and I want my body to look like theirs. My body is changing, but not at the pace I’d like it to. What can I do to change my attitude? Thanks, Toby

Hi Toby! This is an important topic, and I receive similar questions like yours from women every single week. The first thing I want to say to you is – are you sure you want to ask a man for advice about a woman’s topic? Haven’t you seen the humorous pieces pertaining to this practice? ATT00095

*Disclaimer: This Could be Absolutely Terrible Advice; I’m Just Trying to Help so be Easy on Me Ladies*

I fear that I’ll be just like “John” above and provide you with horrible advice.

However, even though I’m just a meathead lifter with no psychological training, I’ll do my best trying to provide you with a reasonable answer as I believe that this is a very important topic.

Research on Self-Esteem and Gender

I came across an interesting article titled, Sex, body-esteem and self-esteemHere are some quotes from the authors:

Previous studies of body-esteem indicate that men and women appear to be concerned about different aspects of their bodies. Women tend to be worried about their weight and shape, while men are more concerned about their fitness (Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Cash, Winstead, & Janda, 1986; Rozin & Fallon, 1988). So it could be expected that women’s self-esteem may be strongly influenced by their satisfaction with their weight, and men’s self-esteem by their evaluation of their strength and fitness.

While some studies have identified particular aspects of body-esteem as related to women’s overall self-esteem, there have not been similar findings about the relationship between body-esteem and self-esteem among men. For example, Silberstein, et al. (1988) reported that women’s perceptions of their sexual attractiveness and physical condition were significant predictors of their overall self-esteem, but none of the dimensions of physical attractiveness, upper body strength and physical condition were significant predictors of self-esteem among the men in their study.

The study showed strong evidence that people’s self-esteem is related to their attitudes toward their bodies. In general, favorable body attitudes, e.g., perceived attractiveness, were associated with high self-esteem, while unfavorable attitudes, e.g., body disparagement, were linked to low self-esteem. These results were consistent with the general findings of previous studies (McCaulay, et al., 1988; Pliner, et al., 1990; Stowers & Durm, 1996; Sondhaus, et al., 2001).

However, certain aspects of body-esteem appear to be more important than others to people’s self-esteem. As expected, the salience of weight and shape was a significant predictor of self-esteem among women, as was perceived strength and fitness among men. Perceived attractiveness was also a significant predictor of self-esteem among both men and women.

In line with previous studies (Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Cash, et al., 1986; Paxton & Phythian, 1999), women reported greater dissatisfaction with their bodies than men. As expected, they were more likely to report feelings of fatness, including consciousness of lower body fatness, as well as concern with their weight and shape. On the other hand, men tended to report greater feelings of strength and fitness.

As you can see, women tend to hone in more on their physique for their body-esteem, whereas men tend to hone in a bit more on their strength and fitness. Check out this cartoon: amused-pics-men-and-women Perhaps you ladies have witnessed a man doing this (flexing in the mirror and admiring his physique) and found yourself fighting the urge to vomit. While I agree that it’s silly, it’s much better than the alternative – lasering-in on our problem-areas and getting massively depressed.

My Thoughts

We must all find ways to love our bodies.

Many women and men start working out in hopes of improving their physical and mental health, but somewhere along the way end up developing serious self-esteem issues, and their mental health actually worsens.

Perfect bodies

These are the images that we’re bombarded with every day – perfect bodies everywhere! I’m the most guilty person of all for posting images like these on a regular basis…

We all know fit and athletic individuals who have no self-confidence despite looking great, and we also all know “average” looking individuals who have great self-confidence despite their seemingly mediocre looks. In my opinion, the self-confident individuals are so much more fun to be around, and they attract more positivity and good fortune. So it’s in all of our best interest to preserve our mental health and self-esteem as we work on our bodies in the gym.

This is easier said than done, as each day we are bombarded by images of “perfect” bodies with sculpted muscles and single-digit bodyfat levels. If I compared myself to these individuals every day, I’d feel defeated.

