Lily Mandelbaum, Elisa & Lily
My New and Evolved Relationship With Working Out


Ever since I published "Accept It? Fix It?," a piece I wrote earlier this year that addressed my lifelong body image struggle, I have been on a journey to create a more loving and embracing relationship with my body. With an eye on the "accept It" side of my body image psychosis, I have been actively reconditioning my brain to consider a broader spectrum of what sexy means to me, recognizing that perhaps the whole concept of sexuality has a lot more to do with confidence than it does with a specific, society-based standard of beauty.

Part of my journey towards self-acceptance has revolved around my relationship to exercise. Prior to this year, I had been obsessive about it, seeing daily exercise as a crucial component to losing weight and thus feeling better about my body. In my "skinnier" days ("skinnier" being the result of borderline-anorexic diet restrictions), my life would revolve around working out. I would often forego other pursuits, hanging with friends, hobbies or intellectual and soul-enriching experiences, in exchange for more time on the treadmill. It was a two hour-per-day, seven-days per week commitment.

And a frustrating commitment at that, because, as I mentioned, I barely lost any weight unless it was accompanied by drastic dieting (losing weight was my main goal, after all).

Now, don't get me wrong: I am a big advocate of working out. I think it is an incredible stress-reliever and I love the notion of having a strong, healthy body. I also think it's a necessary time for self-reflection, and, perhaps most importantly, it's the one time of the day I get to listen to all of the music I love. But, in retrospect, the intention behind my compulsion was the ultimate sign of being ill-at-ease with my true self. The lack of tangible results that I experienced eventually served as a catalyst for me to recognize that I needed to shift my perspective on the whole thing.

For most of my life, the lack of "results" from working out (i.e. weight loss) used to drive me crazy. It seemed like others (my brother being one) could add 15 minutes to a work out and drop 15 pounds instantly. Throughout my life, many futile tears were shed over trivial things like this.

Fast forward to this summer (and a few months after publishing my article) when I was presented with two incredible opportunities. One was to produce six episodes of United States in Style for the Huffington Post (a video series where I traveled with Huff Post editor Anya Strzemien to document regional style across America) and the second was to produce ten episodes of Second Skins in collaboration with the YouTube channel, Look.TV (Second Skins are a StyleLikeU reality show-esque video series where two people with opposite senses of style switch clothing for a day. The videos end up being 25 minutes long, just to give you an idea of the level of work and production that goes into each piece).

Suddenly, my life got a LOT busier (and I keep myself pretty busy to begin with). My mom and I had to split responsibilities -- she handled all content production for the website as I took on these other projects, each of which had to be completed in around the same 16-week period. It's hard for me to fully illustrate just how hectic and stressful this period was for me. But to give you a basic idea: I worked a 75-hour week. I would basically wake-up, start working, and not stop until I'd sleep… wash-rinse-repeat… for 4 months.

However, while I did basically nothing but work, I loved every minute of it (besides the totally understandable, occasional panic attack/full-blown mental breakdown) because everything that I was working on felt so right. I was riding a total adrenaline rush, knowing that I was doing the work I was put on this earth to do, and I felt more fulfilled than I had ever felt before.

But, needless to say, my schedule this summer did not allow a lot of time for working out. In fact, it provided basically none at all. My days would slip by without a minute to spare and when I had an occasional day off, I was just too tired to drag my exhausted, worn-out ass to the gym. Initially, I was pretty nervous and felt completely out of control. I had anxiety that I'd gain weight and hate my body.

However, as summer raced by, I began to let go of my fears (mostly cuz I didn't have a choice). I got in touch with what it meant to feel healthy within my body, as opposed to working out with the intention of looking a certain way on the outside. Additionally, my work was keeping me fairly active. I was lugging equipment around and running after subjects to get a shot, and I felt pretty damn good both mentally and physically. When I did find a moment to workout, I did it because I absolutely needed it for my peace of mind.

And guess what? During this time, I didn't gain a single pound.

The bottom line here is: when forced into a corner, required to relinquish control in order to pursue my professional dreams, I realized that this struggle, which had kept me in the gym every single day for a decade at the expense of other interests, was almost completely useless. My body stayed exactly where it was, exactly where it was always  meant to be.

