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Laura, Aerobic Goddess

Laura, Aerobic Goddess

In October, I went back to an aerobics class that I used to frequent before child. I remember trying to go during the first trimester of my pregnancy four years ago, struggling to keep up with the class, while keeping my heart rate below 140 and not letting anyone know that my rapidly spreading ass and increasingly puss-filled face were not just the result of a spike in my candy corn consumption, but a pregnancy.

My relationship with the class ended with a whimper, not a bang.  Slowly, I migrated from the aerobics room to the cardio machines and, as  the numbers on the scale migrated up above two hundred pounds, I stopped going to the gym altogether.

Walking in on this recent Wednesday morning in October, after an absence of nearly four years, I was excited and nervous.  Not only was I thrilled to be reminded that, for some reason, there is a spot deep in my soul that is touched so tenderly by pop music sped up to maximize caloric burn, I was elated that my teacher, Laura, actually remembered me and remembered that my birthday had been the week before.

I was reminded that one of my favorite things in life is to see someone I’ve not seen for sometime and have that person notice my weight-loss.  (Perhaps this is the reason I have gained and lost weight so many times — the recognition is immensely gratifying to me.)  After Laura and some of the familiar faces who remembered me from the before-time showered me with skinniness praise, Laura threw me in the center of the room with the other October birthdays and had the whole class sing happy birthday to us.  We hadn’t even really started exercising yet and it was already the best day I’d had in quite some time.

Since October, I have been back to the class about half a dozen times.  I cheer and holler and “woot-woot!” along with the sweaty hoards of grandmas and muscle-bound middle-aged men who join us to take a break from the weight room.  In the inexplicable way that I am moved to tears at baseball games when we all stand at the seventh inning stretch (even if I don’t know who the teams are or which one of of them is winning), my heart sings (and beats heavily) in my chest as I prance and cavort with all these sweaty strangers engulfed in Madonna songs sped up to chipmunk-esque squeakiness.

During last week’s class, while wearing a sparkly santa hat, Laura told us that one of the women who had been taking classes with her for upwards of a decade was battling cancer, and that there was a card circulating that we could all sign to wish her well.  Swallowing the lump in the back of her throat, she then announced the upcoming holiday party where everyone would participate in a shortened workout and then gorge themselves on an elaborate potluck provided by all the class members.  After singing happy birthday to the December birthdays, we dove again into our pop music saturated calorie burn.

I never could have imagined that an aerobics class would make me so flippin’ happy — so alive, but it does, even when no one is telling me I am skinny or singing happy birthday to me.  My heart sings (and throbs) as I jump and grapevine and sweat.  I am glad to be alive, to be here with these familiar strangers and to celebrate life with them, whether or not I know their names.  Thank you, Laura.

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Recycled Body Image

Today I went to the gym.  Yeah, big deal, I know, right?  Sure, I’ve heard of these strange creatures who make it a daily occurrence.  Once, a long, long time ago, I used to be one of them.  I only recently started going to this particular gym again after an almost four year hiatus.  I will not waste your time and mine detailing all of the excuses for such a long break. Instead I will just say: child.

After a quick shower today, as I struggled to get my not-quite-dry body into the leg holes of my skinny jeans (me thinks this could be an olympic sport), I was reminded of another time in that very same locker room, a time before child.  Instead of rehashing all my various views on body image, I am regurgitating some that that locker room inspired some four-and-a-half years ago.  (Perhaps it will inspire me to write something new, or at least go to the gym more often.)

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Shameless
(first published 4/12/2008 at pretty please me)

Feet firmly planted in a wide stance, knees slightly bowed she stood in front of the full-length mirror, naked for all the world to see – at least all the world currently inhabiting the women’s locker room. She was not naked in the transition from swimsuit to sweat pants or the one from towel to tank top, she was just plain ol’ naked. Her flesh was not hidden by the open door of a locker or a strategically placed duffle bag. She stood in the sink area away from the lockers and the other semi-clad women. She flossed her teeth as one roll of fat rested upon another around her middle and her breasts draped across that, her nipples like two cherries on her melting sundae best.

