“Your body isn’t good enough.”
I won’t lie–I struggled through the first week of my exercise challenge. Last week, I sweated and grunted as I pushed myself to do the classes. I pushed myself to even attend the classes, let alone do all the exercises. I was exhausted by life: yelling babies, a husband stuck on a business trip due to weather, a series of colds that had transformed my house into a Kleenex burial ground.
But the worst part was getting to the classes, struggling, and having to watch my heavy image struggle in the mirrors that lined the classroom. I was definitely not “Most Likely to Succeed.” If, on the other hand, they had an award for “Fattest Girl in the Room,” it would be me. In a sea of Lululemon-outfitted, long and lean ex-athletes, I looked like a physical typo. I tried to avoid meeting my own eyes in the mirror, as though to say, “I don’t know her.”
“Your body isn’t good enough,” I told myself when my eyes involuntarily met my reflection. And it felt like a slap across the face and the heart.
“Your body isn’t good enough,” I said to myself as I tried on a pair of pre-pregnancy jeans, only to refold them and put them on the shelf rather than struggle fruitlessly to pull them over my hips.
“Your body isn’t good enough,” I remembered this man–let’s call him Bill–saying to me. At the time, I’d been divorced two years. I wouldn’t meet my husband, Jon, for one more year. In the meantime, I was dating. And for no reason at all, the memory of Bill’s voice saying those words–before and after kissing me, by the way–rang, years later, in my head.
Bill and I had dated for a few months when I was divorced. As often happens, it was fun until it wasn’t. In this particular case, it became un-fun right around the time when Bill told me that he didn’t normally date women who had a shape like mine, and that he was “more attracted to my mind.” Stupidly, in my post-divorce thirst for male affirmation, I took that as a compliment. It took him finding other, thinner women for me to realize that it had been meant as a thinly-veiled insult.
Why would I be in a relationship that made me feel bad, one might wonder. Maybe because it reminded me of my ex-husband, and we tend, like it or not, to gravitate toward the familiar. Or maybe because I believed I didn’t deserve any better? Because yeah, Bill was right, I didn’t have the Lululemon bod, and therefore was less worthy of a monogamous relationship and less worthy, generally.
With the encouragement of great friends of mine, I cut off contact with Bill. It hurt because it felt like conceding defeat. I didn’t understand at the time that there was nothing more coming from Bill, and moreover, that acknowledging this and moving on was not a defeat, but a small victory.
It took me a long time to realize that while there are many things in life that can’t be changed, there are also many things in life that can–and the most fundamental of those changeable, fixable things is your own sense of self-respect.
I was reminded of all that this morning when I looked in the mirror at the exercise class. I looked at myself and saw… myself. I saw the same woman who had birthed five kids. I saw the same person who had fought her way out of a bad marriage and emerged into the light of marriage to a great man and a great, second-chance family. I saw the person who had opted to fight, rather than to lie down and give up.
So this week, I told that little voice, “Screw that.” I’m working hard. I’m doing well. I see changes in my body already. And while I want to become more fit, I am doing it for myself this time around. It means that the stretch and pull of muscles is harder, and hard-earned.
Is my body ?good enough?” It’s healthy and strong and pushed out five kids. It’s been good to me. I should be good to myself.
As I left the classroom, I wiped off my sweat with a towel, took a swig of water, and put on my shoes and coat. But before leaving the building, I took out my phone and scrolled through my contacts. Yes, the guy I’d dated so long ago was still in there.
I hit “delete.”
And immediately, I felt lighter.