I’m working on bringing out my inner athlete. I’m not 100% sure one is in there, but I have suspicions: I actually could run a 9 minute mile in high school without throwing up; I’ve swished basketballs, broken 30 foot ceiling tiles with a softball swing, and given that I’m a very large woman, I can still get people to watch me dance in admiration rather than horror.
There’s definitely something up with my body, and piece by piece I’m working on getting it into a condition where it’s able to say what it’s trying to tell me.
To explain my reasoning, this is a long aside:
It’s NOT about size. I’ve been fat since I was 4, at least, and I also realize there was a good chunk of my life where I was told by my mother I was fat when I wasn’t. I saw the pictures to prove it two years ago. Still, I’ve at least had the perception of being fat my entire life. I’ve also learned to live with it, and to live with the general expectation of many people around me think I owe them an apology for my size, as though it was something I chose to do, as though fat people really do sit on their asses shoveling ice cream in their mouths while watching Oprah and crying, as though my body does something to them when I haven’t sat on their chihuahua or shoved them out of a plane seat. I know that some fat people do all these things, but they do not represent the Great Fat Senate even if they think they do. I may enjoy gelato on a regular basis, but it’s far from my sole activity – and I haven’t watched Oprah since junior high. (And now no one can!) The latest attempt at scaring us all about our bodies is the specious claims that obesity hurts the environment. Yes, now, as a fat person I’m hurting the earth. Since the environment was my first cause of my own and may well be my last cause, I realize it’s not the ozone that’s vilifying me – it’s a bunch of pseudo-scientific bullshit to justify being a shit to fat people for being fat. Because if we’re all horrible, earth sucking parasites, the thin and mean-spirited can think that they’re virtuous for thinking badly of us and the diet industry has a new way of screaming “You’re all gonna die!!!!” at fat people now that it’s evident we’re not getting fat and immediately dropping like flies. The truth is not on the side of conventional wisdom about health and size; the truth is that we don’t know the whole story. We’ve made a virtue of constantly striving to be thin, but the reasons for the virtue – health, now the environment, sexual attraction – are not supported by science in the way that most people think they are.
It is about health, but it’s not in the way people think about it – if I get healthy I’ll be sexy/skinny/my life will be perfect. I’m already sexy. I don’t just get approached by the creepy fat fetishists that are motivated by their shame at their attraction to me; since I passed 30 I get noticed and genuinely admired. There are often men who pass by the YWCA window when I’m on the treadmill who make it clear I’m part of their window shopping. Since I actually don’t care that much about generic male approval and I consider female jealousy an offensive problem that needs psychiatric treatment, it’s not that big of a deal. I’m too old for it to get me free drinks – men know I’m at the age where I’m too smart for the bullshit that follows, and since Mike still doesn’t like the idea of me adopting a houseboy, the attention really doesn’t offer me any benefits and will sometimes cause waitresses to “accidentally” spill drinks in my lap three or four times. (Dinner with my ex-husband was often hell on my wardrobe. Now that I’m older, the girls don’t diss me as much when they flirt with Mike – but he attracts a classier sort of dame.) My life, I accept, will never be perfect, but it can be damn good.
For me, two things have happened: I found that I couldn’t touch my right thumb to my index finger. Second, I realized that I a problem with my hip has made it physically difficult for me to sit with my legs together at my desk. I blamed my belly, but after visiting two masseuses and going to Pilates, I realized it’s not my belly, it’s my hip – and that I can actually fix. I’m already sitting at my desk with better posture after a week of mild stretches. The thumb and finger isn’t totally comfortable yet, but it will be.
So I’m off to yoga, Pilates, water aerobics and the treadmill. I am trying to get into a five day a week habit. My health took a hit from the chronic urticaria, and I have no apologies for my slow down while bereaved. But now, I’m working my way back to fitness – not thinness or weight loss – because my body wants it.
This goes against my childhood conditioning.
My family had a strange outlook on sports; I suspect part of it was the idea that girls in sports might turn out to be lesbians, and part of it was that my mother genuinely looked down on sports players despite my father being a former football player that got chased by different colleges. It was OK to admire athletes, and to make virtuous comments about how you wished you had that physique, but to try to actually be one, or to engage in a physical activity that my mother had not before, was silently forbidden. When my sister attempted to run with the cross country team, she was silently discouraged at home until she quit. When a doctor ordered me to join a sports team, I was told he was an idiot to be ignored. The only “approved” physical activities were bike riding, since my mother had done that, and walking. She also liked to tell me I “needed to do more sit-ups” but only of the type that were demonstrated to cause back problems. When I took up with an aerobics program one summer, she tolerated it vaguely, but prompted my sister to find excuses to interrupt me during the 30 minute workout as much as possible. I was supposed to want to be fit, and apparently my shame was intended to shape my body for me. While guilt feels heavy, it’s no match for resistance exercise. Unless it fit in what she viewed as “proper” exercise she was concerned. That summer was a strange one, where suddenly I was accused of having an “eating disorder” when I ate just fine, because going with my natural activity level and inclination left both mother and sister feeling threatened, as though my activity somehow stole power from them. Maybe it did, but not any power I gave a damn about.
