Flawed&Flawless

 

I used to hate the New Year. There was always pressure expectation demand that I make resolutions around changing my body, and “changing” always meant shrinking. From the time I was a kid, I wasn’t only observing and ingesting the attitudes women expressed about their bodies always being too big, too round, and too imperfect, but I was also being explicitly and constantly told these things about myself. And every new year, I was presented with the so-called opportunity to fix myself and stop disappointing my family, friends, and future husband (yep, lots of healthy thinking modeled for me in my early life). The weeks that followed were a long, painfully held breath of waiting for that first cookie, that first second helping at dinner, until even the desire for something “not good” came with the heavy burden of disappointed faces and are you sure you want to do thats. Add to that feeling the stress of heightened scrutiny of my body, when all I wanted was to be unnoticed, and you can understand why I was strongly in favor of just cutting January right out of the calendar.

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Work In Progress

I have been avoiding myself.

It seems like it would be difficult; I’ve even heard people say that it’s impossible to avoid yourself, but it’s actually how I lived most of my life. Hiding from my reflection, draping my body in oversized, baggy clothing, surrounding myself with the noise of TV reruns, background music, and mindless reading. It was how I survived, by distancing myself from the reality I was living and keeping myself from listening to my own thoughts. No longer living in this existence, I have been steadily improving my relationship with myself. I have been tuning in, reclaiming time alone, writing. But lately, I have found myself going through familiar motions – filling all the silence, making excuses not to write, keeping a running list of all the ways I am not “good enough.”

This manifests physically, too. My muscles tense and squeeze under nameless stress until I wake up in the middle of one night unable to turn my head. I make no time to cook or prepare any food and go through the day eating what I can buy at a coffee shop, when I remember or prioritize my own eating; more often than not, I eat once during the day and come home at night to order or pick up whatever I can. Continue reading “Work In Progress”

On the Road to Recovery

I haven’t worked out since returning from the Women’s Fitness Summit last weekend.

At first, I wanted to use that against myself. I started to repeat it to myself, saying things like, I can’t believe I haven’t… or I have to do this and finish that AND I haven’t even…

I started attempting to justify the fullness of my plate, but that was like playing right to the #noexcuses troll that lives in my brain. Sure, I have had to attend team-building with my new coworkers and go to work for planning sessions and complete preparation for the first night of the graduate class I’m teaching, and sure, my house is a mess and I have yet to unpack from the two trips I took in August, and yes, I have so many drafts that I want to flesh out into posts to queue up for my two blogs. I let all this work me up into a familiar stress panic. At work, after a pretty full and productive day of planning, I rejoined my teacher roommate in our still messy classroom. I looked around at the clutter and the boxes and the bare walls, completely overwhelmed by everything I had to get done for my graduate class, for my home, and for myself, and trying to figure out where to fit in everything we would need to do to make our classroom look less like a storage shed and more like a place students could learn. And, you know, sit. (And I haven’t even…)

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On Belonging and Multi-Faceted Identity

I enjoyed the last weekend of August by attending the Women’s Fitness Summit, an amazing 3 days of mindset and muscles. I had missed out on last year’s Summit, and I was determined to be there this year and spend a weekend learning from some of the most accomplished and inspirational professionals in the fitness industry.

…and then the plane landed.

I’ve written a lot about how much my self-talk has changed over the past few years, how much gentler and more satisfied I have been with myself. But progress, developing any new skill, is not a straight line or a steady forward march. Much like learning, as I have found in my years of teaching (and wrote about here), progress is circuitous. It doubles back on itself; it defies our expectations of neatness and simplicity. So, even though I am approximately 1000% more patient with and supportive of myself, there was an old familiar whisper of self-doubt piping up as I climbed into the Super Shuttle and headed for the hotel.

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Undercover Badass

At the moment, I have secret muscles.

I can press a 20kg kettlebell over my head with one arm. I went from doing bodyweight push-ups on an 18-inch elevation (seat of a dining chair) to floor push-ups in 4 weeks. I swing, lift, squat, fly, curl, press, & row iron in a variety of weights, 4-6 times a week. I scramble up mountain faces, practice endurance through yoga, kick up into handstands, & sometimes for fun,  I hoist my boyfriend over my shoulder or go from lying down on the floor to walking across the room with his full weight on my back.

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Living up to this shirt!

 

But you can’t really tell by looking.

To most people, myself often included, I don’t look strong. I don’t have an athletic build, & muscles don’t jut sharply from my resting limbs. I have a soft, protruding belly; fat cushions my back & my ribs; my butt jiggles when I walk; my arms look squishy; my thighs are BFFs. When I flex, my bicep pushes up against a pocket of fat that blossoms on my upper arm. I have given up puzzling at my back in mirrors and videos, wondering if the ripples & dips I see are firm gatherings of working muscle or layers of fat bunching over it. My muscles are there & growing. They’re just doing it in hiding.

