I’ve never been an athletic person. As a kid, I was lanky and dealing with a really problematic lack of hand-eye-coordination. Sports Days filled me with a silent dread and I would count down the days until it arrived, watching the enthusiastic kids armed with eggs and spoons tear up a track while I tried to blend in with the shrubbery behind me at the back of the line. I did try dancing for a bit and realised I was flexible enough to fall into the splits but, apart from that, struggled at the best of times to even walk properly, never mind catch a ball or bat impressively like the boys who played cricket at school. Competitive sports were simply never my thing and I had resigned myself comfortably to the notion that my grand purpose in life was clearly not to take up a spot at the Olympics.
Flash forward to high school and before I knew it, I was frozen at height and yet harboring an ass that grew at a sense-defying rate. My relationship with food had blossomed and I went from being classed as ‘underweight’ to a ‘healthy weight’ according to my BMI. This bugged me a tad. I’d grown accustomed to being ‘underweight’ in the eyes of society and part of me relished that, I think. Just a year before, I’d gone through a stint of avoiding food and making myself feel physically sick just considering the idea of eating. I’d found myself stunted at six-stones- I was fifteen and tiny. So to see that I’d changed disappointed me. But many assured me that I shouldn’t worry because I was finally healthy, so, I tried not to. I squeezed into jeans and accepted the new era of curves and actually fitting into clothes as opposed to having them drape over a flat chest and shapeless form.
All was well until I found myself at a pivotal point- I’d gone on a bit of a rampage following my first experience with heartbreak in my late teens and erased negative people and thoughts from my life. Part of this process involved trying to find a way to eliminate negative thoughts about myself. I began a journey with the intention of leaving the zone of self-hatred and landing at a place where I could tolerate myself, flaws and all, at least to the degree that I could actually stand to be in my own company without descending into a full on anxious breakdown. I decided to spruce myself up a little. Work on Pip. Find a way to look at the mirror and like what I saw staring back, even just a little bit. Develop some healthy habits like eating regular clean meals and maybe, eventually mustering up the courage to join the gym. To find a form of exercising for the first time in my life that would work for me.
And so, I chose to deal with my irrational fear of inadequacy by telling myself that the only person I was in competition with was myself. I didn’t have an aim to lose a particular amount of weight, yet I found myself monitoring my weight with a morbid curiosity every morning as some sort of autopilot ritual. I told myself religiously that I didn’t need to be tiny again to be ‘happy’. I didn’t have an end-product in mind. I knew I just wanted to feel better in myself and that alongside walking and yoga, trying something completely new could bring me that feeling of being content.
At my induction, I was shown around the equipment by a really friendly member of staff and I noticed on the horizon a line of guys with bodies bulging as if their muscles were in a bid to break through skin, all crowded round the weights area. When the staff member left me to venture, I decided that whilst I’d taken a massive step in signing up, perhaps I’d stick to the Ladies Section for fear of embarrassing myself in front of the Arnie-wannabes.
The Ladies Section taught me a lot of things. I walked into a range of women. Different ages. Different ethnic backgrounds. Different levels of experience varying from novice to professional. They were all awesome. I walked into a room of people who smiled at me as if to say, ‘well done for bringing your ass here on the quest to feeling fine, fresh and fabulous’. One thing I learned was that I was accepted. And also I realised that the gym I had imagined in my ignorant bliss, full of judgmental buff people, was actually non-existent. In fact, the gym was not just the primal arena of testosterone-pumped jocks (who transpired to actually be the friendliest people about, always saying hi with massive grins) or the prescribed treatment for the obese: it was also a place for people of all sizes and fitness levels who just wanted to sustain healthier lives.
It wasn’t a fashion show. People didn’t look over your shoulder at what gradient or speed you were going. They were too busy working hard, pushing themselves on their own goals. Nobody gave a shit about how much you sweat, if anything, it was a sign of dedication if your shirt was drenched.
This was great because I was good at getting my shirt drenched. I was really, really good at collapsing into a starfish on the floor after a session on the treadmill. I moved from machine to machine, following the step-by-step diagrams and building up my own sense of routine. Sometimes I’d end up chatting to people who offered advice so that I could improve technique. And soon enough, my body began to improve in efficiency and capability. I also began to notice that baby abs were making an appearance and that my legs were starting to tone. Most importantly, I started to find myself hooked on the way it made me feel. I went whenever I could. I even went during my lunch breaks from work which were sandwiched in the middle of nine hour shifts. I had defeated the voice of the lanky spirit within and actually come to find that I enjoyed going to the gym, even missing it when I was away or ill.
Flash forward another two years: I’m at a different gym now and I love it. I am still not Olympic-material but that’s okay because I’m still fine, fresh and fabulous. I don’t weigh myself anymore because BMI’s mean nothing to me. I’m bigger but it doesn’t bother me too much. Let’s face it, I was not genetically programmed to be the next Jessica Alba and anyways, a bequeathed culture of large family gatherings centered around food and drink is more important to me than having a flat stomach.
I have the best gym buddy in Regina that a person could possibly ask for. We don’t spend our time admiring the poised and glamorous models of glossy magazines fantasising about being them someday. We mop up sweat on our shirts in between sets, make stupid faces and dance to whatever is playing on the overhead speakers as if nobody else is there. She pushes me to go up a weight bracket or give just two more reps, even when it feels like the veins in my head will explode. I do it, too. Afterwards, I feel that little glow inside, that little reminder that I’ve come a long way from passive couch potato believing only in my inabilities to the girl challenging herself to try new things. The girl no longer bound by an obsession with the scales. I semi-confidently wander over to the free weights section even when I’m by myself and follow the routines she’s taught me. Resistance training has overtaken hours of hogging up a treadmill. There’s designated days for different body parts, recovery days spent limping and struggling to get down the stairs. The sweet satisfaction of working hard at a goal to be stronger in myself that only I can achieve, because it was set by me for me.
I suppose the most important thing I’ve learned from this very random entry is that self-imposed limitations are just that: self-imposed. And just as they can be formed, they can be defied. I always told myself that I wouldn’t enjoy exercise and I always told myself that I wasn’t good enough (For what? For whom? I still don’t know) but none of that matters anymore because I’ve essentially rewritten what it means to be me. I’ve finally found myself at that place: where I can tolerate myself on most days and even better, actually like myself.