Body Beautiful?

As the snow slowly melts in Southern New England, I’ve finally been able to emerge from my frozen cocoon and, although it was snowing (again!), this Saturday I managed to make my way back to the gym. Amongst the clink of weights and whir of cardio equipment I’m attempting to relocate my workout groove.



During a rest period between reps, I took a quick glance around me at the varied patrons of this fine establishment. My gym has a pretty good mix of people (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) from those seriously buff to those seriously not, and everything in between.  Old and young, thick and thin, it’s a comfort to me to see each of us here doing our own thing.

And then my eye came to rest on the 12’ high photos of men and women plastered across the walls, their stomachs flat and muscles well defined, beads of sweat glistening artistically across their determined brows. They are meant to motivate me to work harder, go longer, and ultimately to look just like them.

And a thought struck me:



We don’t expect everyone in the world to have blonde hair or blue eyes.  That would be ridiculous, right?  Downright Aryan, even. We don’t expect everyone in the world to be 5’9”. Or wear the same size shoes. How stupid! 

So why then, do we expect everyone to have or desire the exact same body? And if we don’t have or desire said body, why are we expected to be ashamed of ourselves?

It’s not logical.  It’s not even possible. But yet we spend billions and billions of dollars listening to people who tell us so many lies to convince us that our bodies MUST look alike.  We must make them so, or go down in flames in the attempt.



From the peddler of the magic pill, whose soothing voice assures us that our size (which is assumed to be inferior and unacceptable) is not our fault and completely out of our control, but if we just order today, we will have that perfect beach body in minutes without lifting a finger or changing our habits in any way.

To the innumerable shapers and shifters that help us suck in things here and push up things there, creating the illusion of curves in one location or flattening them out in another.

To the mental trainer screaming ‘get your lazy ass up off the couch you miserable, pathetic slug! You CAN have that beach body, you just don’t WANT it bad enough!’ 


My personal truth is that a ‘beach body’ will never be my reality. I can and have dropped some weight in the past, and will continue to work to maintain a healthy weight in the future, but I will never achieve the type of body that stares at me from the walls of my gym, not without devoting basically the entirety of my existence to weight loss and maintenance, using dieting drugs, having weight loss surgery, developing a severe medical issue, or some combination thereof and even then, the ultimate results are doubtful. Closer, perhaps, to ‘perfect’ than where I am now, but never quite hitting the mark, I am sure. And none of these options appeal to me. Why should they have to?

Because my size 14 body is really offered only two options: get the body that everyone is supposed to have (or die trying) or live in your size 14 body in shame. Never mind if you are fit at 14. Never mind if you are healthy. If you are unwilling or unable to achieve beach body status, you deserve to feel humiliated. Do not expect to be allowed to have a positive self-image. Do not expect to be considered beautiful.

Which brings me to this:
 Are we freakin’ crazy? Why, WHY do we buy into this shit?

The thought of wrapping our self worth and concept of self beauty around this idea that we can and should all have the same body is so mind-blowingly stupid. And I am the first to admit to being caught in this trap which I have just revealed to myself to be an utter dung pile. A trap laid for both men and women of all shapes and sizes that are not THE shape and size.

How is it possible, for example, that after forty-something years old I have never once considered myself beautiful? Seriously. Never. Not even the in the obligatory ‘90s Glamour Shots pics, with my hair and makeup professionally done up (by a Dallas stylist who, mercifully, agreed to forgo the “Texas hair” for the shoot), with the soft focus lens and fuzzy lighting. Even this fake me has not been enough to overcome the inexplicably asinine idea ingrained in me that we should all look the same and that I am a complete failure by not doing so.

It is so hard to fight against this kind of ingrained belief that has been drilled into my head for most of my life.

I currently have in my arsenal only one weapon with which to defend myself.

My amazing son, now nearly 9, still tells his Mommy how beautiful he thinks she is. And should I slip and make a negative comment about my appearance in front of him (something I try very carefully NOT to do (just as important, in my opinion, to avoid in front of our sons as our daughters)), he becomes cross with me.

