I’ve never been athletic. I worked hard in gym class because I was always that kid anyway – the one who worked hard at things because that was what she was told to do. I’m sort of clumsy. It took me years to grown into my long legs. I have never done a single chin up in my life.
Yes, I was a lifeguard for one summer, which means I passed my lifeguarding exams, and I was on the swim team for 2 years in middle school before a brain infection robbed me of all motor coordination for 9 months, but that, and the briefest stint ever on an intermural basketball team in elementary school, were the extent of my forays into serious fitness.
Almost exactly a year ago, however, I stepped on the scale in my kitchen and saw a number that was a full 14 pounds above what I had expected. 14 pounds doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize that I’ve spent most of my life somewhere in between 110 and 125 pounds. It was more than 1/10th of my body weight. And it wasn’t 14 pounds of muscle, either. I’d spent almost a full two years deeply unhappy and eating poorly and doing a lot of other really dumb things and not taking care of myself in any of the myriad ways I should.
In truth, it wasn’t the number that got me. It was how my clothing fit, how my body felt as I lay in bed, the way my face carried weight in a way that made me look tired. It was how my energy level felt lower than ever, how a small part of me had started to not care about any of it.
So throughout the month of December, 2012, I went to bikram yoga, I ate healthier than I had in years, and I dropped over 10 pounds. As my body felt better, unsurprisingly my mind felt better. I made changes in my life. I moved away from the things that made me sad and sedentary.
I was healthier, happier, and far more active than I had been in years, but bikram was extremely expensive, and so, as the weather warmed, I began relying on 1.5 – 2 mile walks for my exercise. Then the weather began to get cold again, and I knew I wouldn’t keep walking, so with my partner promising to help keep me honest, I did something I didn’t think I would do – I joined a gym.
I’d briefly had a gym membership before, and to be perfectly honest I hadn’t really gone more than a few times. The gym intimidated me with its people who were actually in shape and knew what they were doing and its somewhat questionable showers. I looked at the girls who went to gyms – tans and bleached hair and matching Victoria’s Secret workout clothes with Puma trainers and legs I was positive looked far better than mine – and I didn’t see myself as someone who did the same things they did, lived in the universe they lived in.
But I went. I liked being happy. I liked feeling like I actually had energy again. I liked my body feeling comfortable and easy to wear. So I knew I had to work out. The first time I aped what everyone else did, only knowing to wipe down the machines after I used them because I watched other people do the same. I went home exhausted and fell asleep hours earlier than normal.
Rather quickly, though, something I didn’t expect happened. Just as I had never really believed people who said they were happy with only one partner forever or men who said they genuinely wanted children and a family, I had never believed people who said they just loved going to the gym. I was absolutely convinced they were lying to themselves and to me. And yet, just as I had eaten my words on the “actually happy with one partner” thing, I found, much to my amazement, that I was enjoying working out at the gym.
I’m a mother, I work full time, and I run a poetry press. And I do a whole bunch of other things, too. I love getting an hour and a half three days out of the week when I can tell everyone else to leave me alone because I am working out, dammit. For some reason, people take that really seriously. It’s amazing. I get more uninterrupted, respected “me time” than I ever did before.
I’ve also found that I love being active – I never realized just how much until I started actually doing it, actually making it a habit. I know it’s not just the exercise, but I have never felt so happy, so positive, so able to overcome negative thoughts and emotions as I have since I began being serious about my exercise regime. And the more I make it a solid habit, the happier I am, the more motivated I am.
And yes, I’ll admit it – I love what working out has done to my body. I’m a bit vain. I like that I can see that my legs are more toned than before, that my stomach is flatter than it was, that at 29 I look better than I have at almost any point in my life. Sometimes I find this difficult to say. I’m afraid I’ll offend someone, that someone else will feel judged or will accuse me of not being feminist enough. But I will say it again because I am afraid to say it – I like how exercising has helped my body to look. I really really like it.
As for feeling awkward and out of place, that passed a long time ago.
So viva la gym membership – it’s the best $30.00 I spend each month.
Margaret Bashaar’s poetry has been collected in 2 chapbooks – Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel (Blood Pudding Press, 2011) and Barefoot and Listening (Tilt, 2009) as well as in many literary journals and anthologies. She edits the chapbook micropress Hyacinth Girl Press, attempts to repair antique typewriters, and spends far too much time at haunted hotels in coal mining towns for her own good. She’s only been suspected of being possessed once and hopes to someday become a rogue taxidermist. She misses the Midwest. She is probably exercising right now. Follow her on Twitter @myhyacinthgirl