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Lessons from the Y

YMCA_ we have it all hereLast month, my family joined the YMCA, for several reasons: the primary reason being I don’t want to go back to my pre-baby weight, which was well above 200 pounds. Yes, 200+ pounds. My BMI is over 30, and the ideal weight for someone my height is something ridiculous like 125 pounds, which I haven’t seen since I was in middle school. I would be grateful to get down towards 180 or 185 pounds, and while breastfeeding is the time to do it!

The primary lesson I’ve had so far from the Y is: Get Over Yourself.

So, for those of us Americans with body image issues, Ahem, all of us, the Y offers a great lesson: get over yourself. Seriously.

The first day I came here, I saw a very abundant bodied woman in a traditional swimsuit. Those things leave a lot of flesh exposed, which is the reason I don’t wear them. But – I mean, there they were, all of them in their abundant bodies in their abundant-bodied swimsuits, working at water aerobics. Very low impact on the joints. I should try it.

Anne Lamott has this beautiful idea of treating the parts of your thighs and butt that stick out of a swimsuit as beloved aunties:

I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly whenever I went. I decided, in fact, on the way to the beach, that I would treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, the kind who did embarassing things at the beach, like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles, but whom I was proud of because they were so great in every real and important way. So we walking along, the three aunties and I, to meet [my son] and our friends in the sand. I imagined that I could feel the aunties beaming, as if they had been held captive in a dark closet too long, like Patty Hearst.

From Travelling Mercies: Thoughts on Faith

So, if Anne Lamott and these ladies can suit up and work out, I can too. I should start to love The Aunties and take them wherever I go. I should also get over it: whatever it is that has me telling myself that my body is not enough; that my body needs to be smaller to be beautiful’; that my body looks awful in a swimsuit. This: get over it. I’ll get right on that.

Another thing I learned is that it is possible to workout regularly and still be abundant-bodied. Somehow, in my mind, I had equated working out with being thin, or at least athletic-looking. I ran into a friend who is very heavy, and she works out at the water aerobics two or three times a week. Somehow, I thought exercise was the magic bullet of weight loss… I guess I’ll have to eat less (which brings up its own anxieties).

Womens-Locker-Room-Graphic-Sign-SE-2971It is possible to confront your own body hatred while in the locker room. Body hatred is certainly dumb / toxic / not helpful. It doesn’t “move the ball down the field,” as my friend Paul would say. Confronting these old body habits is a regular thing for me in the locker room. I don’t think I’ve ever felt comfortable in any locker room, really. My anxiety about what people see when they are looking at me is particularly acute when I’m not wearing clothes. The other day, I even took a shower in one of the shower stalls, but that gave me a wave of anxiety, so for now, I’ll keep showering at home… We are taught, as women, from before adolescence, to dislike our bodies: their shape, their size, their regular cycles. It’s time for this to stop.

It is difficult and holy work, making peace with the body you have. What is your body’s story, and how does it improve in the telling?

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