“Don’t do that,” he says. “Don’t talk bad about yourself; I don’t like that. You ARE beautiful, Momma. You are beautiful just the way you are.” 


While I can’t say I believe it, I believe that HE believes it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. :-)

Snow Must Go

It’s been a hard winter the past six weeks or so. Living in Southern New England, you expect it to snow. Sometimes big snows. And to be honest, this fall/winter had been pretty mild up until the new year.

And then, it started to snow. Relentlessly. Every. Freakin’. Weekend. Bitter cold. Driving wind. Snow piles quickly became taller than my son, then taller than me. Roads became narrower and narrower. It did not melt. At all. Ever.

It killed my energy. And a little piece of my soul. I had not been to the gym in 6 weeks—snow removal had become by cardio and weight training all in one. And it increased my appetite 10 fold. I am not sure I will be able to fit into my shorts in time for April vacation.

It’s so hard to hold on to the magic of snowy days as an adult. When you’re a kid, it’s all mystical and fun. Will there be school? Can I go out and play? Will you make hot chocolate? Do you wanna build a snowman?

As an adult, I’ve still managed to retain that sense of wonder at the first snow—watching the soft, fluffy flakes swirl in the air as if contained in a giant snow globe. And there is that sense of peacefulness when the snow stops and you first go out to shovel in the crisp cold air, before the snow blowers fire up, and it’s just you and a shovel and the soft crunch of new snow and the deep dark sky as the clouds break and the stars twinkling brightly overhead.

But all too soon, the reality of adulthood sets in—the sidewalk MUST be cleared in a timely fashion. The car must be dug out. The end of the driveway must be dug out again after the snow plow goes by.

Are the roads safe? Can I get to work? Will there be school? Do I have time to take the day off? Will my boss care? Did the plow just go by again? Do I have enough milk and bread and eggs? Is the roof giving out? Is that an ice dams? Do you hear something dripping? I hear something dripping! Was that the damn snow plow going by AGAIN?

Do I wanna build a snowman?! No. No, I do NOT want to build a snowman. I want to torch every blessed snowman within a 10 mile radius. I want to take a flamethrower to their little round frozen heads til there’s nothing left but an icy puddle and a flaming carrot.

Sadly, I do not own a flamethrower.

I do own a Scripto Aim ‘n Flame. But that hardly has the same impact.

This week finally, FINALLY saw a good bit of thaw. Yet the 7 day forecast offers a chance for flurries, more snow, and temps once again dipping into the teens.

So if you’re looking for me in the coming weeks, don’t be surprised to find me on my front porch stairs, with a mad look in my eye, an itchy trigger finger on my Scripto, and that funny little neck tick reminiscent of Harry Potter/Lord Voldemort, with my eye to the sky, waiting to melt the next flake that dares to darken…or whiten…my doorstep.

C’mon, Spring! We are soooo ready for you.

SpringSnowFlowers

Snow Day Moms

Blessed are the Snow Day Moms:

Who are grateful to have the time to take off work to make it to early dismissal, although they did have other plans for that vacation leave that did not involve being shut up in the house for an indeterminate amount of time under questionable conditions.

Who remain patient as they listen to their beloved children, who are so wound up from the weather, no recess, shoveling down their lunch in 15 minutes, that they have been talking NON-STOP since they crossed out of the school threshold, like a Starbucks virgin on a double-double espresso.

Who negotiate precarious roads while said children (who have just shoveled down their 15 minute lunch immediately prior to pickup) wonder aloud at 1 PM when snack will be and what’s for dinner.

Who brave the grocery store aisles to ensure there is milk for hot cocoa, eggs for baked goods, and bread as a backup plan, among other staples and food stuffs, waiting longer in the checkout line that it took to gather said supplies in the first place.