Seriously? Is this dude even real?

Seriously? Is this dude even real?

In fact, I regularly train at Revolution Training System, where I’m the one of the weaker lifters in the gym. However, this doesn’t phase me, for reasons I’ll mention below.

I suppose that all I can really do for advice is provide you with some things that I do and some things that I keep in mind and focus on in order to remain positive and maintain a healthy outlook. Here they are:

1. I compete against myself. I’m just trying to be a better and stronger me. I love it when my colleagues get stronger and fitter, and I don’t compare myself to them.

2. Growing up, I was a skinny twig. I never in a million years thought that I could one day be considered “strong” or possess an “impressive physique” by anyone’s standards. After many years of hard work, lo and behold, I’m pretty darn strong (especially at certain lifts) and I’m very proud of my physique. But my expectations weren’t very high to begin with, so I was quite happy when I surpassed them.

3. I focus on the things I’m good at – I can deadlift close to 600 lbs, I’m incredibly strong at the leg press, barbell curl, weighted chin, and barbell hip thrust, I can hit a golf ball a mile long and crank homeruns out of the park, I can throw a size 15 bowling ball down the lane with amazing speed, my jab was stronger than all my sparring partners back in the day, and I’m a pretty good wrestler.

4. I justify the things I’m not so good at – sure my squat and bench press suck, but I’m 6’4″ with poor levers. I store belly and back fat, but I’m always 6 weeks away from being in awesome shape if need-be.

5. I’m freakin’ proud as hell of my hard work. I train full-body 4-5 days per week, and the majority of individuals couldn’t hack my workouts or match my consistency or work ethic. I’m able to “love my body” not for the way it looks or performs, but for how hard I train it and how much progress I’ve seen over the years.

6. I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there’s no such thing as “perfect.” One man’s (or woman’s) trash is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure. Bodybuilders and figure/bikini competitors don’t look the way they do in their pictures year-round; they get into freaky shape and peak for a competition and then have their photographers photo-shop their pics.

7. I also know that happiness and self-esteem must come from the inside-out. We will never lose that last bit of fat, we’ll never have perfect muscular symmetry, and we’ll always have our “problem areas.” Most women will shed bodyfat and improve their stubborn areas, only to find that their breast size shrunk. As men attain impressive levels of leanness, they often find that their legs or shoulders weren’t as muscular as they once assumed and were filled in by a considerable proportion of fat. Even if it were possible to achieve “perfection,” most of us would suddenly become too vain to notice and wouldn’t be satisfied. Case in point, many of the hottest and sexiest celebrities and models have self-esteem issues and body dysmorphia. As you can see, pride in your body must come from within.  

These are some of the things that I do to “love my body” and walk tall and proud. You’ll need to find your own things to focus on in order to keep a positive outlook, but hopefully you can steal some of mine.

If you train hard week in and week out and adhere to a healthy diet, be damn proud of yourself! If you’re regularly squatting, bending, pulling, pushing, thrusting, lunging, and rotating, pat yourself on the back. THESE Olympic athletes are all proud of their bodies because they work hard and are fit, as do the ladies below. Don’t compare yourself to others – just be the best “you” that’s possible. Set reasonable expectations and don’t be so hard on yourself. And most of all, please realize that you are more than your body! Your physique doesn’t define you; it’s only one component of your “self.”  Think of the ten people you admire most in the world; I bet you didn’t choose people based on their physiques.

naked-olympic-athletes-640x382

My readers will likely have much better advice for you.

And if I’ve provided horrible advice, I encourage my readers to chime in and call me out.

Readers: What things do you focus on  so you “love your body?”

