“Fat-Shaming”

Original Image: Jezebel

Original Image: Jezebel

I never heard the term ‘Fat-Shaming’ before starting Happy Exhaustion.

Unfortunately, I was introduced to the concept when this little blog of mine took a bit of fire from readers who accused me of contributing to fat-shaming culture.

Since positivity is the name of my game, I want to address this. Any reader who comes away from Happy Exhaustion feeling beaten down is a fail on my part.

Discussing the sensitive issues of health, size, and self-image requires something of a balancing act. It’s a technique I am familiar with as I endeavor (against all cultural odds) to raise confident, well-adjusted children who love and appreciate their bodies, regardless of shape and size. I’ve learned the importance of finding balance in what I teach.

I want to raise the kids not to fight, but I don’t want them to allow their peers to walk all over them.

I want to teach the importance of trust, but I want them to be wary when appropriate.

I want to make their dreams come true, but I don’t want them to be spoiled.

The balancing act goes on and on.

So, when I stress to my daughter how much we want to make Healthy & Strong choices, I try to be conscious of the flip side. I do not want my encouragement of fitness to  communicate disapproval of less-than-fit bodies. We do not describe people in terms of their size nor assign value judgments based on physicality.

I understand how malignant fat-shaming can be.

When I was a size that my doctor referred to as ‘morbidly obese’, I felt like every corner of society was conspiring to make me feel bad about myself. The clothes I wanted to wear only came in way-too-small-for-me sizes. Fashion magazines said I was far from ideal. Even the way people looked at me made me feel judged. I felt as though there was something inherently shameful about being a heavy woman in America. It was a terribly dark feeling.

And here’s the infuriating thing about it… None of the modern American YAY, SKINNY! narrative communicated anything substantial about health. There was no ‘Aspire to look like Gisele because her body is the picture of health and longevity!’ Instead, it was ‘Every woman who wants to look beautiful should pay through the nose trying to look as skinny as Gisele in a bikini!’

Do this workout routine because it will make you skinny! Eat this diet and lose weight!

The underlying message all felt the same: ‘If you’re fat, you should want to be skinny.’

I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of ‘fat-shaming.’

Those messages made me swim in oceans of self-loathing, but they never motivated me to change.

I don’t advocate losing weight for superficial cosmetic reasons. I’m not blogging because I think you’d look better in a size double zero than you do in size 24. Lots of people look gorgeous in size 24!

But size 0 vs. size 24 is not what it’s about here. Happy Exhaustion is all about Healthy & Strong.

If you’re living a sedentary life and your doctor says you should lose weight for your health, then I’m here to be your cheerleader. I have no medical background, but I do know this: my active body is stronger and healthier than my ‘allergic to physical exertion’ body ever was.

I do not blame people who advocate Big Is Beautiful. When I was overweight, I would have loved to find a supportive ‘beautiful at any size’ community to build me up when I felt horribly broken down.

But at 243 lbs, I was neither happy nor healthy. Sweating my way to fitness turned it all around for me, and brought me a joyful confidence that I had never before experienced. THAT is the narrative I want to share. Eff the fat-shaming.

Fitness can banish deep-seated fears, and that is the fantastic relief I want everyone to find and enjoy for themselves.

When I was in high school, my grandmother suffered a major stroke. She has not been able to communicate clearly ever since. She is locked inside of her own brain. It’s hard to watch, and horrifying to imagine living through. But, such things can be hereditary, so I imagined it (*frequently*) with dread.

Know what helps to diminish stroke risk (according to the American Heart Association)? A healthy BMI and plenty of exercise. Spending 5-6 hours a week sweating gives me hope for a healthier lifetime, one that does not include strokes.

Does my active lifestyle mean that I have banished all health risks? Of course not. But, it’s a strong step in the right direction.

Into the light and out of the shadows, friends! It’s nice to feel thin, but feeling healthy and confident is nothing short of a triumph. Do not allow your body to make you feel ashamed. Your body is not your enemy, but your greatest ally and your most dynamic tool. Use it in as many ways as you can, and it will bring you joy, confidence & strength. Endorphins beat antidepressants every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Take care of your bodies, take care of your hearts. I’m on your team and your body can be, too.

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Choose Your Own Adventure

Onwards and Upwards!

In pursuit of a workout regimen that works for me, I’ve had to apply my stubborn side. I’ve been playing Fitness Goldilocks.

For too long, I lumped all physical exertion into one category. I called that category ‘Yuck. No Thank You.’

I used to think that all exercise was equal, so I feared and avoided it all equally.

I never tried any of it.

Stepping up to the fitness buffet felt very intimidating. When looking to get your sweat on, the array of options can be dizzying, and many won’t feel right for you. Some will be too hot, some too cold, and some just right – or at least, just tolerable enough. The trick is finding the right fit.