This summer helped me to understand that I need to completely reevaluate what working out will mean to me moving forward. From this point on, I want exercise to be something I do for strength and for relief, not as a fruitless attempt to make myself into something that I'm not. Real happiness lies in challenging myself in ways that take advantage of the gifts I have been given and in bringing my creative visions to life, not in being a slave to an ideal of beauty and happiness that is, at the end of the day, a complete facade created by fashion magazines and Hollywood (although, shout out to Lena Dunham, Beyonce and Kim Kardashian for helping to bring acceptance to more curvaceous body types).

So, next time you catch me in the gym, know that I'm there to release the pressure inherent in pursuing my dreams, and not because I'm attempting to fulfill someone else's vision of beauty.

This post was generously sponsored by Champion Apparel.

The content was produced by StyleLikeU.

In the photo, my shoes are Vans, my pants are Milk & Honey, American Apparel hoodie, my brother's Wu-Tang hat, and my new Champion All-Out Support Bra.

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  • Brandon Acton-Bond


    • Lily Mandelbaum


  • Jennifer


  • Emma

    Hell yeah to never fulfilling anyone else's ideals of beauty!

  • Emma

    Hell yeah to not fulfilling anyone else's ideas of beauty!

  • Sarah

    Curvy and STRONG is where it's at

  • Syvonnah J.

    Absolutely Liberating!! Sometimes it takes for you to go through it to realize something even greater. Are you being you? lol

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      u da best

  • Ella

    Completely agree! I feel sexiest and most proud/accomplished in a sports bra even if there aren't necessarily "results" attached to it-- such a unique feeling thanks for sharing, Lily!!

  • Lisa Thomson

    Someone said to me, The problem with exercise is you have to keep doing it.." They were serious, too and they said it in relation to weight management. It's not something we can rely on for weight loss but without it our health and well being suffer. I'm happy for you that you've changed your goals and have accepted your body the way it is meant to be. KUDOS.

    • Lily Mandelbaum


  • Tova K

    Super wonderful piece on self love and acceptance. <3

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      thank you <3

  • for the record, when i saw you last month i thought you were fucking smokin' hot and most of that came from the confidence that you was beaming out of you.

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      thanks love!! you are an inspiration

  • SJI

    This is as poignant as it is imperative. I appreciate this piece so much and look forward to sharing it with everyone I know! xx

    • Lily Mandelbaum


  • hannah

    <3 Beautifully said Lily. x

  • Ella

    love this.. exactly what I needed to hear!

    • Lily Mandelbaum

      glad to hear it 🙂

  • Bekah

    Thank you, my strong and beautiful friend, for the reminder that what is timeless about us is not our bodies, but our will to dream and fulfill those dreams. You look AMAZING. <3

  • Kendra Jones

    Thanks for sharing. I'm having somewhat of the same epiphany. I've decided that working out is more for my piece of mind - something that will help me release built up stress, gain strength, and get my body functioning the way it is supposed to. Though I am very overweight, and i know i have to exercise to lose this weight, i am finally at a place that i care more about my overall health and less about trying to prove how hot i can look...I said all that to say, i can relate 🙂

  • Biz

    Lily, this piece really resonated with me (parallel relationship to exercise and craving a deeper personal connection to inner strength and beauty). Your personal essays this year are fierce. Keep em coming.
    p.s. kickass photo

  • Alexandra

    Dear Lily! What a post! Thank you for that. And just to say - I saw your picture by the article mentioned above - Accept It, Fix It? - and:
    you are really a beautiful woman: with beautiful face, you seem to possess great skin tone and have beautifully shaped feet (I do not have such a skin and nice feet, so therefore I pay attention to such details on others). No need to worry:) Just take those great dress and enjoy yourself! 🙂

    PS: I completely understand this post. I share similar experience - word by word almost. Still am on my way to real authentic self-confidence.

  • april nicole

    sweetheart you can workout all you want and not loose a pound if your diet is crap...a healthy body a strong body starts in the kitchen and with the proper diet and allowing your body the 8 hours of sleep it needs you will see results...a lot of women forget to eat or eat things they think are healthy when really they are not do the research become obsessed with your health and never give up

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