37 Comments

  • Kyla says:

    Hey Bret, I may be one of your toughest critics but you did a great job here in my opinion. You related your experiences which I think is great and you gave good advice. It is a I think women can be overly sensitive in regards to self image and sometimes we should think more like men and see the good things.
    People have different goals (ghetto bootay, figure competitor, strong) which is fine but be cafeful with your body. Find a goal and work at it for a long time (there is no magic bullet), read brets blog, maintain healthy relationships, eat healthy food, work your brain and be kind. Don’t judge men and women on their body. I find so many women hypocritical when they judge other women but then feel bad about themselves because they think women are judging them. Give yourself and others a break!
    I donno I am just rambling now but thanks for showing us a different side of you Bret.

  • Dang-ko says:

    You forgot to mention you’re an intelligent dude who is very generous with helpful info. Definitely one of your best posts (and you have written many great ones). I hope this opinion counts even if I’m a guy…

  • catarina says:

    Dear Bret,

    Great post and advice,I think us women really need advice like this that are straightforward and to the point, as you said one should strive to be the best self possible and not just focusing on our own body shape or appearance.

    Then again it is easier said than done, as I think we women are very competitive and have trouble accepting that we aren´t at least as good as the ideal that we are bombarded each day.

    When I was younger I was constantly frustrated and measuring myself against the ideal top model (complete lost battle, I acknowledge), nowadays I measure myself against the ability to reach the goals I set to myself and also the capability to enjoy life as it comes.

    But, of course being 35, having 2 kids and a hectic career, I am no longer the youngest and hottest of the pack, and that bothers me sometimes…I think one just needs to sit back and look at everything in perspective, and really see if are focusing on what is really important.

  • Maria says:

    Wow, what great timing.
    I’ve just got back from the gym and during my session I started thinking about the stubborn fat on my hips and thighs and it really started to get me down…I had to stop what I was doing, look myself in the mirror and remind myself that at 5’5 and 54kg, I can hip thrust 120kg for 5 (new PR), deadlift 100kg (another PR)…I can do 5 unassisted pulls ups and rock out 30 full push ups…all things that I couldn’t do a few months ago…and that’s pretty cool, I think.

    I will always find imperfections, if I look for them. But if I focus on what I have achieved so far then I am thankful, grateful and pretty darn proud of both the physical and inner strength I have gained.
    I want to be, the best me.

    Thanks for this post, Bret! I needed to read it.
    Btw…got your Bodyweight Strength book and I’m loving it!
    🙂

  • Jennifer says:

    Breat,

    Great topic and very relevant for many of us! People would describe me as a perfectionist, hard on myself, and overly critical. When I started on my fitness journey, it began with innocent, good intentions but led me down a path of punishing my body and an eating disorder, all to achieve what I considered to be physical perfection. Years later, I am in a much better place, thanks to therapy and lots of support and love. #1 and #7 hit the nail on the head for me, and those are both things that I am still learning and growing with every day. I used to struggle (and still do somewhat) with comparison, but appreciating my body for what it does for me every single day gives me a different perspective. I want to be kind to it, fuel it properly, and give it a balance of stimulation and rest without abusing it. There will always be people faster/stronger/smarter/etc. just like YOU will likely be faster/stronger/smarter/etc. than others. So I try to be proud of what I can do, and look towards new goals to achieve, and getting there always makes me feel kick ass 🙂

    Self-acceptance, self-love, self-worth all come from knowing who you are, and being proud of that person, regardless of circumstances, what other people think, or even how you look. That being said, we can all probably agree that the standard of beauty in our society is unreal – here is a super short video that I found interesting: http://www.upworthy.com/see-why-we-have-an-absolutely-ridiculous-standard-of-beauty-in-just-37-seconds?c=ufb1

    Jenn

  • Jessica says:

    Super article….the differences you pointed out are exactly how my husband and I differ after a day at the gym!

  • emilysteezy says:

    Eloquently stated Bret. Nice post.

