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If I could gift every woman six months of weight training sessions I would. There has been nothing that has made a bigger impact not just on my body, but my body image, my self-esteem, how I view my self, my purpose in the world, and other women.
I started my first diet the summer before 5th grade; essentially the same age my daughter is now. I went to Weight Watchers in the basement of a church in a neighboring town. I remember after two months there was another girl my age, prior to that it was all women over 30. Through my school years, I did several popular diets and adopted a few bad habits to try to control my weight. In college, I went between rocking belly shirts and low-slung jeans and starving myself because I thought I was disgusting. It was less than I felt I needed to lose weight and more that it seemed as though I should feel I need to lose weight. Society was telling me I was fat even though in my heart I didn’t mind my size.
When you’re told something often enough, you believe it.
After college, I restricted calories, used laxatives, purged, and tried many trendy diets. And all that happened was my self-esteemed plummeted and I got bigger. I’d go hard on a diet or a workout for a month, six weeks, and then next thing I’d be in the Taco Bell drive-through at midnight or eating cold pasta by the light of the open refrigerator.
When my daughter was born, I worked very hard to stop hating my body. I knew that my body issues could rub off on her. I tried, but I didn’t realize how my size and shape permeated so much of my life. Standing in front of a mirror adjusting a look before I head out or do an outfit shoot, muttering under my breath about something not fitting well or having a muffin top. Telling my husband not to buy something at the grocery store because I enjoy it too much. Scrolling through Instagram or watching TV and commenting on the bodies of other women, even if it's complimentary. Not wanting to go in the pool with her and watching from the sidelines in my shorts. Making a joke about chub rub that she hears.
I was never athletic, I just didn’t think I was good at it. I swam competitively in high school but I was never the star of the team and gave it up for boys and parties. I did stints with classes, a few weeks on the gym treadmill, but it didn’t stick with me. I didn’t think I could lift weights until a gym reached out to me after liking one of their photos on Instagram. If they didn’t slide into my DMs and invite me to come by and check them out I never would have had the guts. Well, that and quitting my job a couple of weeks prior and a bit high off of the scary life decision I had just made.
In high school I had a boyfriend tell me I was built for weight lifting. He likely meant it as a compliment. And part of me took it as one. But I felt I wasn’t supposed to, I was supposed to be offended and embarrassed that my short solid body wasn’t tall and willowy. When I found a local gym on Instagram in December of 2017 and I thought about what that boyfriend said… and agreed.
A year later, I can say that boyfriend was right, and it was a compliment.
I am strong. I am capable. I can push through discomfort. I can push beyond my comfort zone. And through this process, I’ve been able to let go so many of the issues I’ve had with my body.
I always hated my lower belly. Even when I was a starving 20-year-old in a white bikini I was self-conscious of it. After having my daughter, I hated it even more. It was like a third breast, it was big and saggy and I felt disgusting. Since lifting weights, I have really strengthened my core. But I still have a lower belly. But now, my belly is a fact just like the scar from my arm surgeries. Of course, it’s there, I used to be over 200 pounds and I carried a baby in it when I didn’t have any muscle tone and was overweight. I didn’t do anything wrong, I am not bad or less than. I just find underwear that won’t roll under it, put a little powder under it when it’s hot out, and sometimes pick it up and move it out of the way when I’m with my husband.
I’d feel terrible when I’d try on a blouse or dress and it would strain over my upper arms. Ugh, my ham hocks, I resent them for not letting me wear cute clothes. Now, when my arms don’t fit into a garment it sort of makes me proud. I like to flex my bicep, just a little to strain the fabric before I put it back on the hanger or in the box to return. That brand just doesn’t appreciate me.
I’ve been looking for a swimsuit. I try them on in front of my full-length mirror and question the designers who make such awkward, ill-fitting suits. My body is a body, and not that radically strange of a body. If these suits don’t fit it’s not my fault.
There is no way I’d be thinking this way if I didn’t start lifting weights.
Monday night my daughter had a belt test for martial arts. She practices almost every night. She did so well she skipped a belt. She was so proud, she said, “I’m strong like you, Mommy!”
This journey hasn’t been about size or weight, which I think is the most important part. All my life it had been about size. I wanted to be small. I sacrificed my health, my strength, my sleep, even my relationships to be small. I’d get smaller, and I’d get angrier, sadder, more stressed out, more uncomfortable in my body. The only “perk” was maybe spending money on some new clothes that maybe I felt looked better because strangers on the internet told me I looked better even though I was angry, sad, stressed, and uncomfortable.
I think this is the first time since I was a little kid were I can recall where I wasn’t obsessed with my weight.
I think of how much time I’ve lost blaming my body. How much money I’ve spent. How many terrible things I have done to myself to try to be smaller.
Weight lifting may not be the solution for everyone, but it’s been life-changing for me. I don’t write a lot about it here because the comments always go to what do I eat, how much cardio do I do, how much have I lost, and any quick tips for others to lose weight and that’s not the point. The point is that the only reason we’re on this planet is because of our bodies. All of our bodies are different. Different shapes, different sizes, different capabilities, different ages, different needs. If we constantly hate our bodies and punish them we miss out on the life our bodies are providing us.
Weight lifting ended my lifelong back pain, improved my posture, helps me sleep better, changed my food cravings. My cholesterol and blood pressure went down and I haven’t had a migraine in a year. My skin looks amazing from sweating on a regular basis. But the coolest thing is that I feel connected to my body, a feeling I recall from early childhood but lost once I started thinking I was fat. I used to think that disassociation was the fat literally padding me. Having working muscles and every day being challenged to work them and focus on my body has reconnected me and made me feel whole.
You’re not too old, or too big to start. If a gym is rude to you, it’s not your problem it’s theirs. Find another one. Look at Yelp and ask neighbors to find a positive environment. Smaller gyms may be more inclusive. If you don’t have a lot of money or a private gym nearby, Planet Fitness is a great place to go where there’s no judgment and people hardly look at one another. You can start with their purple machines that make it easy to have the right posture and know what muscles you are targeting without a personal trainer. No one is keeping track of how much weight you’re using. It’s not for anyone but you. And you and your body deserve it.
Photo Details: Weightlifting Gloves | Goal Weight Strong AF Shirt | Printed Leggings | Personalized Phone Case | Nike Shirt | Tan Heeled Sandals | Black Camisole | Black Culottes | Silver Birkenstocks