Workouts for Yourself, Not for Others

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As a college student, I’ve always struggled with body image. Since I was a swimmer, I never had to worry about body image until I got to college. I noticed how girls could eat however they wanted and remain the same. I noticed how my performance in the pool was hindered by my poor nutrition. I gained 20 pounds my freshman year while being a student athlete. I began to realize how my body reacted when I changed my eating habits. I realized I wanted to change and lose some weight. But I always wondered how I could do this in a healthy fashion. I spent my first summer of college in the gym. I switched from unhealthy carbohydrates, like pizza, to healthy carbohydrates, like cauliflower. I stepped on the scale every day hoping to see a slight change in weight. When I got back to school my sophomore year, my friends noticed my weight change.

“You look so skinny, girlfriend”
“What did you do to look like THAT?”

It was kind of addicting. I started to work out for other people, rather than myself. I would refuse to lift, even though I loved lifting, because I thought it would make me ‘too big’ and girls should not lift. I lost sight of myself for a while. I lost sight of my love for swimming in seeking other’s gratification. The following summer I attended a BURN workout class where I fell in love. The trainer pushed me so hard and I felt so good after.

One day, I went in to BURN and it was challenge day. I was not in the mood to be there, nor was I in the mood to run laps around her gym. The trainer got in my face and said:

“Are you doing this for yourself, or are you doing this for them?”

I went home and pondered that statement. I realized that I wanted to work out for myself, because working out for myself made me happier. It wasn’t about how other people perceived me, it was about how I perceived myself. I fell back in love with lifting. I started to lift every single day and I felt better than I ever had. I had the best swim season I’ve ever had my junior year, even coming close to qualifying for NCAA nationals. Fitness has shaped me into a person who loves myself. I feel good about myself when I push myself. I crave a workout that makes me sweat because I know I did the best I could. I don’t walk into swim practice comparing myself to the other girls, because I know we are all shaped differently. I also know I am happy with myself because I work hard. It doesn’t matter what I weigh, but rather how I view myself in relationship to myself.


My name is Olivia Neff. I am pursuing an undergraduate degree at DePauw University in Global Health and Peace and Conflict. I am swimmer and a member of Pi Beta Phi. I have a passion for fitness and health. I have a specific interest in women’s health policy and malnutrition in developing countries. I am currently interning with a food scarcity non-profit in Columbus, OH and about to begin coaching a summer league swim team. I spend my free time at the gym and with my friends.

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