Martial Arts Cured My Horrible Body Image: Here’s How

I look at myself in the mirror every chance I get. I count the abs, or lack thereof. I pay attention to muscular outlines and whether my veins pop out enough. I poke and prod my body to see if it’s “dense” enough. These are my habits, and usually it’s no more than that. The problem is when it becomes more than that…

Body image is a problem. You want to look like the fitness gurus on YouTube or Instagram, and you’ll buy any number of products or programs to get there. It’s healthy to want to look healthy, but that doesn’t mean you should hate the way you look. Trust me, I’ve suffered from body dysmorphia for years. I don’t want to tell you that Martial Arts cured me. What I will tell you is that it helped… a lot.

I started lifted weights when I was a senior in high school and throughout most of college. 5 AM at the gym, constantly consuming protein (I’m surprised I didn’t have an IV dripping it into my veins), and always, always checking the mirror. I wanted to see it all working. It was a little, but never the way I wanted it to.

It got to the point where I’d rearrange my day to get a few extra reps at the gym, limiting my worth to what my body looked like. If I wasn’t big and strong, or look big and strong, then I wasn’t worth a damn.

It was unhealthy. It is unhealthy. And I know I’m not alone in it, whether girl or boy or anyone in between.

It’s natural to feel the need for perfection. Maybe you aren’t looking in the right light.

So, how did martial arts help me get over it? Well…

I began taking competitive Taekwondo a lot more seriously. I was training Muay Thai every day for an hour and then jumping into Taekwondo for another three. It’s not the only route to take, but eventually I started realizing that big muscles and a perfect-(looking) body was not helping me win. I was slow, tense, fatiguing way too quickly. No matter how much I could lift, it wasn’t helping me with what actually mattered in the ring.

It was tough, but eventually I stopped using the gym and just focused on martial arts. Did that help? No. Not really.

I still looked at myself in the mirror every chance I got and complained when something looked weak or underdeveloped. It’s a sucky way to live, but I chased every ounce of perfection I could get. If I didn’t look good one day, I worked twice as hard the next. Nothing was enough to for…

Then, over time, things changed. I stopped focusing on how I looked and began focusing on how I acted. Are my punches strong? Are my kicks fast?

I stopped looking at my body in the mirror and began noticing my technique. Practice wasn’t to make my body look better, but to perform better.

Something in my brain switched. I didn’t need to look perfect anymore. Do I get waves of insecurity? Oh, most definitely. Sill, martial arts showed me that worth is not based on vanity, it’s based on work.

I lost 10 pounds of muscle… and that was OKAY.

Actually, it was BETTER than okay. I was faster and more agile. My flexibility increased tenfold. I was close to a split! I didn’t need to pump iron, because I was comfortable in my body the way it was. I was a badass!

Yeah, I said it! I was a martial artist, and that was enough.

Does that mean you have to be? No, not at all. In fact, it doesn’t have to be fitness related at all. You should, of course, be staying healthy, but you don’t have to strive for a perfect model body.

Why? Because you’re not one. (Unless you are, in which case you should probably keep working! I’ve heard it’s good money).

See your worth as what you’re capable of, not how others can see you. You don’t need to look perfect.

As long as you’re striving for greatness in your own way, then you’re doing enough.




Writer, martial artist, and downright awesome guy... as long as he's fed.

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Alden Etra

Alden Etra

Writer, martial artist, and downright awesome guy... as long as he's fed.

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