The Unrealistic Perception of the Six Pack
This is what my body looks like:
As you can see, I don’t have a six pack. Looking at the picture above, you may not even realize that I was a Division 1 athlete for the University of Arizona. Why? Because you’re so used to seeing six pack abs on women of countless magazine covers that you probably have a skewed perception about what real health is and what it looks like.
I am a Registered Dietitian- in my profession, a body fat of below 20% is considered unhealthy for women. As a D1 athlete, my body fat was 14%. Even at 14% body fat, there was no six pack to be found on my body.
What most people don’t realize is the degree of commitment and sacrifice that is necessary to achieve the six pack. And it’s not necessarily in the positive sense that I use the terms “commitment” and “sacrifice”. At the D1 collegiate level, I worked out 4-5 hours/day to achieve 14% body fat. I woke up at 4 am to make my 5 AM morning practice and then went to class from 8 AM to 3 PM, upon which time I had my second practice for the day. By 6 PM, I was on my way to my evening classes. So what does that tell you?
It tells you that in order to achieve a visible six pack, as a woman, there is a tremendous degree of dietary monitoring that even I, as a dietitian, am not willing to undergo. I am all for health and fitness. I believe in eating healthy- but I also love burgers and french fries. Calamari and cheesecake are God’s gift to the world in my book. And while I only eat these foods about once a month, if at all, I know that once/month is far too many times to achieve a six pack. Not to mention the degree of dehydration that is undertaken by body builders and fitness models prior to a competition/photo shoot just to achieve optimal muscle definition.
Achieving the six pack is not sustainable in the long term nor is it realistic. So I’ve posted pictures of me in an attempt to normalize our perceptions of health and wellness. Would you have guessed, by looking at the picture above, that I exercise about 1 hour/day anywhere between 4-6 days/week? I may not have a six pack but I do have muscle elsewhere. Just look below:
I’ve always taken pride in my inherent ability to do push-ups. A gymnast growing up, I’ve never struggled to accomplish the “regular push-up”. Therefore, I can proudly acclaim that I’ve never resorted to “girl push-ups”.
I LOVE planks (and have bad skin days). Even though I’ve never had the visible six pack, I hold the record among my high school track buddies for holding the longest plank- 25 minutes. Granted I was able to switch sides so I wasn’t holding the standard plank for 25 minutes. Still, I stayed up the entire time!
I consider the exercise ball a staple for any exercise fanatic such as myself.
In conclusion, I hope that I’ve managed to make some female out there feel better in terms of body image. You don’t have to (nor would I necessarily consider it healthy from the perspective of an RD) have a six pack as an indicator of health and wellness. There are many factors that play into the six pack including genetics. My body type inherently stores fat around the abdomen so the fact that I’ve managed to obtain a relatively flat stomach is a feat in and of itself and I celebrate it as such.
So here’s an ode to the belly pooch. Here’s to accepting our feminine bodies for what they are- physical entities that store fat more readily than men for biological purposes, most notably of which is childbirth. Let’s stop hating ourselves for not having manly traits and celebrate the beauty that is the feminine physique!