I had a birthday last week and I’ve decided that I need a sign.
Maybe, if I wear a sign, it will prevent the bullying. The “do you really think you need that piece of cake?” that the woman at a friend’s wedding felt it was entirely her right to say to me, while I was (sound the alarms!) eating cake with the rest of the guests.
In fairness to her, I don’t look like someone who exercises most days every week.
In other words: I don’t look like someone who deserves cake. (Cake is to be earned, defended, and rationed, I have learned). So, I figure I need to wear a sign.
I wasn’t an overweight child or teenager. But, since adulthood, I’ve grown chubby. Sometimes, I’m really fat. Morbidly Obese, the medical charts say. Morbid, oh yes indeedy, that’s how I have felt.
Even at my fittest and most cake-less, I have flab under my arms and my chin. I’m tall and I take up considerable space. My belly sticks out and I have a very pronounced bottom. Obvious also, to anyone who has worked with or befriended me for over a decade, I have a difficult relationship with food. Sadly, I think it’s the dominating relationship of my life and it makes my weight oscillate visibly and dramatically. Some years, I’m up by 80-100 pounds. Other years, I’m down by the same amount.
At both ends of that deserving or not deserving cake spectrum, I don’t look like someone who sweats through cardio and weight training and biking and running and metabolic resistance and blah, blah, blah exercises for an hour, most days, every week. Because exercise-surely regular exercise–makes you healthy.
But, I don’t always look healthy. I don’t look like a regular exerciser.
For a Capital P-People-Pleaser like me, that really hurts.
You see, I have been programmed–by family, by society, by myself–to equate (low) weight with worth. And not only that, but I am continuously getting bombarded with the message that (low) weight equals health.
Famous people have commented about the maximum size of a woman’s waist being important for health and that to put a plus-size model on the cover of a magazine, as Sports Illustrated did recently, is to “glorify” obesity and ignore its health consequences. There is, in this commentary on women’s “health”, however, no mention of a minimum size of a woman’s waist or the very life-threatening consequences of anorexia that comes from glorifying women (or y’know, any humans) who weigh far too little. Yet, we have done that without any mention of “health” for decades.
I find this oversight interesting. (And when, I am interested, I feel I deserve cake.)
But, not yet.
First, I keep exercising. I keep losing and gaining dramatic amounts of weight. I want to deserve the piece of cake. I want to be healthy. No, actually, I want to LOOK like someone who others think is healthy. Because, that’s what seems to count when I’m eating the cake at a wedding.
Sometimes, I admit to getting discouraged. I stop the exercise for a while. “Why bother?” I fume, “You don’t get credit for exercising, by yourself, where no one can see you or compliment your race time. What matters is what you weigh.”
I gnash my teeth and I forget How Far I’ve Come.
When I can muffle the nasty voices in my head (and those of rude wedding guests), I am surprised to realize that How Far I’ve Come with exercise is not about what I weigh anymore.
How Far I’ve Come is that in recent years, I have started to motivate myself to exercise with different goals than weight loss or a feeling that I need to earn my cake. I have a chronic fainting syndrome for which I take daily medication and modify my lifestyle (no alcohol, caffeine, late nights or excitement–surely, I deserve cake!) With my extremely low blood pressure and heart rate, I look like a super athlete on paper.
Famous TV doctors would be so pleased.
But, they wouldn’t declare me “healthy” because I have trouble dieting as it tends to make me faint. And modern-day-defined-by-media-sound-bytes health is apparently not about all the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, it is apparently only about weight. Weight trumps ALL. And, I’m not thin. I’m just naturally zombie-like with blue fingernails and a tendency to swoon. The walking half-dead, as it were.
So, lose weight, I must.
I’m very good at it. I hope you’ll agree that 80+ pounds lost is an impressive achievement. Especially when it’s been accomplished several times. Exercise has made me dramatically thinner sometimes. But, so many pounds lost has also sometimes made me forget How Far I’ve Come.
In the beginning, being a fainter made exercise really scary because when my heart started beating really fast and the pulse pounded in my ears, it felt alarmingly similar to what happens just before I skid, unconscious, across my bedroom carpet on my face and end up with an oozing forehead abrasion the size of a cookie (mmmm: cookies.) But, Practical Man (who cleans up the mess that is me and the carpet in the middle of the night) and I believe that exercising actually increases my tolerance against fainting. We think it helps my cardiac and nervous systems get used to being pushed and they learn not to react quite so dramatically at the slightest assault.
I faint far less frequently than I used to. I am healthier–even when my bum won’t always fit into the XL pants.
But, I continue to ignore How Far I’m Come re exercise when I forget that I have adapted exercise in recent years to help me cope with chronic vertigo (a sensation that the room is spinning very rapidly around me). I have to be very careful how I hold my head or move my eyes. I can’t do most yoga poses. I sleep sitting partially up and elbow Practical Man in the forehead when I roll my eyes the wrong way during a dream and everything spins violently. I can’t let my body escape completely in dance, in the ways that I used to. My balance problems have reached a place that I can’t walk quietly around my neighbourhood with a friend, without sweating profusely and feeling as if I have just disembarked from a boat on rocky seas. But, I’ve learned to exercise despite my fear of triggering an intense spinning episode that can last weeks or even months.
I can do it, even though I have to be careful. In this way, exercise has made me braver, which I think is healthier–whether or not my maximum waist size meets a former super model’s approval.
