After several years of membership at our local gym, my family has slowly caught on to the rhythms and unspoken rules of the place. The rhythms dictate our running decisions – well, it’s cold and raining, but it’s soap opera hour at the gym, so . . . rain it is. Additionally, pickup games are evening events, and the sauna should post some caveat about being co-ed, and if you show up for noon yoga you will get caught in the after-swim-class stampede of elderly women who haven’t noticed that the locker room is for everyone.
Although it still pushes me way (waaaay) outside my comfort zone to get caught in a stampede of elderly women wearing only shower caps, I don’t mind sharing my gym. My hours at the gym, instead of becoming the times I focus on how weak or slow or tired I am, have become multi-generational health fests.
I still haven’t signed up for seated yoga or SilverSneakers swim classes, but I’m learning to love conversations that span the seasons of life – conversations in which only one of us has teeth or the hips we were born with.
What I love most about these conversations is the utter lack of body hatred. It’s weird to be several minutes into conversations with other women at the gym and realize that something’s missing . . . what is it? Oh, we’re not trash talking ourselves.
My retiree gym pals aren’t out to torture their bodies into a certain shape, and although there may be some talk of body fat (today a man patted his stomach and told me that I have “all of this” to look forward to), the focus is health.
It’s nice to talk about bodies in a positive tone. I just don’t want to wait till I’m seventy to get there.
There’s been some resurgence of holistic body care in the popular world (maybe thanks, in part, to yoga?), and I’m cheering on the climbing popularity of fitness over an ideal jean size. I’m especially excited to see young women interested in health, actually lifting weights and downloading 5k running plans and parading under mantras like, Strong is the new skinny. (My elderly friends may prefer mantras like, Eighty and able to walk is the new skinny).
I’m twenty-four, and I’m already so over crash diets, cellulite, jean sizes, and being slaves to lower belly workouts. (I wish a women’s fitness instructor would just say, “You know the protruding part of your lower stomach that you love to hate? It’s unique to women because you have a uterus. Not because you’re a failure of a woman but because you are a woman. Now dump your internalized outrageous ideals in the garbage and MOVE ON.”)
In college, I knew women who ran ten milers before breakfast and beat the boys in their sports, upheld as emblems of female fitness – who still bemoaned their cellulite. I had shoved these conversations aside in my mind until this summer, when a beautiful friend, who’s a better runner and a stronger woman than I in a lot of ways, pulled me aside at a party and whispered, “Do your legs jiggle when you walk, too?”
Is this what we’re aiming for — as women? as human beings? as imago Dei? We fight world hunger, glimpse the face of the holy, nurse our babies back to health and catch our friends when they fall, face disappointments with grace, rise to the tops of our companies and serve the poor unnoticed, run marathons, and bench a hundred pounds, and still we’re ashamed, whispering to each other, like all they’ll ask us at the pearly gates someday is –
Did you jiggle?
And, trusting that a perfected Saint Peter won’t mind my French, I’ll tell him, HECK YES I JIGGLED.
(And he’ll say, “Oh, good, me too.”)
I won’t challenge the importance of physical beauty (if God made the world beautiful then beauty matters – and smarter people have debated this for millennia). What I’ll go to my grave challenging is our incredibly narrow definition of physical beauty – which, I trust, will change again several times before I actually make it to the grave –
Because I plan to die a very old lady (I’m gonna go out challenging all the men in my nursing home to arm wrestle me) because in my teens and twenties and all the time when I had my first set of hips I didn’t starve myself into osteoporosis and a broken metabolism in a gaunt, tired body that started eating its own muscles because some monkey in Paris said, STARVED IS THE NEW BEAUTIFUL.
If you’d like to set fire to your Photoshopped ideals and join our club, you’ll know where to find us.
I should probably warn you that this is one of my favorite topics and one of the only things in the world that I abandon my typical phlegmatic personality to fight for. And now I may not be able to shut up.