Who fervently pray that the power does not go out, which would, among other things, place said supplies in peril.

Whose ingenuity is tested, when the power does go out, to create a nutritious meal from a multitude of random frozen and refrigerated ingredients, so as not to waste said supplies.

Who sorely wish they’d remembered to hit the liquor store, too.

Who remind their children throughout the day of the 101 toys and games at their disposal when they sit staring blankly at them wondering what they should do next.

Who make a valiant effort to keep screen time to a minimum…or at least not an all-day event.

Who pull wet gloves from pockets, wet socks from boots, and wet boots from the hard wood floors, ensuring that they thoroughly dry out and are ready for future use.

Who use their day not only to clear the snow that so graciously made this day possible, but to clean, organize, catch up on that extra load of laundry, and tend to all manner of other household chores that slipped through the cracks over the weekend.

Who try very hard not to curse the snow plow driver who ALWAYS comes by just as she’s opening the screen door to go inside, no matter when she started or how late she finished.

Who put their children to bed at their scheduled time, assuring them that they can’t stay up late banking on the hope that they will have tomorrow off, too.

 Who go back out in their jammies and boots at 10 PM to clear off that evening flurry… and the sludgy cement left behind at the bottom of the driveway after the snow plow snuck by one last time.

Who play the odds of prepping tomorrow’s lunch box lunch tonight.

Blessed are the Snow Day Moms (and Dads!) who will not inherit the earth.  And that’s OK, because they’ve sorta got their hands full as it is.

New Year, New You?

It’s mid-January, and for many, their New Year’s resolutions are still (mostly) going full steam ahead. LA Fitness is a lot more crowded after work these days than it was just a month ago. Restaurants are touting their “healthy” menu items; white sales and work out clothes abound. The new year is perceived as a time for fresh starts. In fact, everywhere I look signs are practically shouting at me: “New Year, New You!” While this is not a new phrase, this year in particular, it seems to be everywhere I look. At the gym, the grocery store, the cafeteria at my work (where lemon water is the latest thing), the mall, the cosmetics aisle—everywhere I turn I’m encouraged to buy/try/rely on a product or service that promises a new me in the new year.

And I wonder, do I really need a NEW me? Is the old me really THAT bad that I have to shed her completely and emerge from her shell a brand new entity, like a cicada cracking through her crispy exoskeleton on a warm summer’s night? (now, there’s a pleasant image)

I must say, I’m rather partial to the old me. I’ve known her for a long time. We’re good together. Sure, she has her faults. Her rough edges. Is she a bit of a fixer-upper? Could she stand a little spit and polish here and there? Well, sure! I’m not saying that a new look, eating healthier, shedding a few pounds (or gaining a few, if need be) are bad things. But there’s a difference between tweaking what you’ve got and blowing it up and starting all over.

As benign as it seems, ‘New Year, New You’ carries an underlying message that says to me the you you are is not adequate. You are not enough. You are not worthy. You must be replaced with another version of you that will be sufficiently acceptable.

To whom, I wonder?

So I propose one of the following slightly less catchy (or alliterative) phrases:

New Year, RE-new You:
In the new year, lets find those things that invigorate us and make us feel good about ourselves. Did you love to draw? Was poetry your passion? Get back to it! Could your wardrobe use a little refresh? Would a new hair style put some bounce in your step? Would working out clear your mind and body? Get on with it! We let life get in the way of living sometimes, and the change of the calendar is a convenient reminder to taking stock of what we need to feed our souls. We deserve to rekindle those golden brown bits of happy goodness in ourselves that are sometimes so easily forgotten.

New Year, New-To-You:
We all know how easy it is to fall into that comfortable crease in the couch cushion of life. Let’s let the new year remind us to explore our world a bit more! Since we’re only living this life we’ve got once, let’s take it out for a spin and see what it can do. Whether it’s trying a new food, restaurant or recipe, taking a different route around the neighborhood for an evening walk, or ziplining across a canyon, now’s the time to try something you’ve never done before. A new passion might be lurking just around the corner, waiting to give us a big ole bear hug of happiness.

