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Sometimes, I drink and scan Instagram tags. I usually do this in the evenings as I listen to the clamor of bedtime going on upstairs and face a living room full of princess toys and a sink full of dishes. I need a moment before dealing with the aftermath of my day, so I pour myself a drink, hop on my phone and scan feeds of artfully curated table settings and pictures of toddlers wearing pants that cost more than my master's degree.
This is how I found #fitspiration. A friend of mine posted a before-and-after picture of herself after completing a 12-week exercise program called the Bikini Body Guide by Australian fitness star Kayla Itsines. My friend tagged the picture #fitspiration #bbbg #bbgmums #transformationtuesday. I drank whiskey and scrolled through each tag, taking in the sea of colorful food, sweaty torsos, selfies in sports bras, and #morningabs (you know, where you take a picture of your abs in the morning). I took another drink.
I am a 32-year-old mother of two. I run three to four times a week, a habit I started in my 20s because I was gaining weight and couldn't afford new pants. Once I began to have children, the practice of running took on another meaning. My days were full of people clamoring for time with me and my body—my hands to wipe poop, my boobs to feed, my legs to fetch, my mouth to console. Running helped me reclaim my body. But this fight came at a cost; I had to wake up at 5 a.m. or earlier.
I took another sip of whiskey. #MorningAbs? I might as well wish for a Nobel Prize in physics.
But the next evening I was back again, scrolling the tags of before-and-after pictures. Sure, they were mostly white 20-somethings, but occasionally there would be a woman with children, sometimes older, whose before shot looked like me and whose day job was much more noble than freelance writer—an RN, teacher, accountant. Instead of laughing, I began to wonder if maybe …
In a society that venerates the young body and tells women that they should say goodbye to bikinis once they've had children, it's a bold move to fight back and say that your story isn't over.
I was partially inspired by my desire to reclaim my body, but I would be lying if I didn't admit to vanity as a motivator. We live in a world that quickly discards women over the age of 40. Men in movies are eternally youthful, hanging on to their sexual vitality long after they pass 60. But women? Our expiration date happens sometime when life begins to etch its way into our skin. In a society that venerates the young body and tells women that they should say goodbye to bikinis once they've had children, it's a bold move to fight back and say that your story isn't over.
So, I bought the guide books, some weights and told my husband I was doing a workout created by a 20-something, Australian social media celebrity. "OK," he said, "don't get hurt."
Three weeks in, my stomach hurt so badly I couldn't reach up to shut the trunk of my car. At a visit to the children's museum I had to beg a friend to pick my son up and put him in the stroller, because my arms felt like limp noodles at a gun fight—ineffective and pointless.
I began lining my underwear with pads on cardio days, because they always involved jump squats or jump rope, and changing my pants halfway through a workout wasn't ideal. And listen, before you tell me to do Kegels, just know that there is nothing like two kids head butting out of your vagina to let you know how ineffective Kegels truly are. And no matter how early I woke up to do these "short" little work outs, it seemed my kids would wake up earlier. Many of my mornings were spent working out to the pumped-up jams of "Curious George" and "Dora the Explorer."
My kids even tried to work out with me, which was cute until I realized that meant "crawl on mom while she did a thing called spider pushups," which involve weeping and gnashing of teeth. My 4-year-old also ended up getting burpeed when she tried to crawl under me as I jumped down into push up position.
"Working out is mean," she said and stormed up to her room. I agreed. It was mean and exhausting. Twenty-eight minutes a day sounds like nothing until you actually try to wrench it from the grasp of all of your obligations, work and those tiny chubby, goldfish-wielding fingers that love you into oblivion. But I kept skimming the #fitspiration tags.
Some of those posts were blatantly body shaming—demanding a sweat tax for every ounce of enjoyment, punishing themselves for food deemed "unclean." But other posts were women just like me, women who wanted to reclaim themselves, to take back their bodies from whatever they had become when they weren't looking. That was my fitspiration.
I don't have abs. This is isn't that kind of story. But by acting on my inspiration, I stopped dreaming that one day I'd do more.
Finally, my 12 weeks was over. I had lost only six pounds and one pants size, but I felt a difference. The stippling had subsided. Those unruly waves of flesh that spilled out over my pants and left me so uncomfortable in pants had ebbed, or maybe I just stopped noticing them. Because as I began to whisper between clenched teeth during my workouts, "If this doesn't reclaim me, nothing else will," my aches were gone. I could do several sit ups in a row. My bladder leaked less and cooperated more. I immediately started the 12 week program all over again.
I don't have abs. This is isn't that kind of story. But by acting on my inspiration, I stopped dreaming that one day I'd do more. And this is what I learned: While I can change to an extent, this
flesh is my destiny. Magazines
and websites offer advice for hiding bodily flaws. Dress for your pear shape!
Wear your winter colors! But by taking those flaws down to the basement for a
sweat session, I got too tired to pick on them every day in the mirror. They were working hard, too.
And in grappling with them instead of hiding them, I realized that this
was me, all of me. And if lifting and squatting and jumping until I licked my
own sweat wasn't going to change them, then they aren't flaws, they are just
me. Better make peace with them now or spend a lifetime miserable.
My phone camera is full of these sports bra selfies. I don't
post them, I just keep them on my phone. Before and afters. The difference
isn't dramatic, maybe it won't ever be. But I can do sit ups. I can do squats. I can lift 20 pounds over my head, birth two babies and run 10 miles. That's good enough for me.