Monthly Archives: June 2014

For shame!

Several weeks ago, I was admiring my bodacious booty in the locker room mirror post-workout (don’t pretend like you don’t do this too) and congratulating myself on taking control of my health and well-being  when I overheard two young ladies (I’d put them in their early twenties) discussing their own physiques and personal goals. One of the gals had apparently consulted a doctor about her fitness goals and was venting to her friend that while she wanted to slim down to a specific weight (120 lbs), her doctor was encouraging her to work toward the more attainable goal of 140 lbs.

While gazing into the mirror, I was silently agreeing with the health professional (it seems like an obvious course of action to me: lose a little, reevaluate, lose a little more if need be), when the young lady said something that snapped me out of my ass-admiring reverie-

“140 pounds is still way too fat.”

It was a record-scratch moment for me; 140 pounds is roughly what (after almost a year of sweating, huffing, and puffing) I currently weigh. I hazarded a glance around the corner to see what this girl looked like and she was about the same height as me and maybe had twenty pounds to lose before she hit 140. Moments before, I had been happily noting my progress in the mirror and was satisfied, maybe even pleased with how my body looks, but her comment sucked all of the wind out of my sails.

In the span of a few seconds, my reflection changed in my eyes from a healthy woman to that of a woman with big upper arms, a kinda flabby middle and thighs verging on the size of THUNDER. I quickly went about the business of showering and leaving the gym post haste and vowed to eat nothing but lettuce for the next month (a vow I broke as soon as my next meal, thank goodness).

After stewing, then pondering and later reflecting upon the situation, I have adopted the view that the young lady does not, in fact, know what 140 pound looks like, and maybe, if I had been bold enough to step out of the shadows and say, “hey, that’s what I weigh, girlfriend, and I look pretty damn good!” she might have reevaluated her views or, at the very least, learned that bodies are not one-size-fits-all, and she should not be so quick to dismiss a randomly-selected, intangible number as “too fat.”

Most importantly, that situation reminded me of something we learn when we are little kids but seem to either forget or misinterpret as we grow up, and that is the fact that words, even when you don’t mean them to, can hurt. In the words of Thumper from the movie Bambi, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” This advice should apply even when we are talking about ourselves. Body shaming, whether done by so-called Fit-spiration memes on Pinterest or by people gossiping among friends and picking apart their perceived trouble spots, is one of the most annoying instances where words can make a big impact on how we feel.

Just the other day, I was joking with a friend about the little bit of extra weight I can’t seem to get rid of around my middle and I compared it to always wearing an inner tube around my waist and at least I didn’t need to worry about drowning. I said this to be funny; I don’t have that much extra and it is probably only noticeable to myself, and, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at, but, for the rest of the day, all I could think about was that little bit of a spare tire. I kept fidgeting with my shirt trying to simultaneously pull it down to cover and billow it away from my body to conceal. That joke was at the ready probably because my stomach is the part of my body that I am most self-conscious about, and I did myself a great disservice by making fun of something I am sensitive about. I could also have been doing my friend a disservice; if she thinks I look fit and healthy and I’m picking myself apart, I could cause her to question her appraisal of her own body and of bodies in general.

We all need to remember that our words have a huge impact not just on the ourselves and the people we are speaking to, but also on those who might overhear us, and we need to be careful about basing our appraisal of ourselves strictly on how we look and how much we weigh. What I want to say to the girl in the locker room if I could go back in time is that not only does she not realize that she is unconsciously insulting me and trivializing all of the exercising I have done since last August, but also that at 120 lbs, she will probably still find things she doesn’t like about her appearance. At 120 lbs, I wanted bigger boobs and curvier hips; it felt decidedly un-sexy and un-feminine to be flat-chested and have boy-hips, but now, with bigger boobs and curvier hips, I still have things I want to change about myself.

The message here is not that we should all give up because we will never be happy with how we look; it is that we can learn to be happy with who we are despite the fact that there may be things about our appearance we’d like to change, and that our weight as described by the number on a scale is an abstract concept that is, really, meaningless. What is meaningful is our weight as described by our health and the things we can do with our bodies. At 140 pounds, I can climb over 130 flights of stairs in one day, I can run 4 miles, I can bike 50 miles, I can pick-up my large dog and lift him over the backyard fence when I accidentally lock us out of the front door, I can ride a horse, I can carry all of the groceries from my car at once negating the need for a second trip, I can swim, I can do, pretty much, anything I want to.