As an adult, I’ve managed to unlearn massive amounts of my childhood programming, and I suspect my clarinet teacher had a lot to do with it. While I feel no regret at setting down a clarinet and never picking it up again, I am grateful to her for using me as a neurological experiment. She found ways I learned, and helped me find ways of getting at my brain that have freed me from the crappier aspects of societal programming. While she was just trying to get me to improve my sense of rhythm, I think she may have accidentally gotten at some of the moral centers, especially the ones that tell you questioning is wrong. It helped me to see through my parents crazy… but it can still take awhile to accept that my weird unhealthy behaviors are pretty consistent with society, and breaking through those barriers will always get people to accuse me of being crazy (and conjure feeling threatened by that) just because I’m making a change.
So, back from the aside:
One of the “crazies” is my feelings about athletes, and sports. Growing up, I discovered that I actually hated/resented watching games. They bored me. Then I played them – basketball, hockey, football – and when I was playing, I became totally engaged even when not playing. When I watched my elementary school team play basketball, I got interested solely because I knew and cared about the people playing. If I was friends with an athlete, I could watch the game. Most of the time, however, I was not friends with the athletes – Crown Point encouraged their jocks to be dumb shits, with the exception of one quarterback who found me delightful because I had no idea who he was and didn’t give a flying fig what his letter jacket was for, and a triathlete whose sister hated me and thus found me vastly entertaining. But we were not friends, at least, not enough that I could watch the game without the boredom and resentment building up. It didn’t help that the best-looking boys in my school were also the biggest jerks that treated girls the worst; I came to associate good-looking athleticism with misogyny, abuse and generic stupidity. Traditionally hot men are still among my biggest turn-offs, and it’s very much because I assume that the personality within just sucks.
Then in college I became friends with my downstairs neighbor, Pete. Pete was everything I hated, and of course, Pete tried to befriend me on our very first day while I cold-shouldered him. He was gorgeous, built, tall dark and handsome, and he slept around with glee. Women would literally throw themselves at him. As it turned out, he was also in two of my four classes that semester, and turned out to be incredibly smart. He never got me to watch football, and his womanizing and his insistence he wanted his future wife to be a “baby making machine” always weirded me out too much to every have a 100% crush on him (it swung between 30 and 80, depending on what he did that horrified me that week) but all the same… my friendship with Pete changed my life. Knowing Pete put me in a position to know the other athletes, and first of all, college athletes are as a general rule smarter than portrayed, and second, since I was never one that any of them wanted to sleep with, we ended up getting to know each other.
These guys were smart. Only one was an idiot about women, and another was more of an idiot savant. They had problems with their fathers, cared about their girlfriends, had real questions from their homework and yes, they loved to have fun. Once they realized I was not going to call the cops every time I saw a keg, they would occasionally include me in that fun. By first semester of sophomore year, Pete and I also added Pete’s neighbor Jim to what a professor referred to as the “unholy triumvirate.” We would, between the three of us, master the material of the class we had.
I still think fondly of Pete, and wish him well. I have never thought of jocks as well… jocks… ever again. Suddenly, jocks were people.
I know I surprised Pete more than once, because he assumed that a pudgy nerd pretty much was my limit – all books, and no balls. So when I played a game of football with a mix of people from the dorm, and I was on the opposing team, he actually could not process it when I ran interference on him successfully. It was partly his brain refusing to believe I had any athletic competence. It was also because he’d seen me stumble across campus while quite sober. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t afraid of him sacking me.
He didn’t – he just thought I was playing badly and I let him. It was weird to know how his perceptions of me got in his head and affected his play.
And the knowledge that I can play, that I can do those things… it’s stayed with me. I went on to Mankato, where I never got to know any of the jock-boys, and the people around me lived in a state of hatred toward them. I befriended the girls’ soccer coach for awhile, but cliques even have a pull in college, and I couldn’t be around both the punks and goths AND him. It’s a shame – he got a look at my muscular legs and had a serious case of coach’s lust from that day on.
Athleticism didn’t seem so bad, but I still can’t watch a sports game without getting bored and then angry that I’ m bored.
Something in my experience broke me from the way people think about physical activity, just as some mysterious force broke me from all the fat shame poured upon me since very early childhood. It makes life interesting when I go the YWCA: the women my age always want to talk about their targets, their weight loss, clothing fitting, and so on. They want me to talk about it, too. And I won’t. I’ve gone so far as to bring up Mike’s diet to get out of talking about myself.
I want to bring out my inner athlete. To do this, I can NOT – NOT – focus on my weight, or my appearance, or how many wolf whistles and waves I get when I’m on the treadmill. I’m not doing this to get thin. I’m doing this to release a frustrated energy that has lived in my body for decades, and that needs out now – because if I release the athlete now, with me to keep an eye on her, we can get to old age knowing about Kegels, and knee joints, and glucosamine. We can figure out how to throw that football or fly that kite – and we can enjoy being in this body, together, drawing on the fat as a wonderful resource to smooth the joints and feed the muscles.
And this way, I can be the weird old lady teaching bellydance on a Hawaiian beach while offering sex advice to horrified young men and bemused young women.