Tagged with: Cerebral Palsy coach disability exercise goals health Healthcare Professionals Physical Activity
The Associated Press published an online article from the National Association of Physical Activity and Health, (http://napah.ca/asp/news/articles/women_who_exercise_mirrors_feel_worse.asp), which cited studies that indicate mirrors in workout settings can have a negative influence on how women feel and view themselves. The article did not focus on women with disabilities. Kerry Wiley working with James House, III
Yet, when I read the article, I thought about the wall of mirrors in the fitness center I attend.
During my workouts, I am challenging the limits of my body, how I view my body, and my capabilities. Frequently I work with my Movement Specialist in a studio. The room has an entire wall covered with mirrors. The mirrors are there to help clients improve their technique. When I start my workout, I turn away from the mirrors. I do not want to see myself when I exercise. I feel when something goes wrong, such as having my legs go into spasms from an exercise, I do not need or want to see the visual effects of the leg spasms or some other “dysfunction.”
When I am in session, I am using every ounce of energy and concentration I have to accomplish the assigned task and exercise. I am giving everything I have physically and psychologically to defy the spasticity and other challenges related to my Cerebral Palsy. In these moments, I only see the goal I am working towards— to walk without assistive devices. I do not see what the mirrors show, the asymmetries, imbalances, or “dysfunctions” of my body.
A 2005 study noted that “women with disabilities ages 19 to 60 negatively evaluate their bodies.”[i] Studies have also shown that “exercising in mirrored environments produces negative feelings in sedentary women who exercise alone or in the presence of others.” [ii]
When I pay attention to the mirror image in the studio, my feelings about myself often change. I experience a heightened sense of self-consciousness. If I have successfully completed the instructions or exercises given by my Movement Specialist, I’m okay with the reflection in the mirror. If I have not been successful in my program, the feelings of frustration and disappointment multiply when I see my reflection and what appears to so many as my physical “dysfunctions.”
The Movement Specialist I work with often prompts me to look into the mirror to view a specific body position or stance, and copy the corrections they illustrate, all with the intent of having me learn a new pattern or technique. Sometimes when I look into that mirror, I fail to see the alteration or improvement. Instead I see the physical limits of my movements. I become sidetracked and am forced to see how far I have to go or discover another new hurdle to overcome.
Should mirrors be in fitness centers? Given the choice, I would remove all of the mirrors from the fitness center I attend. I work hard to safeguard the image I hold of myself away from the mirrors; the reflection I see is one without imbalances, asymmetries, and dysfunctions. One day I may come to value the use of mirrors as a tool in my fitness program. For now, I am a woman giving everything she has towards achieving a personal goal, and I will continue ignoring the wall of mirrors.
[i] Reel, Justine J.; Robert Bucciere,. “Ableism and body image: conceptualizing how individuals are marginalized. (NAGWS Position Paper)(Report).” Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal. American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). 2010.
[ii] Martin Ginis, K. A., Burke, S. M., & Gauvin, L. (2007). Exercising with others exacerbates the negative effects of mirrored environments on sedentary women’s feeling states. Psychology and Health, 22, 945-962.
Martin Ginis, K. A., Jung, M. E., & Gauvin, L. (2003). To see or not to see: Effects of exercising in mirrored environments on sedentary women’s feeling states and self-efficacy. Health Psychology, 22, 354-361.