 

In the new year, I’m not sure a whole new you is as necessary as a reminder of the things that make you happy with the you that you are.

Runner’s Redress…and Resolutions

When I was in high school, all the freshmen had to take some sort of P.E. class. It didn’t matter what it was, you just had to take SOMEthing. Being new to the school (the city, the state, the time zone…) and less than “athletically” inclined, I tried to pick something somewhat non-threatening that I thought I could muddle through relatively unscathed. I picked tennis. Unfortunately, the only tennis class that fit into my schedule was first period. Really?

Now, anyone who’s ever been a teenager (particularly a teenage girl) can tell you that having P.E. first thing in the morning and then having to go through the whole rest of the school day thereafter is not a good combination. I tried very hard not to sweat. Ever. Because the 5 minutes you got at the end of class to change clothes and “shower” could not possible cut it.  Who were they kidding?  This was the 80’s, man! In Texas! It would take me 5 minutes just to Aquanet my hair. No, there would be no showering, and therefore no sweating, but plenty of extra deodorant (just in case).

Tennis was a challenge to me on many levels, but the class, overall, turned out OK. Our teacher, Mrs. Brown, was patient and kind, and tried her best to encourage even the least skilled of us towards improvement.  I met one of my best friends in that class, along with my other best friend’s brother (and his best buddy), with whom I am still friends to this day. I even picked up a few (minor) tennis skills.

But the class also had a deep, dark downside that hung over my head like that squiggly little cloud Pig Pen has in the Peanuts® comics.  And its name was “The Presidential Fitness Test.”

While I’ve tried to block it out of my mind, as I recall the ‘test’ required us to do a certain number of sit ups and pull ups in a specified period of time, and to run a 12 minute mile. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but to an athletically challenged 14 year old girl who was all about that bass before Meghan Trainor was even born, it was a nightmare.

Certain days were set aside throughout the year for us to work towards these fitness goals with the hope that come Spring, we would be able to ‘pass’ the test. My equally unathletic best friend and I would struggle through as best we could, agreeing that the president ought to have better things to do than torture high school students who were yet too young to vote.

There was a boy in our class, whose name I HAVE successfully blocked from my memory, who was not much help.  His idea of encouragement was to yell harassing taunts at us, as we crept by on our way round the track, about how slow and pitiful we were, as well as all manor of creatures who could move faster than us and how we were just generally pathetic. He did this, of course, out of earshot of our teacher, who clearly would not have stood for such nonsense had she known, but to whom we never mentioned it due to the simple fact that we were mortified by the entire affair.

In the end, I did some sit ups, maybe two pull ups (may-be), and I think we eventually ran a 15-ish minute mile. In theory, I think the idea of the test was to motivate us to reach a higher level of physical fitness. In practice, it proved only to knock another peg out from under my already abysmally low teenage self esteem.

Unlike his mother was, my eight year old son is quite active in a variety of sports, so this Fall when he decided to join the Running Club at his elementary school, I wanted to show my support in a meaningful way. Besides providing a way for the kids to be more active, a major goal of the club was to have the kids participate in one of the local running events at the end of term. This included a ½ mile or 1 mile kids run and a 5K race. Before I could stop myself, I was suggesting to my son that we run the 5K together.

Wait, what?

‘How far is a 5K?’ he asked. Good question! (how could I not know this information before making such a suggestion?) We Googled it: 3.1 miles. (Slight waiver in my resolve). He was doubtful. But I pressed forward: the walks we go on in our neighborhood in the summer are about one and a half miles—heck, we’re almost halfway there! (who WAS this person talking?!).