We need to turn our attention away from what we think we should weigh and how we think we should look, and instead, make goals that are conducive to better health and a more functional existence. Instead of griping about wanting to lose 40 lbs, how about focusing on walking up the several flights of stairs in your office without being winded or on biking to the top of the really long, REALLY steep hill without stopping to walk. As I’ve become more aware of my body, I’ve learned that these are much better ways to gauge my health than comparing my reflection to photos of myself at 22, and I’m trying to remember that a wisecrack about my love handles isn’t always funny. As my friend said in response to  my joke about my built-in inner tube “at least you’re healthy, that’s the important thing.” My suggestion is that we keep the body-shaming, of ourselves and of others, to a minimum, and we’ll be better able to focus on what really matters.

“That” girl. Hey, somebody’s got to be her.

I’ve just returned from a trip to Scotland.

I say this not to make you simmer with jealousy (although, you really should because it was a fantastic trip filled with excellent scenery, (surprisingly) perfect weather, and (even more surprisingly) delicious meals), but rather to emphasize the point I was trying to make in my last post that, really, exercise is not something restricted solely to the confines of a designated workout space (see the screen shot of my FitBit account below, 139 floors in a day??!!), but can be found anywhere, and also to explain my brief absence from my beloved blog. I know it is sort of a back-handed apology (“so sorry I didn’t have time for you while I was galavanting the globe and having a wonderful adventure”), but I truly am sorry when I can’t find the time to write.

There is only one way in Scotland...uphill
There is only one way in Scotland…uphill

Now that I have returned to the real world and my normal routine of dog-walking, exercising, going to work, and the other mundane activities that constitute daily life, I am experiencing that strange Twilight Zone that is the gym in summertime. Some days the gym is a ghost town with sanitizing wipes blowing between the machinery like tumbleweed and no sign of life aside from the bored-looking desk clerks, and other days it is so jam-packed it hardly seems worth the effort needed to negotiate a place in line for any of the machines (but of course, it IS worth the effort).

The overly busy days are a huge pain; I walk into the gym with a plan and am ready to tackle my workout, when I am assaulted by the wave of damp heat radiating from the bodies of the several hundred people already getting their sweat on. Even with all of the fans turned on high and the doors open to get whatever cross breeze is available, this heat is a force of its own and is able to suck the motivation right out of me.* After fighting the urge to turn around and go read a book in a lounge chair and searching for an empty locker to stash my things in, I’m ready to start my workout. I’ve already sweated through my shirt and can’t find a vacant machine or set of dumbbells weighing less than 90 lbs to save my life.

What began as a well-intentioned workout quickly turns into a cutthroat territorial war. From across the gym, I’ll spot a recently vacated weight bench, start power-walking over to it only to notice somebody also power walking to that very same bench from the other side of the gym. “But that’s MY bench” I’ll think, locking eyes briefly with my competitor then looking back to the bench (eyes on the prize, baby), only to notice that the other person is much closer than I am to the bench and, really, what good would it do me anyway since the 20, 25, and 15 lb weights are all being used. I could use it to take a nap on, I suppose, or perhaps if I could manage to hold two 8 lb weights in each hand I could do some facsimile of the exercises…screw it, I guess it will just be another cardio day. The upside to working out in the combined heat of about one hundred fifty sweaty bodies is that even when only five minutes into the cardio, I look like I’ve been working really hard, and at the end of my three-mile run, people would probably believe me if I told them I ran ten.

Sometimes I’ll think that I’ve lucked-out when I discover that the equipment I need to execute my planned workout is free. Hallelujah! I’ll walk over and start adjusting things only to notice someone across the gym put down their barbell and start rushing over to the previously dormant machine. ‘Uh, sorry,” he’ll mumble upon reaching my machine (its usually a guy who does this, sorry dudes), “but I’m sort of using that. I meant to put my towel on it to reserve it, but I guess I forgot.”**

“Huh,” I’ll respond, “I thought I just saw you using the barbell over there by the mirrors?”

“Yeah,” he’ll say, “I’m using them both for, like, a circuit, and it really slows me down if I have to keep adjusting the weights and stuff, do you mind waiting? I only have three more sets.” Yeah, I’m sure it does man. You know what really slows me (and anybody else who may want to use this machine or the barbell) down? Waiting for you to finish with something that you aren’t actually, at this moment, using.

