Love Your Body for What it Does: Clove’s Salty Challenge!

Easier said than done. Image via

I’ve always hated my stomach.

Hate is such a terrible word, and I try to use it sparingly.  But it was a good hook, and something I think many women can relate to.  My family traditionally carries weight in the stomach, and though I run 100 miles a week faithfully and do core work every day, my stomach will probably never be what I want it to be.  The saddest part is that though I’ve never struggled with a true eating disorder, photographs of my stomach tend to reveal something far more appealing than what I see daily in my mirror.


Needless to say when Salty threw out her “shirtless challenge” in “Running Fashion Police:  Going Shirtless!” I wanted to crawl under my bed and hide.  In a baggy sweatshirt.

But DB had been bugging me about the same thing.  He’s never understood my stomach obsession; he sees what appears in the photographs.  We’ve had unseasonably (and unreasonably) high temperatures, and I’ve been doing three very hot long runs per week.  And it sounded soooooo appealing to get that drippy tank off.  But the minute I was out of our driveway, I felt naked.  Naked and exposed.

Safe! Resisting Salty’s evil challenge to take it all off. (This is right before I crawled under the bed to hide.)


Exposed! Taking on the challenge and realizing that the camera tells a much nicer story than the mirror does. (Maybe the problem isn’t the mirror as much as my head?)

I wanted to run my nekkid stomach home as fast as I possibly could.  But instead, I forced myself to keep going.  Down.  The.  Street.

And an amazing thing happened.

No one laughed.  No one stared.  No one pointed.

In fact, no one really looked at me at all.  Just like I don’t really look at anyone else.

Actually, I see women of countless different shapes and sizes in nothing but sports bras every day.  And even when the woman is significantly larger than me (which isn’t hard, given my frame), she might be surprised to know what I’m really thinking: “God, I wish I had your confidence.”

So on that run I made a commitment to myself.  I made a commitment to myself that (damn it!) I was going to learn to love my body for what it does, not for what it looks like.  Whether or not my stomach is problematic in reality is irrelevant.  It’s the power I’ve given a single body part to determine my worth that is the real problem.

I’ll be 37 later this year, and I think my generation was the last to have a hope of realistic body image.  We had Kelly Kapowski from “Saved by the Bell,” and Brenda Walsh from “90210.”  These girls were thin, but they weren’t stick figures.  At the same time Tracey Gold (Carol Seaver on “Growing Pains”) was suffering from an eating disorder and Jenny McCarthy was starting to flaunt her rock-hard abs on “Singled Out.”  Kate Moss, Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta were the “It Girls” by the time I made it to college, and by the time I was out airbrushing 20 pounds off magazine cover models was the norm.  Make no mistake: it’s gotten harder to look good.  And good is actually bad.  And kind of gross.

Remember Brenda? She looks healthy. She might look even healthier if her shorts didn’t cover her lower ribcage. 80’s flashback!  Image via
Remember Kate? She didn’t start the fire. But ads like this threw plenty of fuel on it.  Image via

As women we live in a cruel culture.  Magazines lie, celebrities lie, and we’re “told” that this is good.  That this is what we want to look like when no one even looks like that at all!  I mean, did you hear about the ridiculously airbrushed March 2012 cover of Vogue on which Adele magically dropped 30 or so pounds?  Did you know that six-pack abs can be airbrushed and highlighted onto a live body and that celebrities have partaken of this service on beach jaunts or at concerts where they’re likely to be photographed?  And you do realize that double-Spanxing is more than a little common on the red carpet, right?  I’m not talking Christian Grey spanking, ladies – I’m talking about those girdle-like panties that convince the rest of us that not having a tight belly three weeks after pregnancy (or even  a hamburger) is a sign of laziness or gluttony.


But don’t kid yourself.  You know it happens to runners too.  You know you’ve checked your training partner out.  Or coveted someone else’s abs or legs or seemingly perfect upper body.  You’ve ogled the perfect physiques of the pros. And more likely than not, you’ve allowed it to suggest you’re a) not working hard enough or b) eating too much.


Me?  Yeah, I could have some of it.  I could stop watching two episodes of “The Office” with dinner every night and do more upper body work instead.  I could cut some of the sugar and summer cocktails and squeeze off just one or two more pounds, which would hopefully be that “family weight” hovering on my stomach.  But you know what?  I don’t want to.  I work hard.  I work out almost 20 hours per week right now, and that’s it.  That, my friends, is enough.  And at the end of the week, I’m not giving up pizza and mojitos on Saturday night over a stupid obsession.

Enough said. Image via

So with that, I’m issuing an addendum to the “Run Shirtless” challenge.  And I’m asking all of you to try it with me for a week.  It’s a very simple challenge to DO; the trick will be getting it to sink in.

Whatever your current workout routine is, do it.  Add nothing new, but take nothing away.  Eat a healthful diet.  Drink adequate water.  Enjoy an indulgence or two.

DO NOT beat up on your stomach, your arms, your saddlebags.  Or your bum, or the loose skin on your arms, or your lack of defined biceps.

When this happens, your mission is to SAY OUT LOUD:  “I love my body for what it does, not what it looks like.”