  • Dixon says:

    Great Post, Thank you so much. #5 really hit it for me. Im 43, I have three children 21, 14, and a 1 year old. At 5’7″ 145 lbs Im totally PUMPED that Im able to train 4-5 days a week. Hitting PR’s weekly , currently 165lb Hip Thrusts and 175lb Glute Bridges. Its given me SUCH a sense of confidence to feel strong and like Im truly making gains. Im not the thinnest, most cut but thats ok. Im 43, Im most likely not going to be. I have always , my whole life, been Hyper critical of my body and just NOW Im able to start loving it and accepting the curves I do have..Lifting heavy and consistently has helped me with that, and also just being Kind to myself. This body has done so much for me..and for that Im grateful and accepting.

  • Annette says:

    Loved this….thank you Bret!

  • Kelly says:

    This was an amazing post. I’ve struggled to lose my last ten pounds and that’s all I seemed to care about. I’m 41 and can lift and work out harder then the girls half my age at the gym, but for some reason I’ve only cared about that stupid last ten pounds.

    My boss just said you have lost so much weight (55 pounds) you look great don’t lose any more or you will look sickly. I guess I cared more about the number and wanted to look like all the pictures I see all the time.

    Awesome article and thanks for putting things in perspective. It showed me to be thankful for the things I can do with my body!!!

  • Kim says:

    This is a great topic and you did a great job.

    I try to focus less on my appearance and more on how working out makes me feel. I think that’s the premise of intrinsic motivation– work out because it makes you feel good, not so you can look a certain way. It’s easy to get caught up in comparing yourself to others, especially at the gym when you see someone who looks stronger, can lift more, etc. I do what Bret does and focus on the goals I’ve achieved. I worked hard and earned the ability to do unassisted chin ups. It took me forever, and it was frustrating as hell, but it’s a real accomplishment to me. Every fitness enthusiast has something they’ve gotten good at with hard work.

    I always remind myself that it’s delayed gratification for a reason. Be in it for the long haul.

  • Shane says:

    That guy looking into the mirror has pretty rad glutes …

  • Emily says:

    As a former dancer (modern and ballet), it has taken me a very, very long time to learn to accept my body and while I still have some “bad” days, I can honestly say that I have more confidence in myself than I have ever had. I stand tall when I walk down the street. I like the strong backside that I have worked hard on these past three years. I tend to store my fat in my legs and buttocks as do most women but these legs and butt are strong and no one will ever make me feel bad about them. Not even me. An I am always 8 weeks out from being in awesome shape if needed. 😉 Lifting weights has helped me tremendously with my self-esteem issues about my body. I will never stop getting strong.

    Thanks for posting this Bret. It’s simple and honest. Feeling good about who you are should not be complicated.

    Emily

  • Irene says:

    I can be just like this reader because literally look at myself naked everyday & grab the stubborn areas of fat that I haven’t gotten rid of & hate my life for the rest of the day. But I starting taking pictures & it was definitely helpful because I was able to see how much my body has actually changed, not to mention all my strength gains. I was never able to do a pull up ever & I can get 3-5 now so that’s something I’m extremely proud of. I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop being so nit picky but I know I’ve worked really hard & have a lot to be proud of.

  • Erin says:

    Well put Bret. As a recovering (haha) competitor I have been obsessed with my physique and that of many others. Earlier this year I was so distracted by how perfect I perceived all these other girls to be (thanks Instagram), I let it completely ruin a show and what should have been a really fun experience. I did it again on a national stage. Instead of being satisfied that I had gained so much in a small amount of time, I cheapened it by believing others’ achievements invalidated mine. As a girl, it’s hard not to want to be the most pretty or fit. It’s hard to put into perspective what others do to get where they are and the time that goes along with it. Ask any pro if they achieved success overnight whether it be financial or physical- nope! It really is a process that is never quite finished, but it’s important to identify successes and ‘areas of opportunity’. It’s also crucial to evaluate what is possible. As much as I’d like to be 5’10” with long legs, no amount of gym time will get me any closer. So I can’t stare at pictures or girls that have these qualities and make myself feel bad I don’t possess those. It’s a losing battle. It always is nice to read stuff like this, because we do not always realize the stress we place on ourselves or why we feel badly. Having someone say “it’s okay to not be perfect” is a nice reminder. Thanks Bret!

