This summer I decided I wanted to launch an exercise program, not to lose weight but to just feel more fit. After a long and stressful school year where my pizza intake and mindless TV time took a noticeable upswing, I wanted to start feeling like my body could do things again. After all, that is kind of the point of bodies. So I came up with a plan involving running (which I love and do anyway), yoga (which I love and do more) and weight lifting (which I have never tried because it intimidated me).
For this last option then, I needed some help, so I asked my health club to set me up with one of their personal trainers. I was nervous. After all, I tend (rightly or wrongly) to associate personal trainers and weight lifting with exactly the sort of obsessive gym culture that I wanted to avoid. But, inspired by this amazing post that you should all read, I went ahead anyway. And I am so happy I did. Even I am so sore that stairs seem like the enemy.
One of the first things the trainer told me as we started talking about what I wanted out of our session was that I have a great body. And I realized I have probably never had anyone tell me that in the way she meant it. Although I’ve come to really like my body, and though I am not over weight, I don’t have a classic model build and will probably never have an abdomen without some jiggle. I’ve still had people compliment my body, especially during teh times I’ve been super into running and it’s shown. And yet, no one has ever complimented my body in the way this trainer did. Because by “You have a great body, by the way” she meant that my body can do things.
And let me tell you, it was one of my all time favorite compliments. Because here was someone remarking on my body not based on how desirable it might be or how much it might conform to standards of beauty, but remarking on its actual purpose: to do things. (Have I mentioned that point at all yet? Bodies DO THINGS!)
I find it very confusing sometimes, the idea of a mind/body disconnect, an idea that (among other things) encourages us to think that we as a person do things and to somehow not connect this to the body that carries it out. Last week when I helped move all the furniture in the house for the painters, that was my body doing all the work. And also the me that lives in my brain, because they aren’t actually separate things that I can tell. So the purpose of keeping in shape is not so that your mind can possess this attractive thing called a nice body. It’s so that you as a whole person can become capable of doing more things and all the good feelings that creates in your body.
So in light of all that, why don’t we talk about bodies more in this sense? And by more I pretty much mean at all. I’m not saying I’m going to go around telling people they look “very fit” willy-nilly, but it is telling, isn’t it, that in our culture telling someone they are attractive is totally normal, but telling someone they look fit is weird. And that when someone says “You look great” I take it to mean one and not the other.
So why does it work like this? How did we get here? How do we get out? If you figure it out, tell me. Until then, I’ll be at the gym with my new found talent for the that machine with the thing that’s kind of like rowing and…okay maybe I should also start learning some names for stuff.