Sometimes, that’s kind of fun. I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy seeing impressed and surprised looks when I capably heft a water cooler bottle to replace the empty. I can’t help laughing out loud when someone offers to help me with a box I’m moving only to be stunned by its weight. Other times, it’s less fun.

At the end of August, I’m going to the Girls Gone Strong Women’s Fitness Summit. I’m excited to spend a weekend with some of the hardest-working & most inspirational women in fitness, not to mention meeting many of the amazing women I’ve come to know through these pros.  I’m also nervous, because I want to be able to hang. Even though I know GGS is a body-positive community, I feel a need to put pressure on myself to be stronger, leaner, better. I’ve been embarrassed to talk about attending the Summit, because I assume that people will react with disbelief & amusement. Because I don’t look strong. I don’t look like I work hard.

 

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Same body right here…

I’ve started telling people about the Summit, anyway. Every time I mention it, I get a thrill of something like fear. Thoughts of what they might say or think peck anxiously at me. But I tell them anyway. Some people have smiled & nodded in polite confusion, like they can’t understand what the event is or why I would attend. I have gotten a few raised eyebrows & quick once-overs. A handful of people have been delighted & wanted to know more, confessing their own beginning fitness practices. Those have been the most pleasant reactions – hearing about how someone picked up a barbell for the first time in their life, or finally touched their toes without bending their knees. When my friend’s wife told me she had done her first hang from a pull-up bar, we made curved claw shapes with our hands at each other & laughed knowingly.

A former coworker recently found me on Instagram & sent me a message about the fitness videos & photos I post there. She was impressed, she said, & she hadn’t known I was into “all this stuff.” I told her about the Summit & the goals I’ve been working towards. “Woah,” she replied. “You’re a total undercover badass.”

I’ve been hanging on to that phrase for a couple of weeks now, because (as I’ve written about before) I’ve often been made to feel like I don’t deserve or qualify for strength. You’re doing it wrong, is the all-too-common response to getting strong without getting skinny first. Sometimes, as stupid as they are, I put those same restrictions  or criticisms on myself. What’s the point? I find myself wondering. Does it matter that I can do these things if I don’t have the physical appearance to show for it?

But the cool thing about the undercover badass is that she is a badass. For reasons laypeople will likely never know, she won’t advertise her prowess. But her incognito status does not diminish her abilities; she remains a badass, no matter what she looks like. & that’s what I want to remember:

I can press a 20kg kettlebell over my head with one arm. It took me 4 weeks to advance from chair-elevated push-ups to floor level. I swing, lift, squat, fly, curl, press, & row iron in a variety of weights, 4-6 times a week. I climb mountains, build yoga muscles, celebrate life with handstands, & sometimes for fun, I add an entire person to my bodyweight squats. & I do all of that right now, as I am. I might be undercover, but I’m a badass regardless.

 

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I’m going to forget that, though. In the future, probably the not-so-distant future, I am going to feel inadequate & question my worth. This process of self-acceptance is exactly that: a process. It doesn’t serve me to be afraid of setbacks on a cyclical path. Instead, I hope to remind myself that my secret muscles – my undercover badassery – remains.

 


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Beastin’

The first time I heard the expression “beastin'” was in preparation for my first year of teaching high school. “Know the slang,” one of the advisers in my program insisted. “Learn it, love it.”

I didn’t hear it applied to me by students until my 2nd year of teaching, after I had started to figure out what the hell I was doing instead of going in every morning just hoping no one lit anything on fire. 2nd year me had not come to play. & I remember so distinctly that morning, as I circulated the room checking my students’ writing journals, that one of my 9th grade boys shook his head and sighed: “Miss, you beastin’ on this journal tip.”

I felt like such a boss.

It’s still funny to me, about 10 years later, that while my students have moved on & left this word behind as all hip young cats will, the concept of beastin’ is alive & well in the world of fitness & strength training.

& as ever, I love it:


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Positivity Pressure

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On average, someone asks me if I’m ok, four times a day. I kept track for a month.

It’s well meant, but it pushes some serious buttons.

I say yes, because I’m supposed to, & because, you know, it’s true. As true as anything else. Yes, I’m ok: I haven’t just received some sad news; I have the same number of fingers I had when I woke up this morning.

I just don’t smile & make small talk all the time. I’m not hype in the morning. I work with teenagers all day, so I value quiet. Deeply. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to engage in small talk. & sometimes, I feel things other than happy. It doesn’t mean I’m not happy. I mean, didn’t you guys see Inside Out?

