I never considered hiking, kickball, horseback riding, or swimming to be exercise. They were just things I did, as a kid, and how I had fun. As a teen, the fact that I never learned how to play team sports, never mastered the hand/eye coordination required to throw and catch, meant that I was no longer physically active in my everyday life. I sat and I studied, I sat and I graduated, and I sat and worked. When I (rarely) went to the gym, I felt like an outcast, and exercising was a chore. I joked that my unused gym membership was a “fat tax” and invented excuses to stay at home. But how things have changed! I went from never exercising, to planning my life around my next exercise class, and seeking friends who keep me active. Not only do I love exercising, but I’ve even started trying to recruit new converts to my exercise of choice!
I can reassure you, however, that this is not one of those thinspirational blog posts in which I share my story of how I got fat, how I conquered my demons, and how the weight fell off. The weight hasn’t fallen off. And I’m ok with that.
There are no before and after photos. Just photos of me, and my friends, working up a sweat. We’re pretty cute, right?
I am not dissecting those thinspirational blog posts and articles as a human, or as a mom, or as a feminist, or questioning the science behind those contemptuous tips to lose weight, because I don’t want to add to that conversation.
I’m tired of that conversation.
I want to promote health, exercise at all sizes, and body acceptance, for myself and others, and I do not need to change myself to conform to what society thinks I should look like. My fitness goals are related to how frequently I exercise, and what I am physically capable of accomplishing. I care about how deeply I can bend, how many leg lifts I can perform, and the shake and burn I achieve in my favorite Bar Sculpt class. Am I proud of the way the class has shaped and toned my behind? YES! Do I want all my friends to come to class with me? YES! Do I flex, and insist that my friends feel my new muscles so frequently that my four and half year old once asked me to “feel her muscles”? YES! I am making the choice, however, to measure my fitness and health in physical achievements, as opposed to outdated and inaccurate metrics.
I am the last person anyone would ever have expected to turn into an exercise fanatic.
In fact, when I talk about my profound love for Bar Sculpt, and how it’s helped me, I feel my voice and excitement rising, and then I get embarrassed and unsettled, because talking about fitness is just not something I’m used to doing. For me, however, exercising is a part of self-care. Taking care of myself is essential, as a parent and especially as a single parent. Modeling healthy behaviors to my daughter is a lasting gift that I can impart to her.
I want to stop, for a second, and explain why I choose to call myself “fat.” I call myself “fat” with no shame or denigration because I am larger than many people. “Fat” is descriptive. I use the word “fat” to describe myself for the same reason that I use the word “queer” to describe my sexuality: it’s the truth, and I am not ashamed of it. I own these words that can be used against me, and by owning them, I remove the stigma those labels can carry.
I am a fat woman practicing radical self love by reclaiming words that have been used to hurt me in the past. Loving, accepting, and caring for myself is revolutionary.
Think about it. How do we name the parts of our bodies? How ingrained is our self-hate? Do you know how to label a part of your body in such a way that you attack yourself whenever you identify a specific body part- without even thinking about it? Hello saddle bags! Does another name for one’s upper, outer thigh even exist? And you too, muffin top, you delicious, soft handfuls of skin and fat that are constantly being squeezed and bullied into submission. Guess what? I’m done excoriating you. I’m not at point where I can wholeheartedly say that I love every bulge, and the way my knees look, naked, but I’m determined to change my mental dialog about my body from “hate, shame, disgust, and discontent” to something closer to “acceptance, recognition, and pride.”
I think back on all the years when I was ashamed of my body. It didn’t matter how far I could walk, how long I could swim, what I could carry, or what my body looked like. I wasted so much time and energy worrying about hiding the bulge of my belly, and the curve of my outer thighs. I didn’t wear shorts when it was hot because I thought my bare legs were so repulsive that they should be covered at all times. I blamed my body for not fitting into clothing the “right way.” I never want my daughter to do what I did, at six years old, and ask her teacher why her thighs touch, squirming with self loathing.
I want my child to see her fat, healthy, and happy mother hiking mountains, biking, playing and having enough energy to keep up with her. No shame, no self hate, and no limitations.
As my last word, (and yes, I always do have to have the last word) I want to say that my fitness journey is by no means complete. It is a story that will evolve, as my interests, schedule, and capability change. I am excited to try yoga, return to kayaking, and to add more cardiovascular exercise into my routine. My time for exercise is limited, but exercise is a priority for me. I find that the more I invest in caring for myself, the more I have to give to my daughter, my family, and my community.