Ultimately, we agreed that he would start Running Club and I would start training and we’d check in with each other in about a month and see how we were feeling. If all was going well, we’d sign up for the race on Dec. 7

As you now know, I didn’t exactly have a stunning ‘track’ record with running. In short, once I survived PE, I did not run. Did. Not. Run. In fact, I used to jokingly tell people that if you EVER see me running, I suggest you get up and start running too, because either my ass is, literally, on fire (in which case I should NOT be running, but doing the stop, drop and roll) or I am being chased by a large and hungry wild carnivore. Yet, here I was, printing out the Couch to 5K program, counting the weeks and making sure I had enough ‘squoosh’ room to meet my training goal. I’d been going to the gym for a little over a year, so it wasn’t like I was entirely inactive, but still. 3.1 miles? Hmmm.

Everything’s great when you’re starting out alternating running 90 seconds and walking 60 seconds for 15 minutes. I began obsessing about training, making sure I ran 3 times a week. Looking over the course for the race. Looking at times from last year’s participants. We discovered that last year an 80+ year old woman ran the race in 45:08. Our goal became ‘beat the old lady’s time’ (said with all due reverence to this woman, whomever she was—I was thoroughly impressed by her!). We were both feeling good. About 2/3 through the training program, I was thinking, ‘I might really be able to run this whole thing!’

Until I got to the week that said ‘run for 25 minutes without stopping.’ That was the first week I did not meet the training goal for the first day. Doubts surfaced. Self-esteem swayed precariously in the wind. I pretty much convinced myself I could not run 3.1 miles without stopping. I could finish, yes. Run the whole thing? Doubtful. I was disappointed in myself. Disappointed that I was going to let my son down. But I kept training all the same.

By the time we got to race day, I still hadn’t run 3.1 miles; the furthest I’d gone was 2.75. It was a sunny but cold day with an icy wind and I was sure I was going to crap out somewhere in the middle of the run.

We were surprised how fast we came up on the first mile, and by the time we rounded the course and hit the second mile, we were beginning to think that we might possibly actually make it. As we neared the finish, the capital city looming in the distance, we were cheering each other on—we were going to make it! We sprinted across the finish line, high-fived Santa, and immediately sought out the hot chocolate and Christmas cookies that were promised at the end of the race.

I finished in 40:31, my son finishing 2 seconds ahead of me. My pace was 13:01. Holy crap! Did I really run faster and farther at 43 years old than I did at 14? No WAY. Fourteen year old me felt totally vindicated. Can I get a ‘hell yeah!’

We both felt great after the race and had already decided we wanted to do another one (perhaps in warmer weather next time). Our goal is to finish under 40 minutes, which would put me under a 13 minute pace. Not quite presidentially fit, but slowly edging closer…

So, what’ve these two long stories got to do with resolutions, you ask?  The answer is this:

At 43 years old, I tried something I have never done before. Never imagined I could accomplish. Never even occurred to me to try. Something I told myself I could not do.

And it made me think that I ought to do that more often. Put myself out there and just give more things a go. So instead of some random specific goal, I resolve to live bigger and bolder in 2015, whatever that comes to mean. Whatever that turns out to be may not appear particularly big or bold to the outside observer. But to me? I want to see me be brave!

 

 

 

A Thankful Heart

This afternoon I was snuggled up with my son watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” one of our favorite holiday movies. I love this kid-friendly version, which wraps the closely followed original story (and its language) in the warm, fuzzy, funky blanket of Muppet-ness.

Listening to the film that I’ve seen countless times (many of them before I even had my son), I was struck by the lyric in “Thankful Heart”–

“Life is like a journey
Who knows when it ends?
Yes, and if you need to know
The measure of a man
You simply count his friends”
(lyric reproduced from MetroLyrics)

and a name instantly sprang to mind: Ryan Roach.

I would say Ryan was a friend of mine, but in truth, he was merely an acquaintance- a friend of a friend whom I had met in passing and encountered on a few subsequent occasions. I really knew more OF him than anything else.

