It's Baywatch. Barbie. It's never really understanding, in our gut, that if we could ask her even Barbie could tell us exactly what is wrong with her body. And we all know, intellectually, of course, that Barbie's legs are too long, her waist is too short, her boobs are too big and her feet are ridiculous, but she's a doll. What we do not know, as women, is that my sports physiologist, who is in her late twenties and runs marathons, also has tendonitis in her shoulder, a bad back, and passes out if she trains too hard. My former coach for the Nautilus machines had MS. None of us have perfect bodies. If we did have perfect bodies, we would still believe we are too short or too fat or too skinny or not tan enough.
None of us have ever been taught to admire the bodies we have.
And nothing reminds us of our personal imperfections like taking off our clothes. Imagining that--for whatever reason--other people are looking at us.
My sports physiologist is more afraid of wounding me than I am of being wounded. The program she has set up for me to regain my youthful vim and vigor is appropriately hard. Not too hard, not too easy. It's just exercise. The most difficult part of my routine, designed by my physiologist, is walking through the heavy-duty weight room to get the equipment I need for my sit-ups.
The weight room is full mostly of men. Lifting weights. Not one of them has ever been rude to me, not one of them has even given me an unkind glance: still, the irony that I make the greatest emotional sacrifice to do the exercise I like the least is born again each time I walk into the room.
Someone might laugh at me. Someone might say, "What are you doing here?" I have a perfectly acceptable answer.
I joined the gym because my girlfriend said, "I want to walk the Appalachian Trail." I have no desire to backpack across the wilderness: but I could barely keep up with her when she made this pronouncement, and I could see myself falling farther and farther behind if I stayed home while she trained. I joined the gym because I used to work out and I used to feel better. Moved better. Could tie my shoes. I joined the gym because I dropped a piece of paper on the floor of my friend's car and I could not reach down and pick it up. I joined the gym because I have a sedentary job and a number of aches and pains and chronic miseries that are the result of being over fifty and having a sedentary job. I joined the gym because my sister, who is younger than I am and more fit, seriously hurt her back picking up a case of pop. It could have been me. It probably should have been me.
I keep going back to the gym because I love endorphins. I love feeling stronger. More agile. I can tie my shoes without holding my breath. I can pick papers up off the car floor without having to wait until I get out of the car. I don't breathe quite as loudly. I have lost that doddering, uncertain old lady's walk that made strange teenaged boys try to hold doors or carry things for me.
I keep going back because I hate feeling helpless. Years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to join Vic Tanney, a chain of gyms popular at the time. There was a brand-new gym just around the corner from where we lived--just a matter of a few blocks. She had belonged to Vic Tanney before, so she guided me through the guided tour, offering me bits of advice and expertise along the way. . . I plopped down money, she plopped down money, and a few days later it was time for us to go to the gym.
She couldn't go.
She was fat.
Losing weight had been her expressed goal when she joined: now she couldn't go until she was "thinner."
Everyone else at the gym, she said, was buff and golden. "I'll be there," I pointed out (for I have never been a small woman).
She couldn't go. She was too fat. She was a size twelve.
Copyright © 2002, 2004 by Cheryl Peck.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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