I caught a glimpse of her on my way to the toilet and thought about her the whole time I was peeing. I have not been consistent in my views on public nudity. On the one hand, I had to give her a silent, “Right on, Sister!” for displaying with pride her whole self. On the other hand, isn’t it polite to show a little more modesty and a little less mons pubis when removing clothes in front of others? By the time I made it to the sink, the first hand had won – hands down. As if to answer my question of modesty, the fat, naked, grandma – still in front of the mirror – took a swig of mouth wash and began to gargle. Her short dark hair stood at attention in all directions, much like the mane of lion who’d had a run-in with an electric fence. Like the queen of her pride, she began to arch her head back; I could almost hear her Listerine-scented roar: “Damn right I am naked. I own my body, and right now I own the whole damn locker room. Whatcha gonna do about it?” Grandma arched until the back of her skull was level with her ample bottom, gargling the whole way.

In my mind, she is still arching backwards. The image of the naked, lioness grandma is tattooed on my brain (it wouldn’t fit on my ankle). I have spent years practicing my awkward dance of trying to avoid nipple or pubic hair exposure while changing in front of others. I have balanced a bra here and shimmied a skirt there in order to keep from view no more than a square foot of my fleshy real estate. Why?

When I was a kid, I was naked all of the time; I showered in front of my mother and sister right through the sixth grade. Even in high school I had a group of friends with whom I’d roam the halls, and the woods, sans clothes. It wasn’t even a sexual thing (most of the time); we just enjoyed being naked. I still enjoy being naked. My husband sometimes has to give me a not-so-gentle reminder that we “live in a goddamn fishbowl!” so that I will put on a robe or turn off the lights.

The locker room has been a different story for me. Perhaps I fear the scrutiny of others; if I keep a towel around my waist they won’t be able to see exactly how many dimples reside on the flesh of my bottom.  Further, I seek not to offend. I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable by subjecting them to a fuller view than they had anticipated. I want to be polite.

Wow! What a load of BS!! Who the hell cares how many dimples I have on my ass? Why should it matter if a nipple or two comes into contact with an eyeball or two? Who made these stupid rules, and why the hell have I been politely following them?

Grandma makes her own rules, and I thought of her today as I emerged from the public shower post work out. Instead of awkwardly squirming and wriggling to make myself invisible while I reached for my towel, I stood up straight and dried myself as I would in the privacy of my own home. I took my time getting dressed. I didn’t quite make it to flossing in the buff, but I didn’t hide either. As ridiculous as the image of a naked, gargling grandma may be, it is not nearly as ridiculous as the concept of a grown woman so afraid of revealing her own body that she foolishly dances with her towel to avoid, at all costs, the dreaded exposure of a nipple. Right on, Grandma! By the time I’m sixty, I hope to be gargling right along side you.

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Really, Jillian?

For almost a year now, I have been cultivating a love/hate relationship with Jillian Michaels.  She’s gorgeous, and her workouts make my body hurt in the most delightful way.  My envy of her tiny thighs and concave belly have enabled me to tolerate some of the drivel that spews forth incessantly from the well-glossed hole between her attractively sunken cheeks.

I read somewhere once on the magical interwebs that she is merely an actress who is given a script that tells her how to tell people how to workout.  The story said she had no real knowledge of exercise science or even basic anatomy.  Doing her videos, I am sometimes able to find support for this claim — she turns her head the wrong way during stretches sometimes, and (perhaps the production quality is to be blamed for this) I’ve seen her skip entire sets — we never do the left side of those stinkin’ rows, Bitch!

I have been tolerating her inability to count and her lengthy motivational speeches (even when they force me to continue doing squat thrusts past the predetermined stopping point) because I am seeing results.  I hate her more than ever during those undocumented seconds when she’s telling me that, “Transformation is a present activity,” and I am drenched in my own fluids and contemplating calling 911.  Despite this, I have come to appreciate some of what she’s saying (even though she often chooses to say it when the set at hand should have ended already and I am nearly dead).  Like beer or sautéed onions, I have acquired a taste for her.

But the other day Jillian said something that kinda makes me wanna punch her in the face (not in the rock hard abs — my fists aren’t that strong).  While I lay on the floor, thrusting my legs in the air and bringing them back down to the floor at even intervals, sweat pooling in a small, salty sea around me, the lovely ladies of Thirty Day Shred smiling down at me from the TV, Jillian pissed me off.  No, for reals.  Her toes pointed towards the top edge of my TV screen, slightly to the left of the center of her body, engaging her obliques, she said, “The obliques are those really cool V-muscles in your lower abs.  Usually only men get these, but we girls can get them, too, with a little bit of work… maybe a lot of work.”

