One of my friends recently entered the world of online dating, and she was lamenting to me about the body standards that some of the men post in their profiles. “They say they want a woman who is fit,” she says. “But I know what fit is code for. It’s code for skinny.” My friend is tall and active. She runs almost every day. She’s very fit. And yet, she suspects that her plus-sized body proportions would be off-putting to someone seeking a partner with a “fit” body. And I have a sinking feeling that she might be right.
What she said really stuck with me, because I’ve been on my own journey in accepting what fit looks like for me. I talk the talk . . . I gave my friend quite a pep talk about how athletic and awesome she is. But internally, I have been accepting the same fit = skinny mindset for my body as well. It’s hard not too. We live in a society where someone who is thin is described as having a dancer’s body, even when that thin person may get winded after two minutes on a dance floor. Someone like my husband, who is naturally muscular, is described as having an athletic build . . . even though the man hasn’t done a push-up in years and eats a pint of Ben and Jerry’s before bed most nights. I have some friends who might be described as “fit” by appearances, but I’m pretty sure I could run circles around them.
I have had varying levels of physical fitness in my life, but my body has never looked like an athlete or a dancer (at least, what the world tells me an athlete or dancer should look like). I was a theater major in college, taking several grueling dance classes a week, and yet I still lost out on being cast in the chorus of certain musicals because I was one of the “bigger” girls in the company. After I got married, I gained a couple pounds every year, regardless of whether I was working out or sedentary. I would go through seasons of being very active, and seasons of not doing anything, because the gym visits never seemed to make much of a difference in my appearance.
Finally, two years ago, I agreed to train for a half-marathon with a group of friends. We were raising money for a birthing center in Haiti. While I was excited about the cause, I have to admit that the idea of kicking my butt into shape with distance running was a huge motivator for me. I knew that I was up for the task, and I began to fantasize about how my body would transform as I trained. I even started making projections about it. I couldn’t wait to be able to run in those short running shorts once my legs toned up. I couldn’t wait to not worry about my muffin top once I’d run a half-marathon and become lithe and lean. I couldn’t wait to show off my new body at the conference I had scheduled just weeks after the big race.
For three months, I trained with extreme discipline. I ran according to schedule, and the week before the race I ran 13 miles. When the day of the race came, I ran the half-marathon comfortably. So comfortably, in fact, that when I got to 13.1 miles, I considered continuing and running the full marathon, because I really felt like I could keep going. I felt great. I was in the best shape of my life.
And yet . . . the scale did not move. My body looked exactly the same three months into rigorous training. I was in the best shape of my life, and yet I was still at the highest weight of my life. Sure, my legs were stronger and a bit more muscular, but I still had the same pesky muffin-top, the same concerning flab on my arms, and the same chaffing of inner-thigh fat when I ran. Those Nike shorts I envisioned myself in? That never happened.
I tried really hard to be happy with the fitness goals I had met, but it was hard not to feel disappointed that externally, I looked the same. I was a bit comforted when a group of us who had all run the race went to the hot-tub that evening. We had all trained and completed the race, but we all had very different body types. Some of my friends had finished the full marathon. Some hadn’t run at all. And yet, by looking at us, one certainly couldn’t have determined who was in the best running shape by the ways our bodies looked. I tried to remind myself that not everyone looks like an athlete . . . and that I should just be satisfied with what fit looks like for me. But the truth is, I wasn’t satisfied at all.
The day after that half-marathon, a couple of us flew down to Haiti. An earthquake happened. Our adopted son came home. Life was rearranged and I failed to maintain the fitness I had worked so hard for. In part, because there was stress and transition and PTSD to deal with. But if I’m honest, in part because a part of me didn’t really feel like trying if the results weren’t going to be visible.
Fast-forward a year and a half, and at the beginning of this summer I decided it was time to take care of my body again. Life with four small kids was taking a toll on me, and I knew that I needed to exercise to help with my anxiety and my declining energy levels. For the month of June, I went on The Fresh Diet, a delivery system of healthy, low-calorie food. I also signed up for a P90x class at my gym. I was excited about how the healthy food and daily workouts would make me feel, but that wasn’t enough. Once again, I began projecting into the future about how my body would look. I imagined myself wearing shorts again. I envisioned being more comfortable in my skin at our annual fourth of July party. I pictured myself comfortable in a swimsuit, wearing a smaller size in my jeans, buying a sleeveless dress for the BlogHer conference . . . again, I was finding motivation in the external benefits.
I’m six weeks into my P90x program. I was faithful on the diet for 30 days, and then continued healthy eating. I’ve been working out like crazy in the program in my gym. I can do pull-ups. I can make it through the Plyo routine without stopping. I have endurance and energy, and I feel great.
But the scale? That number is the same. My BMI? Still in the overweight category. My jeans? Same size. That muffin-top? Still securely in place.
I was having a particularly discouraging night about these facts last week, when the P90x program I’m in took our most recent weights and measurements. My trainers were surprised by my results (or lack thereof), and I was pretty down about it. I logged into Pinterest that evening, and saw this picture on our Curvy Girl Guide inspiration board:
THIS. I needed this.
Oh, how I would love this story to end with me, running up a flight of stairs to the Rocky theme song, obvious to how I look and basking in the glory of how fit I truly am. Unfortunately, I’m not there yet. But I’m working on accepting what fit looks like for me