Not that I don’t love my God-given T & A but my favorite parts of my body are those that reflect what I’ve cultivated rather than what I was born with: my muscles.
If anything saved me from total body image hell when I was a teenager, it was being an athlete. I’m built like my dad—tall and strong. He was a rugby player and a discus thrower when he was younger and I have the female version of his long-torsoed, broad shouldered physique. This doesn’t lend itself terribly well to wearing certain fashions and it’s certainly not the preference of all men (let alone high school boys) but it led me to two important conclusions early on: that clothes are supposed to fit a body and not vise versa (see: Chasing Thirty: How to love your body) and that my body’s most important role was not to be an object of desire. I’m not saying I never had any discomfort about my size when I was younger but the advantages it gave me on the tennis court outweighed the ‘downsides’. My body wasn’t built for runway modeling; it was built for athletics. It was built to win. And I like winning. A lot. Since I always looked and felt strong growing up, it was no great leap to internalize this as a character trait. I’ve always felt it’s what’s expected of me.
Last week Jamie Peck wrote a great piece about how effed up it is that ‘skinny’ is the go-to compliment for women. This rang true for me because I am not skinny. I don’t want to be skinny. It’s just plain inaccurate to call me skinny as it would be to call say, Serena Williams or Lindsay Vonn or Xena Warrior Princess (teenage body icon) ‘skinny’. Would any male athlete (or really any male period) be flattered by you calling him skinny? I think not. I want to look like I could kick someone’s ass if I had to. Skinny doesn’t look like it can kick anyone’s ass.
As a life long lover of sport, I can always tell the difference in the gym between the athletes and the aesthetes. You know the latter category: dazed girls with a full face of makeup whiling away hours on the elliptical, men with over-developed torsos lurking gracelessly around the free weights and stealing lusty glances at their own biceps in the mirror. I don’t resent these people, I know not everyone is into being a sportsman or sportswoman, but I can’t say I understand them and I feel like they’re missing out. I was raised in a household that believed there was no situation that could not be made better with by a vigorous workout and so in this way, I find myself in the sweat, in the heart pounding, in the inner peace that inevitably settles on me after a good workout.
I haven’t been on a scale in years and I don’t plan to get back on one until I have some good medical reason to do so. I realized years ago that when I was training really hard (especially with weights) that my weight would actually go UP a little bit, even if say my pant size was going down. This shouldn’t be surprising. I wish I could say I was so zen about the issue that the number doesn’t even bother me, but I’m not perfect, so I avoid the scale altogether. I just can’t think of a good reason to return to this modern instrument of torture: I’m pretty sure I’d know if I suddenly put on an unhealthy amount of weight and otherwise, who cares? I care if I can run fast and lift heavy things and dance all night. I care that I sleep well at night and that I will keep on feeling good and healthy as the years go by. I care that walking down the street, I look like a woman who could defend herself. I care about knowing that when the apocalypse comes, I’ll make it because I’ll be able to outrun/throw heavy things at the zombies.
When I look at my body, I see the results of many hours of doing things I love: dancing and tennis and jumping rope. I see a body that has a better shot against the ravages of aging: cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, etc. than it would otherwise and that will yes, look better. My mother, with her killer legs and Michelle Obama arms at sixty, is a good inspiration. I don’t aspire to be ‘skinny’ or as that dreadful Tracy Anderson person puts it, ‘teeny-tiny’. I aspire to look like a warrior (princess).
Simply put, having muscles makes me feel like me.
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