If I could peer-pressure you into doing anything, it would be writing hilarious limericks. Do it! Do it now!!!
Shhh… so don’t tell anyone but I’m embarrassingly susceptible to peer pressure. My friends have talked me into doing some pretty crazy stuff over the years, stuff that I would never have done if it hadn’t been for them pushing me over the edge (both metaphorically and literally, as in the 12-foot water drop during my mud run last year). Sometimes it turns out pretty rad, like the time Turbo Jennie convinced me to buy tickets to go see a little tiny unheard of singer… named Lady Gaga. Yep, I saw her in a venue so intimate that I was actually six feet away from her bubble-bedecked intimates. Other times it didn’t end so well, like the time my friends convinced me to take my dad’s truck “mudding” on Easter Sunday and then I mired it in a remote canyon forcing us to hike out. Oh and then there was the time I had Cheetah-spotted orange hair – still not sure if that was good or bad. Peer pressure is one of those things that when it is good, it is really really good but when it is bad it is horrid. Especially when it comes to our health.
Stories abound of all the good influences friends have been on one another – encouraging each other to exercise or eat right or stop wearing light grey cotton workout leggings. But there can be a darker side to this and I hadn’t really thought about it until I read an article in the New York Times about the dangers of excessive exercise and one of the scientists said something about how at the very least perhaps this research would help people resist being “bullied* into running a marathon.” (The researchers compared the heart damage incurred by long endurance exercise, like marathon running, to that of eating a cheeseburger every day.)
Wait, what? Does this really happen? Are people really being shamed into running long, painful, expensive races?
At first the thought seemed ludicrous but as I pondered on it, suddenly dozens of examples came to mind of times where I’d tried something I didn’t want to do, wasn’t prepared to do or shouldn’t have been doing because someone had talked me into it. Most memorable was probably the time a blog reader repeatedly dared me to “prove” my lifting prowess by doing a 1-rep max test of the Olympic lifts. Gym Buddy Allison and I did it all right and while our numbers were decent, the souvenir that I still have from it is not the pride of pushing myself but a painful hemorrhoid courtesy of the super-heavy back squat that still flares up at really inconvenient moments. Nothing like being taunted by your own anus!
This issue came up again this weekend during a conversation my husband and I had with a local couple. If you’ve never been to Colorado the first thing you need to know is that these people take their outdoor sports very seriously. It is after all home of the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance run, also known as the #3 hardest ultramarathon on the planet. (Right now Coloradans are freaking because they’re #3. Sorry guys, you got beat out by Death Valley. And let’s be honest, everyone gets beat by Death Valley.) I’ve only lived here a week and I’ve already been asked if I own a mountain bike at least 20 times. So as my husband and I chatted with our new friends, the talk inevitably turned to racing.
“Do you run?” the man asked me.
“I do but not fast,” I answered.
“Do you race?” he pressed.
“Only for fun,” I replied, a little more wary.
“Oh you must sign up for this triathlon coming up next month! A whole bunch of us are doing it, just for fun except okay we’re really kind of competitive but seriously you should do it!”
“I, uh, don’t own a bike,” I stammered. (True story. And even if I did it would still be in storage with the rest of our crap.) “Plus I hate swimming.”
He looked like I’d smacked him. “Well everyone has one part they’re better at but surely you swim?”
“I can swim,” I clarified. “I just don’t like to. I hate being wet and cold. It sucks all the fun right out with my body heat.”
He looked so disappointed that I felt like I’d failed a major initiation rite in my new home. “So maybe a duathlon then? There’s one in two weeks!” he tried again
“What about a nice fun run, like a 5K?” I bargained.
“You don’t want to do those!” he exclaimed. “Those are so beginner.”
For a brief second I bristled at the implication that I am a novice at anything exercise but then I remembered my run from the previous morning where every time I ran faster than a snail my lungs felt like bubble wrap popping and I saw stars. I might have underestimated the effect of going from 500 feet above sea level to 5000+ feet. I sighed. “I’ve only been here a week. I should probably get acclimatized first.”
It’s true – I’ve been busted back down to rank beginner when it comes to fitness and as much as that stings I won’t do myself any good (and may actually cause myself harm) by trying to keep up with all our new acquaintances. Back in Minnesota I could run a 10K no problem. I wasn’t going to break any records but I could run it without major pain or training. But here? Running two miles keelhauled me. Plus, I’m the girl with a history of exercise addiction – would it really be good for my psyche or body to put in all those hours of training? The answer was clear: No.
The man quickly lost interest in talking to me after that and I think a large part of it was that he’d deemed me unworthy because of my lame fitness level. (Thank heavens I didn’t tell him I write about this stuff for a living or he would have been abysmally disappointed!) On the way home I continued to feel bad about “not being able to keep up” and started to second guess myself. Maybe I should try the triathlon. After all, it would be a great way to meet friends and I am in desperate need of a friend right now. And, if I’m being really honest, I really want these people here to like me. Plus, who knows, maybe I’d end up loving it?
In the past I’m pretty sure I’ve basically bullied some of my friends into doing fitness-y things they didn’t want to do. One friend who ran a race with me swore it was the worst thing she’d ever done and she’d kill me if I “made” her do it again. I thought I was being encouraging. (Even worse, I was sure I was doing it “for her own good”) She just felt bullied. And then there were the times when I went along with friends because I just wanted to be like them – heck yes, I’m 34 and I still want to be “cool” (unresolved high school issues?). They probably didn’t even know that they’d pressured me into doing it. So who takes the blame then?
I have always had a hard time setting boundaries, especially with my friends. I love them and want them to be proud of me. Add in my job (there is a lot of extra pressure as a fitness “professional” to not only walk the talk but run the heck out of the talk) and you come up with a recipe for disaster.
And that’s the tricky part – it’s such a fine line between bullying and encouragement, right? And sometimes it starts out as one and ends up as the other! In the end though I think we need to remember that the only body we are in charge of taking care of is our own. No matter how excited we, as fitness-y people, get it doesn’t mean it’s right for us to push it onto others. By the same token, we, as fitness-y people, should know our own limits and not be afraid to stand up for ourselves and our health. Easier said than done though…
Have any of you ever been “bullied” into doing something “healthy”? How did it end up – were you glad you did it after all or did you end up with a blistered butt too? Have you ever pressured someone into doing something “for their own good”? Anyone else seriously affected by peer pressure??
*I think she meant “bullied” in the “coerced against your better judgement” sense of the word, not in the “mock a teen on the Internet until they commit suicide” sense of the word although if you’d like to make a point about the misappropriation of the word, I’m all ears in the comments!