Working Out

Full disclosure, this post is not written from a totally logical standpoint – rather it’s my feelings on a particular subject. Rarely is logic able to fully supersede emotion; this post and I as a human being are not an exception to that.

Earlier this year I took my first trip into the confusing, uncomfortable, and burdensome world of shapewear. The household name for it – much like Kleenex for tissues or Saran wrap for plastic wrap – is Spanx.

Perhaps my foray into this alluring world which promises that your weird bulging body will be smooth and sleek would have been less fraught with confusion and horror if I’d gone with the renowned brand name. Hindsight offers such magnificent clarity. Instead, the shapewear I bought was an impulse purchase, an off-white number that I yanked into my cart almost as an afterthought during a harried trip to Meijer where I almost certainly forgot what I went there for and came out with a cart full of crap I didn’t need. The American Way.

Many would argue that instead of purchasing shapewear I should just get my cellulite-laden ass into actual shape by being less sedentary and eating less garbage. That’s a valid argument, but an argument that I am generally uninterested in engaging. I know that I should work out. I know that it’s “easy” to work out. At the same time, I am all but past the point in my life where I slather myself in guilt for not doing it regularly.

All you need is three days a week!

This workout is so short you can do it before you take a shower in the morning!

You’ll feel so much better!

On a logical level, I am aware of all these realities about working out. On a realistic level, I am drained bone dry by the time I get off work.

So do it before work! It’s so easy!

Many mornings, I’m lucky if I put on my mascara steadily enough to look like I didn’t just walk into the office after taking the walk of shame.

The thing is, I’m not lazy. On the contrary, I am a highly productive individual who is very good at what I do in my professional life, a busy Type-A personality. I am relentless, driven, dogged, and even competitive. If I were to get into working out I’d be that super obnoxious eight-workouts-a-week type, energetically touting the benefits of regular exercise while doing a one-arned handstand. With the other hand, I’d be munching on a handful of organic, locally produced nuts. My beautifully tanned skin would cast a bronze light on you, illuminating your pudgy and pasty flaws, and I would definitely be staring at you with my Eyes of Judgment.

And I would judge you. I would judge the shit out of you for not working out regularly, for giving in to that craving for that cupcake, for having no self-control, for giving in to all of your impulses and excuses.  Maybe it’s because I know I would be a hardcore, grade-A toolbag if I were part of the workout community that I regard it with a certain level of distrust, irritation, and intolerance. And maybe it’s because my inner voice has been so very, very harsh that I know exactly how I would be if I were into fitness.

Our relationships with our bodies is complex, especially as women. Here in the West, women are told all day, every day through one medium or another that we need to be flawless – better than flawless. We should have no cellulite. Our skin should be smooth and tan, but not too dark. Our hair should be perfectly coiffed, curly but not naturally so – instead, with loose, relaxed curls that are achieved only by straightening and then curling the hair. Our clothes should hug all the right curves. They should hit us at just the right spots to accentuate every curve and line. We should have full, round breasts and a butt that is just big enough, perfectly firm and curved just so. Our eyebrows should be plucked. Our teeth should be white and straight, our gums can’t be too big, our lips should be full but our mouths can’t be too big. Our nails should be well-kept. Our legs and bikini likes and underarms should be hairless. We should be muscular, but not masculine. Our thighs shouldn’t touch.

Much of what is required of women to be considered “attractive” today takes input. It takes a lot of inputSure, some women are lucky to have natural advantages. Mine is that I am tall; I can gain weight less noticeably than someone a few inches shorter than me. But almost every expectation that is pinned on us takes some sort of work, some input of time and effort and money.

Tweeze your eyebrows, or have them threaded or waxed. Get regular haircuts, usually with add-ons like coloring and highlighting and blowouts and deep conditioning. Go to a tanning booth or lie out in the sun, or invest in tanning creams or lotions, or seek an airbrush or other UV-free tanning method. Whiten your teeth. Get braces, but not the visible kind because that’s unattractive. Have manicures and pedicures. Shave often, or get waxed, or put thousands of dollars toward laser hair removal. This doesn’t even bring into the conversation the daily effort of hair styling, makeup application, and outfit selection.

Because so much effort is required just to be perceived as femininely attractive, I become resentful at the notion that I “have” to work out to keep my body in shape so it is also attractive.

So don’t buy into it! You don’t have to do all those things. Just go natural. Screw the system.

It’s true, any one of us could refuse to buy into the system. And as a college student, I was a lot more likely to buck it: no makeup, little bra-wearing, little shaving, only wearing my hair in its naturally curly state. I was a Gender and Women’s Studies major; raising my middle finger to the oppression of the beauty industry was practically required.

But in the adult world, particularly in the business world, the reality is that women simply are not taken as seriously unless they open wide and swallow the holy Communion wine and wafer of that beauty industry. We balance precariously on a knife edge, carefully juxtaposing classic femininity with ambition. That is a post all its own, one that I imagine I’ll write at some point after I’ve amassed even further proof by being in the professional world.

I recognize that I create a false dichotomy in my own mind. Working out doesn’t have to be an attempt to achieve the kind of body that is ultimately unattainable to a staggering number of women. Actually, it should be an attempt to become healthier and happier, to feel better about myself and have more energy and feel confident that I will live longer. The way I look should have nothing to do with it. But the “should” of this life rarely mirrors the “is”, and when I even think about working out regularly, much less attempt to do so, I am flooded with complex thoughts and feelings about it.

We are bent on extremes, and working out is no exception, which is possibly my biggest road block.

Oh, you took a long walk? You should really be running. It’s better for you.

The truth is that getting off the couch and walking a mile or two a day is better for you than no activity at all.

It’s great that you got in that weight training, but you should really be doing more cardio.

For our health, cardio reigns supreme. Most of us know that by now. Yet, when all we do is cardio, the message is often cardio is great and healthy, but if you want to see results, you’re going to need to step up your weight training.

The rabbit hole that is pondering the ratio of calories out versus calories in is enough to make the head spin right off.

How wonderful that you worked out four times this week! But you did also eat pizza twice, and a brownie, plus drank a few beers. You probably just broke even. You should work harder next week.

What we do is rarely good enough. The purpose of working out is that it is work, and I get that. You’re supposed to be challenging yourself, and it is not supposed to be easy. But maybe we should cut ourselves and each other a little more slack. Although I am not visibly overweight or out of shape, I have yet to meet a person who is avid about fitness from whom I did not feel the sting of judgment when I was honest about my workout habits (or lack thereof).

For most of us, the notion that what we do isn’t going to really matter anyway, the notion that we’re never going to achieve that pinnacle body type, the exhaustion of trying to get to the gym or make time and space to work out at home on top of juggling so many other tasks is enough to make us throw up our hands and not want to try at all, thus perpetuating the cycle.

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