Really, Jillian?  We girls?  Now, I am not much of a feminist, but this kinda bugs the bejeebers out of me, and I am shocked that such a strong WOMAN would lump herself in with “girls” especially when she’s using the word to directly compare females to “men.”  In fact, it is this comparison specifically that unnerves me.  If she were just talking about her “girls,” as she often does, it wouldn’t even be a blip on my radar.  Using the words, “Men” and “Girls,” to describe supposed equals is disturbing. Perhaps this further gets under my (taught, muscle-stuffed) skin because I have actually done one of Jillian’s workouts with a  MALE personal trainer, and it kicked his sorry, muscle-bound ass.  Seriously.  He was huffing and puffing to keep up with the girls — Jillian and me.

Her statement annoys me in the way the old Secret deodorant ads used to: “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.”  I fully get that men and women are different — they have different anatomies, different hormones, different ways they’d totally get with Jillian if given the chance (assuming she’d shut her trap for a minute), but why make what a woman needs or wants or can build muscularly dependent on a man?  Presuming that a woman might need something “strong enough for a man” or “usually only gotten by men,” keeps women in the paradigm where they are still being compared to men, trying to live up to men, failing to be as good or as strong or as macho as men.  Fuck that.  And I certainly don’t want to be compared to men (whom I, more often than not, see sporting beer bellies rather than six-packs) when I am sweating my guts out, my own six pack peeking out from beneath my ribs.

Hey, Jillian, referring to us as “girls” and telling us that we might someday achieve what usually is only possible for men undermines the beautiful example of a strong, female roll model  I want to see in you.  I have laminated pictures of you adhered to my fridge with magnets.  This doesn’t mean I am a crazy stalker (mostly); it means I have mad respect for you and the hard work you have done to mold your body.  Don’t undermine it by belittling the hard work I am doing to mold mine.  Don’t pull that shit, Jill.  I will put up with your failure to count reps, your doofy fart jokes and your unconvincing scowl, but don’t call me a girl and then compare me to men.  That just perpetuates myths that I would like to think died a long time ago.  ‘K, Jill?

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Workout Partner

I have been addicted to exercise videos (off and on) for a really long time — as evidenced by the fact that I still call them videos, I suppose.  My collection contains at least fifty different workouts both on VHS and DVD.  Yes, in my exercise room there is a whole shelf of VHS tapes featuring legwarmer-clad weightlifting goddesses.

Usually, I do these workouts in my precious alone time, sans child.  Recently, her father has been traveling a fair bit (thus limiting my alone time), and I have discovered that me foregoing exercise in order to minimize my child’s screen time is not good for either one of us.  It started innocently enough — I gave her some snacks and a book to look at so that she might keep herself occupied whilst I sweat out a few calories.

I have, it would seem, created a monster.  Yes, she still brings her snacks, but now she wakes up asking to workout, and she knows the instructors by name. “Let’s exercise! I want Jillian Michaels Ripped in Thirty [workout] number two!”  When her pleas are met with resistance on my part, they intensify, “Mama! We have to exercise.  It is good for my body and helps me feel healthy.”  Recently, my “Not right nows” have been answered with persistent tears.  Yeah.

Despite the fact that the Child’s new-found passion is mildly annoying at times (mostly the times before 7am when I would rather be asleep still) she has given me a wonderful idea.  I think I will market my own set of exercise videos that, instead of coming with weights or a stretchy pilates band-thingy, come with a two-year old.  You could just shrink-wrap the kid to the DVD.  I mean, I know I burned a few extra calories the other day trying to make sure I didn’t land my back kicks in her face and making sure not to drop my weights on her little toes.  Further, she offers added resistance by sitting on my stomach during my ab routine and hanging on to my booty while I am in side-plank.

In addition to being a daily reminder to exercise and added resistance during exercise, the Child also acts as a heart rate monitor — by requiring me to talk and explain things almost constantly during my workout, she keeps my heart rate in check.  Am I too winded to talk?  Uh-oh! Better tone down my jogging in place.

The other day, whilst patting my shaking leg as I held a particularly painful squat, she said, “I am Jillian.  I am helping you.”  So you see, I have a coach, too.  Really, with all the added benefits of toddler-aided exercise, it’s a wonder I ever thought to exercise without one.

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