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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As I Am

If you’re like me, every time you see a photo of/post by Jen Sinkler, you want to drop whatever you are doing and go hang out with her (or at least near her). The other day, I was scrolling through her blog and came across a piece featuring her latest “before” pictures as she embarked on getting swole AF with the Bigness Project.

Jen’s piece is about breaking the toxic tradition of the unhappy before picture – no slouched pose and disappointed frown. I always like seeing people celebrate their bodies, but I was really drawn in by a discussion in the comments, in which one fan expressed her desire to see someone without a “perfect” body  posting happy before pictures.

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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”

Self-Care for the Socially Exhausted

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Lately, I’ve been craving a pillow fort. I daydream about a cozy nest of blanket-draped comfort on my way home from work, and I idly look up couches with removable cushions in between grading and planning. Even with my greatly increased self-awareness, it took me a few weeks to realize I was sending out signals to myself: social batteries low, recharge needed.

I’m not going to call myself an introvert because I find the term has become overly popular lately, with online quizzes that label anyone who doesn’t want to put pants on sometimes or likes to relax quietly after a night out as introverted. If I had to put a name to it, I might call myself “socially exhaustible.” I can function in social situations, even enjoy myself, but getting to know new people or spending time in crowds or groups drains me pretty quickly. I love the people I love and draw strength and joy from them, and I do genuinely like learning more about new friends, but I need some regular and intentional me-time if I want to continue functioning.

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Flaunt

I caught a ten-year-old girl checking out my legs the other day.

I’m determined to keep living like it’s summer as long as the weather will allow me, so I was happily strolling through the 90-degree heat in my shortest shorts, feeling warm sun swirl like silk around my naked thighs. Joy.

I stepped into a coffee shop to get something cold and caffeinated before I headed to the train, and as I stood waiting at the far end of the counter, someone about the height of my elbow sidled up next to me. I glanced down in time to see her curly puff of a ponytail whipping away from me as she turned her head, but she quickly darted her eyes back towards me. She stared at my exposed legs for a minute before her eyes flicked nervously up to my face, where my smile was waiting. She froze for a moment before she managed a small smile and a whispered, “Hi.”

I said hi back, and complimented her very cool pink and black sandals. She was wearing black leggings, and a long pink top, matching pink hair tie. Super cute. Her typical ten-year-old belly curved under her shirt, and I saw that she had a matching little sister sitting on her mother’s hip a few feet behind her. Her younger sister, however, wore black shorts instead of leggings.

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A Walk in the Park

I’ve never been a fan of team fitness. Along with being ‘not much of a joiner’ in my youth, working with a group brings up all my old gym class anxiety – weakest link, strike-out in baseball, The Absolute Worst at volleyball. Even now, the memories of rolled eyes and impatient sighs return. I avoid most exercise classes, and am quick to step to the side of a hiking trail when groups come up behind me. The potential of being the drag, the person everyone is waiting on, brings up too much anxiety for me to handle.

But you can’t curate every moment of your life.

On our recent trip to Kerala (check out my tumblr: weboldlygo), we made our way up into the mountains of Thekkady, home to one of the largest wildlife preserves in India. There are many ways to experience the preserve, everything from self-guided nature walks to overnight camping and tiger-stalking excursions. But the option that most stood out to me was bamboo rafting.

I mean, check out that zen.

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Adding Up

I went to a doctor the other day. This isn’t a big deal for most people, because having a GP & getting check-ups aren’t formerly traumatic experiences that they had come to dread and fear. I have been a frequent drop-in at local urgent cares for pressing concerns & illnesses, but I have been avoiding working with a GP for years.

I haven’t had a great time with doctors, from my childhood pediatrician to gynecologists to my attempts at finding a GP. I don’t often feel heard or understood during appointments. That has to do with my stuff, but my weight and size often dominate the conversation in unhelpful ways. There has often been a blanket assumption that I am dangerously unhealthy, despite test results and physical assessments that say otherwise, and recommendations for eating and fitness have been very unsatisfying (skim milk, cardio 5x a week, stop eating by 6 pm – all actual things doctors have told me to do (not that I’ve listened)). As soon as it was up to me to make my own appointments, I started avoiding check-ups and only going to doctors when I was sick enough to miss work. Even then, it was pretty disheartening to drag my shivering, aching, flu-ridden body to a doctor only to get an antiquated diet lecture that my delirious brain could barely process.

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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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Defying Gravity

I climbed a mountain yesterday.

This school year has been hectic, more so than usual, & so we haven’t made it to the mountains as often as we would have liked. I love the mountains. Living car-free in New York City somewhat limits our options, but thankfully the trains can take us right to the feet of several peaks of the Hudson Highlands. I’m a bit picky, though – I love being outside among wild things & dizzying heights, but a steep uphill walk is not my idea of a good time. About six years ago, a coworker introduced me to Breakneck Ridge. It was the first time I had ever “gone hiking,” aside from a few walks through meadows or manicured forests during my Girl Scout days. I showed up in denim shorts & well-worn Chuck Taylors, not exactly prepared for the might-as-well-be-vertical rock scrambling the path demanded. When I hauled myself over the last boulder to rest at the first summit, overlooking the Hudson River from my newly acquired vantage point of about 720 feet up, I felt something in the basin of my gut take root & bloom. I was hooked & nourished at once, & I knew right away that I wanted to do this again tomorrow, & every day for the rest of forever. Continue reading “Defying Gravity”

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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