I’ve been sampling many different flavors. Because, (at least in my world) they do NOT all fit. Not by a long shot.

Some of the things I tried made me want to pull back, or worse – give up. It’s dangerous when I can’t find a way to look forward to my workout. When I dread it, I start to make excuses for why I can’t do it, why I should abbreviate it, why it’s not worth my time.

I had to really persist to find the workouts that suit me. I couldn’t give up on Healthy & Strong just because the first (or second, or third) thing I tried felt like crap.

When I was training for my 5k, I discovered that a little tweak can do the trick.

Running on a school-style 1/4 mile track?

Pass. The boredom sets in fast.

Running on a treadmill?

Pass. For. Sure. Treadmills bring out the homicidal maniac in me.

Running on a mile track through a park on a beautiful spring day?

Holy crap! I found the sweet spot! I can actually enjoy a run! Who knew??

I don’t think I’ll ever really be a runner. The endurance side of it just isn’t my cup of tea. But, a nice run on a beautiful day is something I can actually look forward to. This realization felt so positive, I decided to sit down and consider what makes me enjoy (vs. dread) working out.

1 – I don’t like group classes that require rapid coordination. I would love to be the girl who can rock at Zumba, but I’m just not. I can’t get past my 2 left feet. I gave it a shot, and wound up spending half the class wishing the floor would open up and swallow me to hide me from my embarrassment. Motivational, huh? Yeah. Pass.

2 – I need to feel like I’m getting a good workout. If my heart isn’t pounding and I’m not sweating, I don’t feel like I’m using my time effectively. I tried a barre class, and I have no doubt that it’s a truly strengthening regimen. I definitely felt the burn, but there was no cardio involved. It felt like less than I like to push. So, pass again.

3 – Cardio machines sap me of my will to live. Especially if they have screens with lots of bells and whistles. I spend my time fixating on “WHY WON’T THOSE CALORIES BURN FASTER?!” It’s not great for my mental state. However, when I have to be at the gym for one of my kids’ sports or lessons, I’ll jump on a machine for a little while. Not a full pass, just not my workout of choice.

4 – I love me some interval training. Push me to my outer limits, but give me a second to catch my breath before I have to be pushed again. I think it’s why I loved Insanity so much. Yes, you have to do power jumps until you want to pass out, but the 30 seconds of breath that follow will revive you enough to do it again.

5 – Finally, I love deadlines. I really, really do. It was another part of Insanity that I appreciated. It gave me a schedule to follow, and an end date to work towards. It’s what got me through 5k training, too. Give me something to work towards, and I’ll push as hard as I can to tear it up at the finish line. Thus – my new adventure: The Tracy Anderson Method. I started today and will be pushing through it for the next 90 days. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it in the months to come.

To make things happen, you need to find the workout routine that will make you feel awesome about yourself.

So, if you’ve tried running and it hurts your joints, or you’ve tried group exercise but you felt uncomfortable, those porridges are just too hot or too cold for you. Keep sampling. There’s a method out there that will make you feel like a super hero. You just have to find it.

Accomplishing Goals While She’s Watching

I did it! I ran an official 5k race! I didn’t even have a stroke or anything!

See? That’s me beside an honest-to-goodness finish line!

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Why is this a picture of me coming around a finish line, rather than racing gloriously through it? That’s because I missed my goal by FOUR. EFFING. SECONDS. So, the look on my face was less Happy Exhaustion, more Homicidal Maniac. Not so blog-worthy. I prefer to share this “Phew! I finished alive!” face.

Proving to myself that I could accomplish another fitness goal was fantastic. But the best part of my entire day was when this happened:

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Standing beside the finish line, holding a sign and cheering me on stood my husband, my son, and my daughter. Accomplishing my fitness goals with my family watching is worth every less-than-fun hour spent struggling through endurance training.

One day about a decade ago, when my husband and I were still dating, we had to run to catch a bus. In the years that followed, he would joke – frequently – about the ONE time he had ever seen me run. Over the weekend, he cheered me on and snapped pictures, encouraging the kids to hold the sign up nice and high as I crossed an honest-to-goodness finish line. I loved that.

I loved having my little boy there, too. But he’s a bit too little to understand much more than that he was having a fun day.

The real highlight of the day was the presence of my daughter. She was so proud of me. In kindergarten the next day, she made this:

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“On Sunday I got to see my mommy run in a real race and I helped my daddy make a sign to hold up and we cheered while we held the sign up. It was the best race ever. I loved watching my mommy.”

That – in an adorable little nutshell – is what this journey of mine is all about.

It’s not about skinny, it’s about fit. It’s not about a bikini body, it’s about a body that can keep up with her and the children she’ll have one day.

My daughter no longer sees a mommy on the couch. She has a mommy who runs in a real race.

I’ll drink (er, sweat) to that.