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Authentic Eagles: On Body Image

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our  truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Nici Perrault, A&S '14

The Plex is such a staple on BC’s campus. I still remember my first trip there. It was during my first week on campus as a freshman. I was nervous about going, so I recruited one of my roommates to accompany me so that we could work off the previous night’s binge drinking and Late Night.  What better reason to head to the Plex than this? This is likely the reason most people frequent the gym every day for multiple hours – they don’t want to gain the almost unavoidable college weight. That was definitely my reason freshman year.

From setting foot onto campus freshman year I felt the pressure to keep up with the BC look, which requires a thin build. If I was also going to keep up with weekend drinking I needed to work out hard at the Plex for hours at a time. I was working out not for myself, to make myself feel good, but so that I could look good for other people.

I was always looking for workouts that would optimize my calorie burning. I heard that spinning was one such workout. So I called into the Equipment Desk and signed up for my first spinning class. I made the trek down to the Plex from Upper Campus, hoping that this class would create a calorie deficit.

While I don’t know how many calories I burned, I do know that I got one of the best workouts of my life. I was challenged, out of breath, sweaty and happy by the end. I loved how the music was able to motivate me to pedal faster or harder and led me through the hills, sprints and flats of the class.  For 60 minutes I was able to forget about whatever I was anxious or stressed about. I felt stronger after each subsequent class. Maybe my legs weren’t getting thinner, but rather they were gaining muscle. I became interested in the process, leading me to pursue one of the first interests I found at BC.

I approached the then-Group Fitness Director and told her about my new found passion for spinning and exercise. I asked how I might go about getting certified to teach my own class. I was surprised when she offered me a job after that first meeting. I went through the certification class and by April of my freshman year I was subbing spin classes. I felt like I had power: the power to give others a 60-minute workout that left them challenged, out of breath, sweaty and happy.

Teaching spinning led to more opportunities for me at the Plex. My boss approached me about becoming a Personal Trainer. I had never thought of this as an option. I worked with a trainer in high school and looked up to him for so much information and advice. I took this as a chance to learn more about the body as it relates to exercise. I completed the certification course and enrolled in Anatomy and Physiology and Chemistry, thinking I would one day want to make a career out of this interest. Although I quickly changed my mind on that, I still continue to train and teach at the Plex.

As a trainer and instructor I am in a position where people can reach out to me or look to me for advice or inspiration. I understand that people who come to my classes likely aren’t there because they genuinely enjoy working out. My clients list “weight loss” and “get in shape” as their reasons for coming to me. While these reasons may still get me out of bed on a Sunday morning to combat the excess calories I may have consumed over the weekend, I do end up enjoying myself. I try to inspire that same enjoyment in other members and clients. My current boss makes sure this mantra comes from all of us instructors and trainers.

It can be tempting to use phrases such as, “Think about burning off the dessert you ate last night,” or “Spin faster so that you can have that extra drink tonight,” but these phrases promote unhealthy exercise and eating habits instead of preventing them. Body image is such an issue at BC and the Plex is a place where these issues are attempted to be resolved.

I have suffered and still suffer from my own insecurities and use the Plex as a place to try and combat those. However, becoming an instructor and trainer has allowed me to understand exercising in a whole new way. While I may run a little faster on the treadmill the day after getting late night at Roggies, I am doing it for me, not anyone else. I want to feel healthy and confident. I want to be the person who clients look up to and respect because I am able to enjoy exercise, but not let it consume my life in an unhealthy way.

Exercise has definitely become a part of my identity at BC. Strange as it may seem, people do come up to me because they know me as the instructor from a class they took earlier in the week or the girl whose awkward picture hangs on the wall by the track for the world to see. I am proud of this identity. I want to be seen as someone who is health conscious and works hard.

Exercise takes a lot of discipline, something I have learned from the various hours I have spent crafting workouts and routines as well as the numerous races I have trained for. Working at the Plex has allowed me to find my place at BC and meet many great people because of it. It is a place where I feel comfortable and confident and I hope that I am able to impress these feelings on the people I work with so that they are able to have a balanced, healthy lifestyle in and out of the Plex.

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