How empowering is that simple phrase?  I love my body for what it does, not what it looks like.

Has your body fought cancer?  Delivered children?  Lost weight?  Forgiven you for years of unhealthful eating, drug or alcohol use or sheer neglect?  Transformed itself into a runner’s body?

Because if you’re out there running, you’re living in a runner’s body.

So love your body for what it does, not what it looks like.  Let’s do it together and see what happens.  I’ll try if you will.

Tell me, Salty Readers:  will you take the challenge?

Trail and adventure enthusiast. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Survived infertility without a successful pregnancy. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Thirteen 100-mile race finishes with seven top 3 placements. An original Saltine.

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  1. YES! I love this post!!! I used to be so against taking my shirt off. I’d look at myself and think, “Oh, you so can’t swing that” and then I’d look at other people and think the same thing. But then I met Pepper and she didn’t care. She’d take off her shirt when she was up a few lbs or down a few lbs or any time! Haha. She’ll wear bunz any time too. Doesn’t care. I figured I could at least try it. And wouldn’t you know that I also felt very naked at first, but then I couldn’t go back! I think I wore a singlet 2x last summer. And I had two kids and a little flappy skin when I bent over, but who cares! No one cares! And once I was comfortable with myself in just a bra and even just a bra and bunz (taking it off is a slippery slope), I hardly noticed anyone else. Once I quit judging myself, I quit judging everyone else. So think about that next time someone gives you the side-eye–they’re hard on themselves. I so accept your challenge, except I just can’t take the shirt off with the pregnant belly, but I will be proud of my body and even my ever-spreading @ss that is slowly growing out of all my shorts, because my body is doing something amazing and it will bounce back yet again and then I’ll be back to my bra and bunz proud self. THANKS FOR THE PEP TALK!

  2. Ugh. This post is what’s on my mind. Daily. I have had three full term pregnancies. My last one was my twins. I’m short (5′ 1/2″) with a very short torso. So, while carrying said twins, my ever expanding belly had no where to go but out. WAY out. The result…hideous stretch marks and a layer of skin that I cannot get rid of. The 50+ weekly miles and many, many planks have not helped one bit. I joke with my husband (although I am mostly not joking) that I would take no shame in using our future Disney trip fund on my tummy tuck. It is just SO frustrating working my tail off and still getting suspicious looks from strangers that read “hmmm…maybe she’s 3 or 4 months pregnant?”. I know I just need to wear my marks proud, but I can’t. I hate, HATE, how my stomach looks. I refuse to diet. I work way to hard not to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with my pizza or hamburger. I wish I knew what it was that prevents me from being proud & accepting my body for the way it is. I am not one to be lacking in the department of self confidence. I’ll get there…one day.

      1. WHAT?! You do not look even remotely pregnant! You are beautiful and have an amazing body that gave you 4 amazing kids. I think we need to do a follow-up post on actual things we can do to learn to love our bodies. Just saying it isn’t enough. The belief that our bodies are inadequate is so ingrained in our heads that it’s going to take almost cult-deprogramming levels of rewiring our brains to learn to accept how awesome our bodies and ourselves really are!

    1. Oh Michelle! This is what this website is all about; different women coming together to support each other. I laugh because in spite of my struggle with this body part, I would do anything to have stretch marks – because it would mean I managed to have a baby! It’s not something I can relate directly to because of my personal situation, but here again – when I see stomachs with stretch marks, I don’t think it’s icky at all … I’m just jealous!

      But I love that you’re with me on enjoying a cocktail or pizza; we DO work hard, and restriction or “punishment” is not the answer!

  3. Yep! I’ll take it. I’m about 10 lbs heavier than last year at this time (marathon training last year, low mileage this year) and I definitely feel heavier but every person I’ve said this to thinks I’m crazy, tells me how I look great, etc. We are so hard on ourselves!

    1. When I saw you, you looked awesome! But looks aren’t the issue. This constant feeling of inadequacy most of us feel is the problem and that’s perpetuated by our culture every single moment of the day (almost). Not that we already don’t have enough to spend our precious seconds on, but to overcome that takes effort and time just like anything else. And I suspect it’s worth a little investment!

  4. I knew this post would be a trigger, and I am so happy to see other women coming out to admit they struggle with these issues – and that they’re willing to start being NICE to themselves.

    I mean, really: Compare this post to Mint’s “Girls on the Run” post earlier this week. To be positive role models for these girls, we need to practice what we preach!!! I would never want a friend’s daughter or my nieces or my Sunday School girls to judge themselves so harshly – and especially on something as silly as their stomach or their calves. Yet I’ve done it for years.

    I so agree with Salty that we need to do more. Saying it is a great start, but we can start a real revolution with ACTION. Our country is in the middle of an obesity epidemic, yet the women on this site (arguably some of the most healthy in the country) are jumping right up and raising their hands to confess their issues with body image. We just have to stop being so mean to ourselves – and to each other.

    Especially when what we’re judging ourselves against is … um, fake? I mean seriously: spray painted abs?!?!? STOP THE MADNESS!

