Things I’ve Learned Studying Jiu Jitsu, Lesson 10: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Body Image

I like to think as a woman in Jiu Jitsu, I’ve got a pretty positive body image. I feel strong, I rarely think I’m fat or anything like that, I generally like my body and in part I attribute that to Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu helped me not only change my body, but also change the way I think about my body as well. I’m not going to sit here and say BJJ made me into a hot and skinny woman or something silly like that. Jiu Jitsu has taught me both how to take care of my body as well as how to really value my body.

Like many teenage girls, I often hated my body growing up. I’ve got big calves, a propensity to general thickness and I was made fun of a bit in school. I felt like I was fat and definitely didn’t consider myself athletic at all. Growing into adulthood took care of a lot of myouthful body image issues, but it took Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to help me understand how to appreciate my body not as an object that simply projects from my character, but as a machine that I’m in control of, and actually like to operate.

I used to be preoccupied with what people thought of my body, and in some ways I still do a bit, but learning how to impose a submission on a BJJ partner makes preoccupations about how I look in shorts suddenly seem silly and unimportant. It didn’t take long after beginning Jiu Jitsu that I stopped worrying about how fat I looked in my rashguard and started thinking about how I was going to get stronger and more explosive. When I step on the scale, I’m concerned about staying within my chosen weight class, not an arbitrarily chosen ’target weight’. It’s been one of the most singularly life changing tweaks in thinking I’ve had, and Jiu Jitsu got me there.

I’ve learned how to value the power in my body. I’ve got really strong legs. They’ll never be elegant, slim and lithe. I often joke that I’ve got cows instead of calves. They’re thick, blocky, muscular and perfect for keeping strong hooks and a powerful closed guard. Without even thinking about it, almost by accident, I learned how to love my most disliked body feature. I learned how to strengthen my body for BJJ, and in the process I learned the mechanics of my body. My diet got better (People often absorb “the bjj lifestyle” when they start training, changing to and experimenting with a healthier diet is one of the first aspects), which helped my body perform better, and somewhere in the past I had left my preoccupation with whether or not people thought my body was sexy or gross. It just plain stopped really mattering.

I can’t say I never get down on myself. In the last month for instance, I dropped the ball on my diet and training schedule and consequently gained about 15 pounds. It’s taken me pretty far away from featherweight, and while I’ve noticed I fill my jeans out a bit full right now, I really don’t care about how my silhouette is cut in my rashguards, I’m too busy trying to figure out how to catch my opponent’s arm.