Alice Beckett-Rumberger and Julia Erikson

My friends and I watched the indie film Embrace, produced by Tara Brumfitt about women and their body images. I laughed and cried, and the documentary really made me think! As a physical therapist, I look at bodies and movement all day. Evaluations and treatment plans that I interpret daily improve biomechanics and body function. As a “health” care professional, I am trained to understand health—by the numbers—blood pressure, sugars, cholesterol, strength, flexibility, height, weight, and BMI.

A woman is so much more than her numbers. She is a daughter, sister, mother, and a friend. We work, and we are caregivers. When we have a moment to slow down and think about ourselves, it should be positive! We are doers! But the reality is, according to the film, 90% of us rate ourselves as “body dissatisfied.” Where does that come from? What can we do about how we view ourselves?

The answer is certainly not simple. In fact, as I was preparing and researching content for this article, I was forced to reflect on my own views about myself! Because we wanted to add a photo to this piece, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Shellie Hipsky and I considered asking friends who were body confident to be in our shoot…in bathing suits! Of course, Hipsky told me with a smile that I would be featured too!

I have to admit I took a pause. To be completely honest, I was not 100% confident. Most people who know me probably find that hard to believe. In public, I confidently work out in only a sports bra and leggings. I try to maintain balance in a hectic and blessed life (while raising my seven children). I work out and eat extremely healthy.

From an intellectual point of view, I grasp the idea that no one “body” is perfect. Body function is not based on perfection but, rather, it is a balance of flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular health to be able to perform at our peak in any given activity.

Science tells us that humans have three basic body types: ectomorphs who have a thinner body frame, endomorphs who have a larger body frame, and mesomorphs who are somewhere in-between. Women also tend to accumulate fat in two different zones, the apple shape around the waistline or the pear shape around the hips. In fact, according to the American Medical Association, the waist-to-hip ratio is a more powerful predictor of heart disease than Body Mass Index.

Photo: Jose G. Alban; #BodyPositve Models: Stacie Lawerence, Michalene Cerqua, PamHughes, Dr. Shellie Hipsky, Alice Beckett-Rumberger, Ginger Landino Pillar, Leigh Solomon Pugliano, Lindsay Wilson

With so many factors influencing the shape of our bodies, it would be impossible to be “perfect”! Health is a much more important focus than the appearance of our bodies. Being able to enjoy life and activities without fatigue, shortness of breath, or body aches and pains should be our goal.

Current media does influence our perception of ourselves and what we should look like, and yet, those images are changing. “Companies like Modcloth use models with diverse body types to advertise the clothing. Because of this, Modcloth provided these fabulous bathing suits for this article’s main image.” I have even seen interviews with Victoria Secret models who admit to special exercise plans and diets to prepare for the annual fashion show! Body images and what the perfect body looks like has changed over the decades. The reality is there are no perfect bodies. Our bodies were designed to be functional, to move, to eat, to enjoy life.

As a physical therapist, the perfect trifecta of physical body health is good flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular endurance. I had the opportunity to sit down with my #bodycrush Julia Erikson, a principle dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Ballet dancers require endurance, flexibility, and strength. Being the principle dancer, Erikson performs in front of thousands of ballet patrons each season. I asked Julia what it means to be body confident. She told me that even as a dancer it is hard. She says it helps her perspective that she views the body as a tool and not the enemy. She further says the ballet is art, and there is beauty in all bodies being different. Julia advises that we need to have a softness to live and find balance.

Make a promise to yourself to know your health numbers—good blood pressure, good sugars, and good weight for you. But most of all, be kind to yourself. You are exceptional. If you want to get leaner, stronger, more flexible, do it for you. Be authentic, and be you because a real woman is one of the most powerful forms of inspiration!