x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Women miss the point of working out

Fatima al Shamsi laments that women should realise they need to be fit, and not necessarily thin.

"I've finally made it down to the gym," one of my friends proclaims to a group of us. After a round of congratulations she adds, "to cancel that stupid membership, not to actually work out".

I'm the only one to congratulate her this time around.

Don't get me wrong. I am a gym fiend. I am all about staying fit. My secret dream is to have a six-pack and Michelle Obama arms. If I could I'd take all those aerobic, dance and yoga classes and new-age revolutionary workouts they keep coming up with. But with the reality of time constraints and a malfunctioning ankle, my limit is to hourly workouts several times a week. I've always hated the New Year's resolution crowd. Every year for the month of January the gym is packed with people who have decided, "This year, I'll actually lose those 10 pounds".

What bothers me is the mentality that comes with the "go to the gym" resolution. Most of the time those who are peer-pressured into going to the gym do it for all the wrong reasons.

Instead of being a positive change, a real desire to lead a more active life, working out is done just with the aim of losing weight.

For women, this fictional ideal - being skinny - is equated with beauty somehow. Looking good is great motivation but I deplore the idea that there is an ideal weight or shape in order for a woman to consider herself attractive.

Too many women suffer from body image problems, which can lead to guilt and even eating disorders. So many times I have felt bad for finishing off a tiramisu or deciding that I was going to snack on ice cream. I have to justify it to myself, "It's OK, you've been to the gym already today" or "You've skipped breakfast, the calorie count will somehow work out".

But no more! I'm sick of hearing my beautiful and intelligent friends whine about the size of their thighs. Four years of college and I'm supposed to have conversations about how much we hate our bodies?

This appalls me because the problem is twofold: not only do we allow publicity, films and television to tell us what's beautiful, but we also help fuel this nonsense by encouraging each other to lose weight as we sit around discussing superficial matters.

It wasn't until recently that I realised my desire is not necessarily to be skinny but simply to have a healthy, strong body. That is my reason for working out and eating sensibly. But even in being active, moderation is key. I am not an athlete and do not have the luxury to dedicate copious amounts of time to getting fit.

A friend of mine used to joke, "Stay healthy, work out, die anyways". Although the joke is morbid the message is accurate.

Years from now I hope to look back knowing that I've enjoyed life by being active and pushing my body to see what it can do but also by taking advantage of the culinary delights the world has to offer.

While I still feel like a monster every time I go out to buy new jeans, a long bike ride leaves me feeling absolutely amazing and thankful to my thighs for persevering. I'm just working on making the latter sensation a habit.

So although I'm going to sign up for Zumba classes, when it is time to visit my dad in Italy, I'll work on polishing off the pizza, because the food there is phenomenal.

Fatima al Shamsi is an Emirati living in New York.