I’m also minimizing How Far I’ve Come with exercise when I overlook that nowadays, I exercise to reduce the chronic pain I have when I move my left eye. I take medications and vitamins and see specialists to try to solve the mystery of what causes only one of my eyes to hurt with every glance and feel as if it’s boring its way into my brain. The working theories so far have been serious and even life-threatening possibilities. But, I have learned that exercising produces endorphins that give me a few minutes or half an hour of all-natural pain relief. I can look around “recklessly” without it hurting for a while.
Such a blessing that I never knew exercise could give. I thought it was all about making me allowed to eat cake but, no. Exercise makes me happier to live for a while without pain and healthier–even though I still have double chins.
Most of all, I realize How Far I’ve Come because even when my thighs rub together with every kilometre I clock, exercising makes me feel strong. Even without losing a pound or an inch, the deep breathing and physical release is a boost to my mental health. It reminds me that even though I am a fainting, spinning, eyeball aching sicko, I am also brave, strong and capable of valuing myself for more than my size.
Yep, I had a birthday last week and there are so many interesting things to do and contribute and learn in life. I am dealing with–and may be facing more-chronic or serious illness. And, with all my health issues — with all that doesn’t work in my body, with all that I continue to try, I want to appreciate my body for what it lets me do, not what shape it has.
So, keep your pursed lips and disapproving eyes to yourself, rude wedding lady. Ditto to you famous people commenting on things under the dubious label of “health“.
But, staying in that, ahem, healthy head space–where I can believe that I deserve to have my cake and eat it like everyone else–will continue to be difficult.
We live in a world where instead of worrying about how our bodies are FUNCTIONING and CONTRIBUTING and LOVING, we are bombarded with messages that tell us that the only thing that really counts is how our bodies are LOOKING and MEASURING and WEIGHING.
Because if we don’t focus on the LOOKING and MEASURING and WEIGHING – well, then, we’re obviously not healthy.
And since health is something that apparently can be measured simply by glancing at someone, that means that anyone can–ahem–weigh in on our right to cake, or to be on the cover of a magazine.
I say that’s a sign that needs changing.
Lately, I’ve been dating George Clooney.
Apparently, I’m not the only one.
Lisa Scottoline, an author I admire (and who feels like a kindred spirit), seems to think that she is also dating George. If she’s right then perhaps I will knuckle under and agree to some sort of joint-custody arrangement if–and only if–she’s dating 2013 George.
Because, fair warning, Lisa: kindred spirit or not, I’m having a full-on dalliance with George of years past.
1995 George is taken.
When I get home from work, I sneak in a little time with George before dinner. George, of the dark hair and yummy “twinkles” at the corners of his eyes. George, who is pining for me….or rather, Nurse Carol Hathaway.
Let’s not focus on her.
I found the first two seasons of the TV series, ER, at a garage sale. Brand new and a bargain little something to distract me while I exercise.
I’ve never really had a thing for exercising. But, I’ve always had kind of a thing for vintage dreamboats.
It started in my teen years when I had a James Dean phase. Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Rebel Without a Cause, great car (Porsche 550 Spyder), short life. It was like that song, Forever Young, by Alphaville.
You know: the sorts of things that make a teenage girl swoon. It was the 80s so, naturally, I had a crush on someone from the 50s.
But, I have matured and moved beyond vintage, Rebel Without a Hairbrush and Bad Boys of Broken Dreams. Now, it’s about the middle-aged twinkles and the beginnings of salt-and-pepper hair.
In other words, George, circa 1995.
“I’m going to visit George,” I confess to Practical Man breezily, as I head downstairs wearing obscenely coloured, breathable, spandex with reflective stripes in case someone tries to run me over while I’m on my treadmill or elliptical machines. A hideous, for-cardio-in-the-privacy-of-one’s-own-basement outfit that, thank goodness, George will never, ever see.
“Okay”, says Practical Man, “See you in an hour.”
Practical Man is not threatened by George. And he loves me despite the unfortunate exercise get-up.
The obnoxious outfit makes me feel sporty and athletic. It is all a ruse to distract me into the unfortunate exercising part. My shoes have “go faster” stripes on them.
I think they might be defective.
When I was young, my parents put me in soccer in a vain attempt to get me to be more sporty and athletic. I was timid (in life and soccer) and ran away from the evil soccer ball constantly. Anyone who tells you that heading the ball “doesn’t hurt a bit” is a big, fat liar.
Or possibly just sporty and athletic in a way that I will never be.
But, I loved my outfit.
It was blue and white with tall socks and despite my terrible soccer career, it allowed me, the shy bookworm, to masquerade every Wednesday night (and during photo ops in the back yard, under the crab-apple tree) as a jock.
That’s what’s really important.
Anyway, I feel like super-duper-fit girl with my day-glow, Olympic-wannabe outfit on. And, sure enough, ten minutes later, there I am, huffing and puffing.
With George, no less.
Unfortunately, not in the good way. Unless you count doubling your fainting-prone, half-dead heart rate as good.
Which, I don’t.
But it matters not, because 1995 George thinks I am powerful and glorious. I can just tell by the way he smiles at me sort of sidelong from the TV screen. He has faith that I will reach my slightly-less-zombie target heart rate and inspires me to hold in my (non-existent) stomach muscles when I just can’t stand it another second.
Sweating with George. It’s such a good part of my day.
Until, I rise from the depths of the basement, perspiring and red-faced from my efforts, to find Practical Man. As usual, he’s shopped for groceries, done the laundry, written me a sweet note on a Post-it, welded, constructed or repaired something and prepared dinner. He compliments my workout efforts without even noticing the obnoxious fitness ensemble and he’s got the requisite twinkly bits by his eyes.
Hands off, Lisa Scottoline. You can have George.
This vintage dreamboat is all mine.