Body Image and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Author: Teanna Taylor
“You will never look like the girl in the magazine. The girl in the magazine doesn’t even look like the girl in the magazine” - Unknown
We’ve all seen it on social media: the plethora of models with seemingly amazing figures and flawless bodies. However, a lot of people take these images at face value and fail to realise the extensive amount of Photoshopping and editing that is undertaken before they are published online. Comparing your physical attributes to such individuals often leads to both men and women feeling inadequate about their own bodies. The veneer of perfection can be highly detrimental and as this is such a widespread problem, it needs addressing.
How does BJJ relate to this issue? The beauty of the gentle art is that you develop a profound appreciation of what your body can do. That is the focus - not what you look like, which is incredibly refreshing. There was a craze not that long ago where women in particular aimed to lose so much weight that they had a prominent thigh gap. When I train and compete in BJJ, the only thigh gap I’m interested in is ensuring that there isn’t one so my opponent taps quickly when I’ve secured him or her in a triangle.
Whether you’re male or female, your weight is irrelevant in BJJ. The IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation) is one of the biggest and most prestigious federations. The weight categories ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate and there’s significant scope for inclusion. In gi, women’s weight classes vary from 48.5kg (107 lbs) to no maximum limit. For no-gi, these values vary slightly from 46.5kg (103 lbs), again with no maximum weight stated. Similarly, for males, the lightest gi category is 57.5kg (127 lbs) and 55.5kg (122.6lbs) for no-gi competitors. The aforementioned no maximum weight rule also applies to men. As there are a number of different federations, it’s important to check the weight classes for the specific one you’re fighting in.
Another point to remember is that you will only ever fight women or men in the same weight category as you. At blue belt and above, there is the option to participate in the absolutes (where you fight other competitors of different weights). Remember – this is an option and by no means compulsory. If you decide to take part in the absolutes, you will be matched with someone heavier or lighter, but they will always be the same belt as you. As one of the principal focuses of BJJ is overpowering a heavier, stronger opponent using technique, many competitors are keen to see how they perform against someone of a different weight. This might understandably seem daunting, but you may well surprise yourself. That said, never be pressured into signing up for the absolutes. It has to be your decision as it’s you who has to step up and fight, no-one else.
While the IBJJF is a very large federation, there are many non-IBJJF BJJ competitions that follow their rules, and therefore the same weight categories apply. However, a possible drawback is that if the competition is a small or local event, you might struggle to find someone in your weight category. This by no means solely applies to the heavier categories, but also the lighter divisions. I’ve seen many posts on BJJ Facebook pages from both male and female fighters reaching out to ask if anyone is planning to enter a particular competition to ensure they have an opponent. A lot of the time this has proved very successful and competitors have the opportunity to fight. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and find out if anyone else plans to fight in your weight category.
It’s imperative to remember that there is absolutely no correlation between the size of your waist and your self-worth. Your value as a fighter is not determined by the number on the scale; it’s merely a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. It’s true that weight is frequently discussed in BJJ for the simple reason that you need to ensure you’re entered into the correct weight category for competitions. I can confidently say that spectators at these events, and indeed your teammates, are ten times more interested in your ability to execute techniques rather than your gi size. It just isn’t important. I’m very aware it’s easy to say this and much harder to accept as the truth, especially if you have struggled with eating disorders or poor body image.
Regarding these aforementioned issues, I highly recommend BJJ to anyone aiming to overcome problems with self-image and eating disorders. Speaking from personal experience, you will be amazed at the effects of BJJ on both your physical and mental health. Instead of fighting against my body, I now fight with it to attack my opponents on the mats – rather than attacking myself. When I have a 100kg male pressuring down on me in side control or trying to choke me out, it really does pale into insignificance when eating disorders choked me for so many years.
When training BJJ, it’s important to ‘fuel the tank’, as my coach always reminds us. Food is fuel and it’s simply impossible to perform at your optimum potential if you’re not getting the nutrients you need. You need to nourish yourself in order to flourish.
A healthy, balanced diet is just as important as training hard and getting adequate rest between training sessions. Eat well, sleep well and don’t stress over your weight. Some people prefer to cut weight in order to compete in a lower category - just as some people actively aim to gain weight to move up into a higher category. It’s a very personal decision that fighters make for a myriad of reasons.
Step on the mats, enjoy your training and focus on the beauty that is BJJ. If you’re just starting out and feel self-conscious about your physique, keep at it. You really will be in awe of what your body is capable of, and that is truly priceless.
Follow Teanna on Instagram @teanna_taylor_bjj