In the last few weeks I have been taking some active steps to help myself. I could feel, and can feel, a hint of depression crawling back into my chest. I feel tired constantly. I’ve stopped running. I’m drinking too much.
I want to change that. I can’t rid myself of grief, and I don’t want to, but I want to live with that grief by my side, like an old friend, instead of letting it pull my head below the surface like an anchor.
So I started running again. It’s baby steps every time I start running, but I’m doing it. Three times a week, plodding along on my treadmill. I’ve also signed up for another sign language course. It’s run through my school which is just across the road from my house, so I have no excuses not to go each week.
And I signed up for a dance class called Shut Up and Dance. It’s every Saturday morning for six weeks and in each class we learn a new dance track from a music video. The first class was this weekend and we learned Everybody by The Backstreet Boys. I sweated and puffed and laughed, and in forty-five minutes I was dancing the routine complete with zombie arms.
I walked home from the class with a friend, both of us feeling buoyed by this energetic start to our weekend. We all went into the class a bit shy, a bit self conscious. But by the end of the class we weren’t concentrating on how others saw us, and just on getting through the song without mucking it up. It was empowering.
Walking home I was thinking about Eva and about celebrating the body you have. For most of my life I have been fairly conscious of how much I weigh. For years I have looked in the mirror, not liking what I saw. I ran and exercised in an effort to control it, and sometimes I came close to being happy with my reflection, but there was always something to improve on. Something I didn’t like.
But after Eva was born I lost the ability to control that aspect of my life in quite the same way. Being pregnant had forever changed my body. I didn’t weigh a huge amount more but clothes fit differently. She had shifted my anatomy in those nine months. It wasn’t going to go back to how it was before.
Since Eva was born I have thought a lot about appearance and how little it matters. Eva had a cyst on her eye that to most people first meeting her was all they could see. It was different and unusual. It looked painful, although it wasn’t, and they could not see Eva while they were looking at it.
Very quickly though, you stopped seeing her eye, and just saw her. Who Eva really was shone through so vibrantly that her eye no longer mattered at all. And it wasn’t just that it didn’t matter, you just didn’t see it. It ceased to exist.
I still wanted doctors to do something about it, because we don’t live in a world where everyone gives themselves a chance to get past those outward differences. We don’t live in a world that accepts that difference and looks to the person inside. I wanted Eva to be seen for who she was, even if I could already see it.
I knew all this about Eva, that her eye was inconsequential when paired with who she really was, but it was still a hard lesson to apply to myself. When I got back from the USA this summer I had gained a significant amount of weight. I had enjoyed myself with beer and burgers and Tex Mex and it was showing on the scales. I looked down at my stomach and legs, pock marked with cellulite and I felt so ugly.
It’s so difficult to apply those lessons we know to be true to ourselves. I can tell a friend she is gorgeous, and genuinely mean it, after she gains a few pounds for whatever reason, but when I’m looking at myself in the mirror I can’t extend the same kindness.
At the dance class on Saturday I wore Lulu Lemon leggings that name themselves “All the right places” because they are designed to keep all your “problem areas” in check. No excess jiggling here. Despite the promise of the leggings, I paired them with a long t-shirt that hung over my body and covered my hips and bottom.
At the end of the class I decided next week I would wear a singlet. It was too hot for a t-shirt. Fuck worrying about how my butt looked in the leggings, I wanted to dance without feeling like I was dying from heat exhaustion.
On the walk home I felt confident and happy. My legs were already feeling tired from the new movements and I felt like I had worked hard.
About halfway home a group of men in their early twenties drove past and one of them leaned out the window and yelled, “how’s the moose knuckle?” Laughing as he did so.
I stopped walking and wished I had been a bit quicker on my feet so I could respond with something witty and mean. Something to even the playing field. But I didn’t. Instead I explained to my friend what moose knuckle was (a kind of grotesque exaggeration of camel toe) and looked down at my legs to make sure I looked ok.
Then I started to get angry. What the ever-loving-fuck did he think he was doing? It was clear that we had both come from a workout of some sort, was he then telling us that no we weren’t allowed to try and be fit? Or if we were, we should be doing it inside the four walls of our house so as to not offend his 22 year old eyes with my legs in leggings?
I was angry that he made me look at my legs in the first place as if his statement had any merit. As if he was pointing out a flaw that I hadn’t seen yet.
What gave him the right to comment on someone else’s body? What gave him the right to decide he was going to ruin my day? What gave him the right to determine what beauty was and that I didn’t have it?
It doesn’t matter whether I’m overweight or not. My height and weight ratios are no concern here, because no matter what size I am, his attack on my appearance was completely unjustified and intentionally cruel. What was he hoping to accomplish with yelling that? That someone who already had body image issues and clearly was trying to work on that would be scared away from leaving the house in exercise clothes?
Or maybe I’m making assumptions, maybe he was trying to give me a pep talk. Let me know my body repulsed him and I should do something about it. Like stay out of public.
It didn’t have the effect he wanted it to. Instead of worrying about my legs and whether I was disgusting to this weasel of a man, I went home to a boyfriend who appreciates my body more than I do, and then went out for brunch where I ordered waffles and fried chicken and enjoyed every bite.
Today my legs are aching from the work out. I am hobbling about my house feeling sore but happy with the effort I put into that class. I’m looking forward to next week where I will wear my leggings and a singlet and will have my middle finger ready for any cheap shots called to me from cars.
I will Shut Up and Dance without worrying about how I look. I will appreciate my body for all it has been through and accomplished. I will forgive myself for being unfit and untoned, and relish the fact that I can move and walk and dance at all. And I will think about Eva and her beauty that no physical difference could mar.