What I did know about Ryan first-hand was that he was a fabulous actor, well known to the Dallas/Ft. Worth theatre community. He had a broad, genuine smile, a wickedly wonderful sense of humor and a rich, full belly laugh that reverberated through a room. Everyone knew when Ryan was in the audience by the unmistakable sound of his laughter. And his hugs—Ryan was known for big, warm bear hugs, as if he might literally squeeze just a little bit of his own joy for life into the very heart of you.

Ryan became a mail order pastor before it was such a popular thing to do, and performed the wedding ceremony for my best friend. I look back at the pictures of his positively beaming face and cannot help but smile myself.

In the summer of 2013, Ryan passed away unexpectedly at the age of 44, devastating the friends and family he left behind. They started a Facebook group dedicated to him where they could share memories and grieve together. The group has over 600 members. Over a year later, they still post messages and memories, and remind one another to embrace life joyously, both literally and figuratively to “Hug Like Ryan.” I learned so much more about Ryan from reading the beautiful, funny memories that people shared. It was like a huge online wake. Or the sendoff of a beloved character on a long-running television series that no one wanted to let go of. It was genuine, but surreal.

Upon his passing, I felt compelled to write about this man who has inspired such love and compassion in just about everyone he’d met. I attempted several times to write about him, but knowing him personally in such a cursory way, everything I wrote seemed inadequate. Fraudulent, even. As if I were pretending to be closer to him than I was, to know him better than I did. In truth, I wish I HAD known him better.

But when I heard these lyrics again today, it struck me that they were so Ryan. And as I snuggled on the couch with my arm around my Little Man, with our Christmas tree twinkling in the corner, full of three generations of ornaments made by friends and family, I realized that I had found the right time to say what I wanted to say about Ryan:

I hope, in my heart of hearts, that we may each be so blessed as to leave those who have touch our lives with joy in their hearts and the desire to inspire others as we have inspired them.

“And beg you to share my days
With a loving guarantee
That even if we part
I will hold you close in a thankful heart.”

Black Friday Must Haves!

Ah, another Black Friday come and gone. Although the term has clearly become a misnomer, since so many stores were open on Thanksgiving Day, with some starting their Black “Friday” deals on Wednesday and extending them through the weekend or beyond. It seems each passing year pushes the holidays back further and further. This year at Target, nearly two weeks before Halloween, there was one whole side of the aisle full of costumes and accessories and the other entire side filled with shiny new Christmas decorations. Sigh.

In fact, the whole month of November was filled with ad after ad building me up for “Black Friday” events, screaming at me about “must have” items.

I know I am not the first to see the irony in the slow backslide that Black Friday has made into Thanksgiving Day. What better way to celebrate the day set aside for showing our gratitude for what we have than to go shopping on that very same day, to get more stuff we must have?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bargain just as much as the next girl. And sure, it can feel great to get that ‘perfect’ gift for your child, spouse, friend, family member. That thing that they MUST have. But still…

I got to spend Thanksgiving with my Mom who now lives in the same state, for the first time in over 20 years. We ate a delicious meal at my friends’ home, where they not only welcomed us as their extended family, but also friends of theirs who were not able to make it to their own family celebration due to the weather. My 8 year old son secretly made us thank you cards letting us know why he was grateful to have us in his life. His elementary school principal suggested to the children that making cards was a nice way to show their gratitude (the character trait of the month), and was something that their loved ones can hold onto in a way that the texts and emails of the electronic age can’t be kept.

On Black Friday, I stayed in bed until 8:30 AM and in my pajamas til noon. The only shopping my son and I did was at the happily deserted grocery store where we breezed through the aisles checking off the items on our list. Later in the evening, we decorated our Christmas tree, pulling out ornaments collected from far and wide, telling the stories of where we got them, who had made them, and which ones were our favorites.

Family. Friends. Memories. Love. Gratitude. Paid holidays. Vacation time. Elastic waist pants. I guess my list of “must haves” is not quite what Corporate America had in mind.

Hope your weekend was full of all the must haves that make you happy.