  • Alex says:

    So, did Sheila’s car get fixed? What was wrong with it? Don’t leave us hanging!

    Wait, did I miss the point?

  • Steve says:

    I was similarly frustrated today, that I wasn’t seeing results quickly enough, and consequently was finding it difficult to motivate myself in the gym today. However it occurred to me: what are the alternatives? Quit, thereby ensuring that I never reach my goal, or somehow magically achieve my goal instantaneously which would then require regular and consistent effort to maintain…for life, so long as I want to keep them and be a better version of myself. So if I am in this for the long haul, who cares if the results don’t come “quickly” enough, even when they do I’ll still be putting in the same effort, day in and day out. I’m in immensely better shape now than I was 6 months ago, and in 6 months, 1 year, 10 years from now I will be even better still. I enjoy my health, and don’t want to lose it, so I decided to just enjoy the ride, even if I have to take the long way there.

  • Sara says:

    Great post. As someone who has gone from a 220lb fat girl to a fitness instructor with breast implants it has been a hell of a journey…personally, the biggest struggle is that I have is I am still the same person…pretty much everything I blamed on being fat are problems I still have, low self esteem, and dating/men issues, etc. for 24 years I thought all my woes were caused by being overweight, and then to become fit and pretty by societies standards and to still have issues is really almost comical:) guess the jokes on me…learning to focus on the interior versus the exterior is a lifelong battle for me, and perhaps all women…there’s no epiphany or blog that can make a woman change her focus on esthetics….it will always be a journey and struggle. Thank you for the gentle reminder, it does help but the balance of ‘real women’ pictures versus photoshopped unattainable images will always be off… As an individual , and perhaps all of us, a great reminder is you will really be screwed if you keep focusing on your looks as your top card, age, kids, weight happen… And eventually whose lives you touch and who’s faces you make smile will fuel you versus the scale or those skinny jeans… But it’s a daily struggle! Thanks for reading my long ramble…

    • Gina Marie Papagni says:

      I am 45. I say that because 20 yrs ago-maybe only 5 yrs ago I put so much emphasis on my body, my looks, what others thought about my “attractiveness”. I do have the touted hourglass shape and I seem to be considered good-looking by society’s standards and for a while I was hooked into believing that was important. I fed off it. My workouts fed off it. My moods sometimes fed off of it. I still struggle with wanting to look good and feel good for me and for enjoying life with loved ones. I have always cringed around the “posers’ and never stayed at a gym too long–choosing to workout at home without stares, come-ons and silly gymrat behavior. I believe its a delicate balance between health and ego and knowing your worth does not come from your looks or even your strength. Bret, thank you for another great article!

  • Cláudia says:

    Hi Bret…
    I love your site… I’ve been working all my body and focused on my glutes since i’m 16 … i’ve 26… I’ve 58kg and 1,63m….. and sometimes i feel so lost… I don’t have a coach… everyday i browse about my next day training… I don’t know what to do… I feel so lost… So i want to ask u one thing… it’s bad to change a routine every week? it’s bad to train 3x a week legs and glutes with some volume? I like to feel tired after workout… it’s bad to use circuit training and next week strengh training?

    thank uuu love ur blog

  • Yery says:

    Amazing response! Thank you for sharing Bret.

    Maybe I have things wrong……. But if we fall in Love with “who we are” first then loving “what we look” like might come easier…….

    I do believe that our inside is reflected on our bodies, and somehow I’ve seen in myself (and physique) the difference happiness and positivity has done. Something that a great training program and diet alone had never accomplished before. I have always trained consistently (about 9 years) and ate sensibly. But it wasn’t until I added meditation and focused on spirituality that my body had an “aesthetic breakthrough”. Just a thought……..

