I've pledged in the past to get active. "I'm going to be a triathlete!" I've crowed, "I'm going to take up marathons!" This usually goes hand in hand with a silent vow to lose 30 pounds and become one of those flat-stomached women who have ropy arm veins and assassin's eyes. I've always wanted to have that kind of determination, but usually I end up on the couch with chocolate drool on my pajama pants and the DVD menu music looping endlessly as I doze.
This past year, I had surgery, skated dangerously close to abject poverty (and the ice is getting thinner as we speak), recovered from an eating disorder, watched my parent's relationship reconfigure itself into something new and unexplored, worked a miserable job, quit that miserable job, and continue to deal with the deaths of people close to me and close to those around me. It's been a stressful 12 months. I've also sighed some big sighs as I've watched myself go from looking pretty normal, to post-surgery skinny, to stress-induced fat. This has coincided with that moment in one's late twenties when it takes more than 20 minutes of jogging to get into shape: my metabolism has slowed down, you guys.
I've never had a really normal body experience. When I was a child, I was normal/skinny, but when I hit puberty, everything ballooned: my hair, my breasts, my skin, and my body. I was unprepared for boobs. I was unprepared for acne. When I was thirteen, I caught whooping cough, an antique disease that made me cough so hard I would barf. Then came over a decade of craziness ("Chapter 9: Eating and Barfing"). I'm not going to get into that, mostly because it's private and painful, and also because I don't want to be one of those "tsk-tsk-instructions!" people. Every year or so, the teen magazines run their concerned article about eating disorders, which, if you're damaged and desperate, can read like a how-to manual. That's not my scene. Suffice it to say that I was nuts, it was bad, and I only really stopped because it occurred to me that, if I kept it up, I was going to die.
Lighthearted! Anyway, this isn't really about that - it's about why, at the age of 27, I'm finally trying to develop a "normal" relationship with my body. In the past, I've exercised so that I can loathe my body a little less: if I'm two pounds lighter on Friday than I was on Monday, I'm obviously a better person. This, apparently, isn't really how things work. Most people exercise to feel good, to lose weight, to get strong, or to tone up. I was using it as a shield, as an attempt to fend off the self-loathing. I mean, damn, for a while I looked awesome. But, like any disorder, I couldn't sustain it.
I just got back from an 8-day canoe trip, which was difficult in a number of ways. It was definitely physically demanding. After the first day, I was exhausted and my arms were sore - I can only imagine how my boyfriend, who was steering and paddling, was feeling. But by the eighth day, we were able to keep pace with the other canoes, and my arms weren't achy at the end of the day. We were eating lighter meals than I usually do in the city, and I felt healthy and fit. Again, I vowed to get in shape, and I would use those eight days as the kick-start to a healthier lifestyle.
It's tough, though, for me not to fold that into some weird, controlling behaviour. I want to just be normal: to have a range of pants, from "skinny" to "premenstrual bloat," that I can wear without judging myself. I'd like to be fit. That means I can use (and see) my muscles, but I'm not telling myself, "I'm only worthwhile if I'm losing weight." Learning to accept my womanly curves - seriously, if my breasts were real estate, they would be a sprawling country farm - and recognize that I'm not going to be movie-star skinny. I mean, at least not without some serious backsliding into some pretty creepy territory.
Anyway. I guess this post, which started out as more of a light-hearted romp into the exercise room, has evolved into some group-therapy business. That's fine. For the first time in my life, I see the value of getting fit for the sake of my body, rather than trying to appease that voice in my head that says "People only like you when you're small." And that it's taken me a really long time to get here, and it feels a little like a mountain ledge, but I seem to have developed a knack for dealing with hard things (or trying to deal with them, anyway - some things are harder than others), so I want to use that talent. Bodies are weird, and exercise is boring and hard, and I appreciate my gym buddies and my encouraging friends. And now that you, dear reader, know the full scoop, you can join the ranks of the gym buddies and encouraging friends, or you can keep your mouths shut when I flex my underdeveloped shoulder muscles at you and crow "Aren't I coming along nicely?" Because the answer is yes, we're all coming along nicely.