At this point, depending on my assessment of the situation, I will give one of two responses. If I think this person is a generally nice person who hasn’t actually realized how ridiculous that request is, I will say “How about I go ahead and use this while you are doing the barbell and I’ll make sure to adjust it back for you and take a break when you need it?” Problem solved.

If I think this person seems a little arrogant and acts like his time is more valuable than other people’s, I will say “Oh, no, I don’t mind at all. I’m happy to wait,” in a tone that indicates otherwise, and then, as that person proceeds with the machine, I will stand nearby and stare directly into his eyes. This is a little threatening and VERY creepy. Usually it results in the person doing one set on the machine and then saying “Actually, I’m good, you can have it now.” I know I can, buddy, thanks a lot. Problem solved, this and any future ones that might have arisen with that particular person. Yeah, I’m ‘that’ girl- keeping it real in the gym. When someone signs up for a gym membership at a facility where other people are also permitted to sign up, he/she is going to have to learn to share. If sharing is a no-go, then a home gym is probably the only solution…unless you enjoy being creepily stared at by a slightly annoyed young woman.

I much prefer the ghost town days when the gym is so empty that when you do cross paths with another person, you hail each other like truck drivers passing in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night (“Breaker, breaker, good to see you!” “Same to you friend, stay safe out there!”). The gym is nice and cool and I can use any of the machines I want, heck, I can use ALL of them if I want! There is no freedom like the freedom of choice, but there are a few drawbacks to the empty gym.

One of these downsides is that the music is strangely loud. Set at a volume that is quietly audible above the din of treadmill belts and dropped weights, when the gym is not busy, the music seems way too loud and I find this a little unsettling. Is there not a volume control where we could turn the music down? Am I the only one who is hearing it at this volume and, therefore, am losing my mind? Is Avicii playing a concert somewhere in this building that I’m missing out on? Also, when I am one of the only people in the gym, I get self-conscious.

I worry that those bored-looking faces at the front desk are watching me workout and are judging me, and that I’m not making the grade (Why is she going so slow? That’s not very much weight to lift for someone who works out as much as she does…and speaking of, why hasn’t she gotten skinnier….and wasn’t she wearing those shorts yesterday? Man, she’s really bad at jumping rope. Is she taking another rest break?). It is a silly fear, because in reality I highly doubt the gym staff is paying me any more attention than they would on a normal day (they have a TV in their office, I’m sure they’d choose to watch that over watching me), but the thought that I might stick out where normally I would blend in makes me a little anxious about looking like I know what I’m doing  and NOT looking like an out-of-shape dumpling.

When the gym is empty, especially now when it can be filled to capacity one day and then abandoned the next, I also wonder if there is some sort of important announcement I missed. Where is everybody who was here yesterday? Was a bomb threat called into the building and they forgot to tell me about it? Or, worse, is somebody, somewhere, giving out free ice cream that I’m missing out on? Probably everybody is doing summertime things like going on vacation or running outside, but these thoughts can be distracting when I’m trying to get in a good workout and it kind of ruins the initial gift of having the gym to myself.

I like the gym best when there are fifteen to twenty other people there; it’s enough to know that there isn’t free ice cream anywhere nearby but not so many that I feel like I need black-market cigarettes to bribe my way to the front of the line for the water fountain. I’ve decided to try to make the super busy days easier by being better about planning my workouts in advance. I usually decide what I’m going to do each day as I’m driving to the gym, but then if all of the things I need are unavailable, I flail and end up having a mediocre workout. If I plan a few days at a time, I will not only have a fall-back plan, but I can also pick and choose from each day based on what is available. The bottom line isn’t necessarily when the exercises are done, just that they ARE, actually, done.

 

Holyrood Park in Edinburgh
Holyrood Park in Edinburgh

*There isn’t any air-conditioning in Germany, for real. The airports and some of the newer trains are lightly air-conditioned, but everywhere else is a total sweat-fest. Go ahead and feel smug about your super-cooled stateside health club; I did, after all, just brag to you about my vacation in Scotland.

**A sweaty towel doesn’t serve as a reservation on a machine; it serves as a signal to me that I should ask everyone in the immediate vicinity if he or she is using the machine or maybe forgot his towel, and then I will move it aside. What DOES serve as a reservation on a machine is your body actively engaged with said machine or standing near it while you take a short break.