  • Shane McLean says:

    Been reading your blog only for a little while. But this is the by far the best post I have read. Nice work.

  • cameo says:

    “I store belly and back fat, but I’m always 6 weeks away from being in awesome shape if need-be.” Boom. My new mantra, love it Brett and great reply. From a man, even! 😉

  • Suzi Q says:

    Great article. And, my answer to your question, “Seriously? Is this dude even real?” is this: “Oh, God – I HOPE SO!” 😉

  • Kim says:

    Thanks for this article. I’m a trainer and see/ hear as much body bashing from men as I do women. And I’m as guilty as anyone; the things I tell myself I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy.

    It helps to get out of your head and look around you. I try to compliment the people I see everyday at the gym; there is always someone doing something awesome. Whether it’s a veteran recovering from an injury, a person really struggling with obesity and working hard, someone with great flexibility – there’s always something to admire. It puts things in perspective. An encouraging word can really make someone’s day. Works for me anyway : )

  • Lauren says:

    Awesome post Brett. I just shared it with a group of women that I train. I love the emphasis on trying to focus on the positives instead of obsessing over the negatives. Keep up the great work and do keep pushing into these advice areas beyond your normal comfort zone of teaching us exercise science (which we also love of course!). This article and that one you wrote a few months back about Jessica Alba and Zoe Saldano were spot on and I would argue – even more salient for women to hear this from a man instead of another woman.

  • Michael T. says:

    This post and its comments are amazing! I think we all suffer from body issues from time to time. Since I was in high school I always felt self conscious about being skinny or only 5’8″ or having very little facial/body hair. How ridiculous! I should have been concentrating on my education, helping others and becoming more interesting. I had a wonderful body and all I needed to do was be physical and sporty and then move on to focus on something outside of my physical body.

    Two decades later, I sometimes battle the same stuff. Now it’s wishing I had not distorted my upper body over the years w too many weights and trying to build the lower body to the same extent, or wishing I knew how important core and glutes are. Again, waste of time. My current approach is to set a goal and not worry about it. Enjoy the process, how great a grueling workout makes you feel, how you are inspiring others, investing in your long term health and reducing the load on the health care systems.

    I see our workouts as not a contest or tool to change our physical flaws, but rather a gift to improve our health and sleep and improve cognitive brain function. A fit body is always attractive, in style and feels better, regardless of age, height, body type, gender, race, etc. When obsession over looks creeps in, focus on what we can do and how privileged we are to do it!

  • she-ra says:

    I notice that a lot of men seem to obsess about their thinning hair but never look below their neck to see what’s going on with their bodies.

  • Vanessa says:

    Hi everyone! Let’s connect and motivate each other! I started a group on meal logger to share our healthy meals and motivate each other in our Strong Curves Program! It’s fun free and open to all. There is a app for your iPhone!

    Check out my @meallogger group, Strong Curves – booty-ful http://goo.gl/qQmiFv

  • Sylvia says:

    I was surprised how much I liked this post. As a confidence expert, I think it’s a great testimony to the power of our minds. I have to add, learning HOW to control our focus is a life-changing treat. A lot of people think they need a trainer to get them into the gym, but what they need is a trainer to (lovingly) get them out of their minds!

    XO

    Sylvia Hall

  • nicole says:

    I am currently reading one of your books. I have had several trainers and I like being on my own. My question is I cant figure out if its my glutes or thighs that is the problem. I know my butt needs lifted, however I feel my thighs are big, I have never had the glute-hamstring connection. Can you give me some advice?

    Thank you

  • Danielle says:

    Eloquently written reply Bret! I will pass this along to my fellow fitness fanatic friends. It’s so easy to focus on the mirror that often times we forget how great it is that our bodies are conditioned (with all the hard work we put in) to survive even the hardest sweat sessions. I’ll flex to that!

    Cheers-
    Danielle

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