I know a guy who is smart, charming and hilarious. He gets compliments on being smart, charming and hilarious all the time. It doesn’t even register with him anymore; being a close friend, I know he really craves compliments about being fit, handsome and sexy. Which he is! But he says he was a chubby kid and has carried that baggage into adulthood.
It’s been said we don’t aspire to what we already are (or think we are, I guess). Me? I was working out with a personal trainer for the first time and she was surprised (no doubt based on my bountiful BMI and stunning lack of cardio endurance) at how much weight I could lift and keep lifted.
“You’re a strong chica,” said J., my personal trainer.
I’ve been hearing this my whole life. I’ve never been “small” – my lowest adult weight put me at size 6 and it scared the hell out of my parents when they saw my collarbones and hips jutting out. In high school, the football coach put me through a weight-lifting circuit once and I’m surprised he didn’t ask me to try out.
As a child, ballet didn’t work (no ability to follow the steps, none); my portly neighbor said to 10-year old me, practicing in the backyard for cheerleading tryouts, “You and me, we’re a little thick in the middle to be cheerleaders, honey.”
I’m not saying I looked like this:
But in high school track? Shot put.
So when someone at the gym compliments me on the way I pound the elliptical machine into submission, it’s not that I’m not grateful for the kindness, but I’m kind of over being Blue Ox Babe, even as I’ve come to accept it as my niche. Genetics. Destiny.
But I crave compliments about being graceful, coordinated and fast.
I don’t do Zumba. Or yoga. Step aerobics? Out of the question. All these classes are as similar and terrifying to me as the working dynamics of a school playground:
1. You’re expected to enjoy yourself, whether you want to or not. I was that weird kid who liked to stay in and read.
2. Everyone seems to have an innate ability to enjoy herself except me. See “weird kid,” above.
3. Everyone assures me that if I unclench my butt cheeks and “just move!” – no matter what is actually being demonstrated at the front of the class -- it will be FINE, because THEY felt that way in the beginning but they stuck with it and now it’s super fun.
They don’t understand that I will never get my fun on because my brain will not allow me to “just move” any which way that feels fun and natural because NOTHING FEELS NATURAL in that situation.
I talked to Trainer J. about this. Surprisingly, she feels the same way I do [about classes like Zumba]. I noted that while eternally petite, poised and graceful, she also has amazingly sculpted arms and legs, no body fat and looks like – at half my size – she could flatten me in half a heartbeat. Surely This Woman could help me with my secret fitness desires?
This is what led to me doing box jumps in the middle of the gym. If you don’t know what box jumps are, here is the explanation: you stand in front of a box about 18-24” high. You jump on top of it. Easy!
(See? A child could do it.)
I stared at it. I was nervous. Afraid even. What if I fell? I mean, I didn’t think I would break anything, but still…
“Any minute now,” J. said.
I finally leaped up and came down HARD, feet slamming onto the top of the box like I was trying to break through it.
J. laughed. “Yes. You’re STRONG. You’ve got that part. Try it again and this time I want you to land on the balls of your feet. I know you can land more softly than that.”
More panther, less elephant. Got it.
Again. And again. And while not exactly “cat-like,” not “largest land mammal,” either! J. used my strength as a framework to get me going in new direction (she’s so good). It was familiar and then again, not. I grinned.
Riding this enthusiasm, I thought, maybe this “grace” and “balance” stuff is something I can work on. Clearly, I was delirious from endorphins. In the next moment, I wondered how much of avoiding “grace,” “speed” and “rhythm,” was about fear: fear of looking ridiculous, of failure, of what others might say. And as a result, how I hid my fear by rejecting activities I might actually like. Finally, how I’d begun to dismiss my strength. Lots of people would love to be what I take for granted. I wondered how much fun I missed on the playground being caught up in judging and being judged. And then I wasn’t so much afraid, I was sad. What a waste.
I’ve said before that when one stops eating ones feelings, expect those feelings may come out in strange and sometimes unsettling ways. It’s taken me a while to figure out where to stick my emotions if I can’t hide them in a burger and cover them in mayo.
I remembered an incident from high school, when I was athletic and healthy. I’d found out my boyfriend cheated on me. I went to visit my best friend, a lifeguard at the Y. She listened to me cry with anger and hurt, then found me a swimsuit, pointed to the pool and told me to start swimming. If it was good then…
“You ready to try some yoga?” asked J.
I nodded. “Absolutely.”