Warning: Naughty language ahead.
Random Person: “um, do you workout?”
Me: “No. This totally happened by accident. Strangest thing ever.”
Sound familiar? Welcome to my (new) daily life.
I am a second generation athlete. My mother was a professional cyclist before I was born, and continued to dominate every athletic endeavor she sought thereafter, whether it was for a title, a medal or simply personal satisfaction. In her mid-50s now, she’s still a total sports bad ass.
My biological father was an Olympic athlete before his career as a professional cyclist and coach. My actual Dad (the one who helped raise me, love me, and who later adopted me) is a farmer, and although I’m an adult now I’m still pretty certain he’s the world’s strongest man—to me, anyway.
So, it should come as no surprise to me (or anyone, actually) that I am also an athlete. I kind of can’t help it, it’s in my blood.
Exercise, fitness, healthy eating and living are second nature to me; that’s what I know. It’s “normal” for me for a person to spend upwards of two hours a day exercising. It’s standard protocol to plan my daily activities around movement, vacations around physical adventures and my meals around protein to carb ratios.
I was raised on exercise-fueled endorphins, and I’m modeling the same exact thing for my children. It’s awesome. Go Team. When it comes to fitness pursuits, this family is “in it to win it.” I’ve been running races and events since I was nine years old and cannot recall a single part of my life since that I wasn’t involved in at least one sport.
My body craves movement. It thrives on endurance, stamina, and strength building exercises.
Why then, does it take me aback every time I see a picture of my body now, after starting CrossFit in February? Like, whose muscles are those?
For real? I look like that? Seriously, like that?
I am struggling, a bit, with coming to terms with this new version of myself.
I’ve been thinner than this. I’ve been bigger than this (post-pregnancies, both times, let’s just say I took the premise of “go big or home” a bit too literally). But, I have never, ever, been stronger or more fit in my lifetime.
I am strong, very. Like, scares me a little bit strong. I have an entirely new association with the word “cakes.” Yes it still makes me giggle.
No, I don’t think that “wiggle” song is funny, thankyouverymuch. I am more balanced and flexible than ever thanks to yoga, but more muscular and functionally fit than ever thanks to CrossFit. And yet, I am still conflicted: who is the new version of me, and what do I think about her?
Suddenly, after years of slipping easily into pencil skirts and size small blouses, now my jeans are loose and sagging in the waist and stretched (too) tight across my thighs. My shorts are swimming on me but the legs are bunched up around my hips. Those pencil skirts? Ummmmm, let’s just say I’ve got some “issues” on the back end…(see reference to “cakes,” above).
And, my personal favorite, when I try to put on a blazer from my Administrative days I end up looking like Tommy Boy, doing a rendition of “fat guy in a little coat.”
The change is no longer only noticeable only to those in my close circles. It’s quite visible, even when on the (rare) occasion I am actually not in a tank top or workout clothes. Crossfitters have a certain body type, it’s distinctive, obvious, and uh, apparently, now mine.
Herein lies the conflict. The internal dialogue that says “I’m so glad I’m strong,” “I’m so lucky to be able to maintain this level of fitness in my life,” and “fit is fabulous,” striking sharp juxtaposition with occasional thoughts of “women aren’t ‘supposed’ to look like this,” “I am never going to fit into these jeans again,” and “I am getting too bulky/cut/manly/big.”
Well, Michelle, knock that shit off. Now.
Fit is fabulous. I am lucky to be able to maintain this level of activity and health, and being strong is awesome.
No, I can’t sport my old running shorts without looking a bit foolish. No, I can’t wear the beautiful suits hanging in the depths of my closet. Who cares? Those are ghosts of jobs and bodies past.
It’s time to get comfortable with this new body.
Wait, no. Scratch that.
Not comfortable, confident. Solid. Assured. With intention; because this didn’t happen by accident. I work hard to look this way and do what I do, and I’m all done making excuses, exceptions and justifications for it. It’s time to let that shit go.
Being a strong woman is a good thing. Standing grounded in a counter example of societal expectations of femininity paves the way for other women to do the same. Having biceps, triceps and defined lats doesn’t make me less soft. Wearing booty shorts doesn’t make me vain, it makes me sensible (because let’s be honest, nothing else besides spandex is really working at this point).
The fact that I can carry my own load, literally and metaphorically, does not mean I don’t ever want help doing it.
It means, simply, that I love myself enough to take good care of my temple. I love life enough to want to extend it as long as possible with good health. I love my children enough to show them an example of self-efficacy, determinedness and assurance in my spirit, poise, stature and self image that will inspire them, and others, to have the same.
I am grateful for this life and this body, as “big” as it is. I am satisfied with my work. I am humbled by my own misconceptions. I am inspired by the amazing athletes with whom I surround myself.
This is it. This is living. One shot. One trip. One time to get the very most out of every moment and the maximum shelf life out of this physical being.
I’m done fighting with my self concept. I will not make excuses for my shoulders, my quads, or the fact that putting on a pair of skinny jeans is a scene comical enough to land an 8pm spot on NBC (especially if I have made the epically bad call of putting lotion on my legs beforehand).
I am not a tiny woman, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Thus, to take my own advice: “Darling, just fucking own it.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Google images for reuse