  5. I have thought about this a lot. I’ve never had a good relationship with mirrors, most of my loathing directed at my family gift: giant thighs. Sure, these babies allow me to glide up hills with relative ease, but try to buy a pair of jeans that don’t squeeze my legs like sausages? FORGET IT. Add a couple of extra “corporate” pounds to the mix, and my poor legs—the source of my greatest happiness—somehow become the enemy. I hide them in compression shorts WITH an over-layer, not so concerned of what other people think as much as dreading what my legs look like in pictures (could we please have a running signal for “No really, I don’t want my picture taken!”). This post is a great reminder that while I’m cringing at my marathonfotos, those legs took this body 26, 30, 50, or 65 miles…AT ONE TIME—something only a tiny portion of the population will ever do! I think this Nike Ad really sums it up: 🙂

    1. Wha?!?! Thanks for sharing – because I don’t get it! Just like everyone tells me I’m insane about my stomach, I NEVER would have thought or guessed this! And I’ve seen you in regular clothes without compression shorts. Lady, you are an ULTRARUNNER and I what I love the most about your comment is this single phrase: that your legs are the source of your greatest happiness. Treat them that way!!!

    2. Cinnamon and I were also bestowed with such a family gift, although admittedly the family was a little more generous with Cinnamon. I always knew she was the favorite!

      Seriously though let me tell you that even the fittest among us HATE the VAST majority of our race photos. THE. VAST. MAJORITY. Race photos are just, um, bad news. It takes about 100 of them to get one good one and usually the good ones (not surprisingly) come from races that went well–something about the attitude that makes the photos work. For another post…

      BUt yes. Let’s all work to love what our big strong thighs do for us and focus less on the jean size necessary to fit them. We are so lucky to have the health and strength to do what we do. Let’s fight this battle together!

      1. it is my pleasure. the video called “Killing us Softly” on youtube and elsewhere really makes a terrifying mark as to how what we see in magazines relays nothing at all close to reality. i was aware of it to some degree — the common “airbrushed” chant — but i had no idea what they are capable of doing. she succinctly shows the variety of ways, including different parts of faces, to make the fake images we see.

        i was one of the “fat kids” from about 5th to 11th grade and i will always have the albatross hanging over me that i’m “husky” as per my pants size i was required to get. i’ll always think of myself that way no matter how much weight i lose or how many miles i run a week so i do empathize. enjoy what we have. many people don’t!

        as my favorite expression goes, “strong is the new skinny”!

    1. Mike – there are efforts to get Teen Vogue to stop as well. The biggest problem, however, is getting the advertisers to tone it down and get real. That is going to be a lot harder than getting the magazines to play fair. That said, I agree that change is in the air.

      Anyone interested in this subject should check out the documentary Miss Representation. It is very thought-provoking – for own views as well as those we instill in our girls AND boys.

  6. Great post, Clove. With societal influences and just human nature, I think it will always be a challenge to be completely comfortable and strong in our own skin, male or female (though mostly female). However, things like this post and confidence being built up slowly over time seem to help ease the anxiety. In my current faith/spirituality journey, I’m finding that this “I love my body for what it does, not what it looks like” mantra sort of applies. No matter your beliefs, your body can be viewed as a gift, unique and special, even if includes flaws. Being content with the present is hard but once achieved, it is oh so rewarding in more ways than one! Thanks for the reminder with your inspiring words!

  7. It’s funny, I was thinking earlier about all of the things I had wanted to do this summer that I haven’t done. One of them was run the Mohican 50 without a shirt. I didn’t do it because I thought my stomach was too fat. Though everyone told me I am crazy, I just keep thinking that they’re not seeing what I’m seeing. During the race, all I wanted was too take my shirt off because it had stuck to me so badly, but I didn’t want anyone to see my flab and stretch marks. And since then, I’ve been lifting and doing some ab work because of how badly I felt. But I guess it’s one of those things that’s all in my head. Thanks for writing this post, definitely gave me some confidence to just go shirtless!!

    1. DO IT! DO IT! It’s so freeing to not only be shirtless, but to reach that level of self-acceptance. It’s not easy to make the leap, but once you do you’ll be glad you did 🙂

  8. i beg your pardon. i cannot find the Killing Us Softly 4 that has a walk-through of several manipulations of the images. i did find this, though. none of us look like what we see in magazines — including the people pictured!

  9. Great post, Clove! I am pretty liberal with my sports bra runs. The way I see it, I’m the one out running! If someone wants to judge, they can get out in the heat and run and then we’ll talk! No one has ever judged though. Except one time when I ran past a young kid and his mom (in my sports bra) and heard him say “Mommy, why is that lady running naked?” I had a good laugh:)

  10. Wonderful post! I did a sports bra run last Saturday for the first time in a long time. I finally realized, who cares? No offense, Salty, it was more the 80+ degree temps at 7 a.m. that inspired me than your post 🙂 I’m always a little shy about showing off my sooo stereotypical lower back tattoo, but hey, whatever, it’s part of who I am. I have also been rocking the booty shorts on a more regular basis (just one step shy of bunz). Moral of the story: I work hard and I’m proud of my real, non-Photoshopped body.