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.
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.
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.
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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