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All together now!

People’s reactions to perceived unhappiness, especially in women & young people, are interesting. Those reactions are often very intense. Strangers & acquaintances alike feel compelled to chastise me for not being grateful for my life, or to remind me that my situation could be worse, or that I’m beautiful & should therefore go through life gifting the world with my permanently bared teeth.

It’s worse online, where Instagram & Facebook often feel overrun by positivity pushers who replace fitspo with memes that demand I never feel bad or self-conscious or anything less than 100% pure gratitude for every single experience of my day. Everything is a gift, the positivity pressure tells me, so say thank you.

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When I Grow Up

Heads up: This post discusses sexual abuse.

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For most of my childhood, I dreamed of being Mowgli from The Jungle Book. Or some kind of wolf-girl. I wanted to be naked & dirty & live with ferocious beasts. I’ve always loved Where the Wild Things Are, but I still believe that Max made a huge mistake in getting back in his little boat & sailing home for dinner. I longed to scale trees with ease, keep pace with running herds of gazelle, melt into the shadows & never be found. I wanted civilized humans to glimpse me at a distance & be too terrified & awed to try to follow. I wanted to be strong.

When I was 8, I lived for gymnastics class. I loved the uneven bars, the momentary feeling of flying as I launched from one to the other. I never feared that I would miss, even though I did now & then. I relished catching hold of the bar, catching myself, pulling my body back & up  & over. I loved the beam, too, especially cartwheeling on the narrow space, grasping for balance with what my classmates called my monkey feet. I plummeted fearlessly from that beam, over & again, once crushing my wrist & fracturing it in three places. As I waited for my mother to pick me up that day, I used the injury as an excuse to practice one-armed cartwheels, to my coaches’ great annoyance (apparently you’re supposed to sit still when you break a bone, & just falling on your face instead of catching yourself with your broken wrist isn’t a sufficient compromise, it seems). I quit later that year, when my parents pointed out that I was fatter than the other girls on my group & I didn’t look as good in my leotard as they did. But I loved it while I did it. I loved tumbling & pressing up into handstands. I loved the feeling of my legs pumping as I ran at the horse, the gathering of my muscles echoed in the compression of the springboard before the launch. Then: up & over, splits in midair, maybe an attempt at a tuck. I loved being strong.

In 5th grade, I was a cheerleader, because I could still do splits & the uniform wasn’t skintight. I liked splits & shouting, but I loved being a base for the lighter girls to fly. I never said this to anyone, but I felt this sense of responsibility & pride, even though my brother insistently taunted me about being too fat to be of any other use. I felt strong, & I loved it.

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Plot Twist

The other day, Boyfriend set his desktop background to a photo of me. He usually opts for beautiful scenery or incredible feats of fitness, so I thought I knew what to expect when he started nudging me to go check out his new screen. But when I was slow to get out of my book, he couldn’t resist telling me, “It’s you!” & it was with absolute dread I shuffled to the computer in the corner of our gym. Absolute dread.

Boyfriend & I generally have completely different opinions of what photos of me are cute (or acceptable), so I wasn’t sure what he would have chosen to blow up across his jumbotron monitor. But whether I was to be met with a carefully posed portrait or a fantastic mid-word candid, I knew I was not going to be pleased.

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The Chain

One of the best parts of deciding that I was going to do what I wanted re:fitness & stop worrying about if I was doing things “right” is the amount of control it gave me. I decide how I work out, why I work out, & what I work on. & now that Boyfriend & I have our own place, we took control of our space, too. The result?

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Creating a functional home gym in the middle of our apartment was not done in a day. Boyfriend & I discussed what we needed to have a place we could both use comfortably; we shopped for & laid foam tiling to make everything from yoga to animal flow to jumping possible; we decided which dumbbells, which stretch bands, what size jump box & if we need another (yes), which pull-up bar & where to put it so that we could both still practice handstands. As it came together, a new challenge arose: using it.

It would have been very easy to put all of the work & time in to making a perfect gym space, only to let it sit & look pretty. In fact, it still could be. One lazy Saturday has stretched into a week of “taking it easy” in our pasts. Though we both have a love for movement & lifting, we also both have a love for ice cream & couch dates. Striking a balance between those 2 happy places doesn’t come naturally to either of us.  So in late December, we agreed to commit to using our gym every day.

If every day seems like a lot, that’s because it is. & I won’t pretend that I was all fired up at the thought of this. The pessimistic side of me (picture a despondent Charlie Brown on my shoulder) was not excited.

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mood.

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