First off, this post is not about food. It is, however, about exercise, and about healthy living, and about...well, I'll leave that up to you to decide. With that said...
It's no secret that I like working out. That I like working out hard. That I tend to seek out the most kick-butt type exercise classes possible. Which is how, about a week ago, I found myself in a huge basketball gym surrounded by some 40 or so middle-aged soccer moms.
Confused? You need not be. Before I go into my story, it might be helpful to provide you dear readers with a brief overview of the gym my family frequents. It's very nice. Quite spa-like, in fact. It's also filled with an exceptionally fit and trim clientele. And the most die-hard fitness enthusiasts (or at least the ones most conscious of their appearance) tend to be a subset of impeccable dressed stay-at-home moms. Who like to go to the kick-butt mid-morning workout classes (which are perfectly timed for after dropping the kids off at school).
Last week, I was at one of these group exercise classes, a tabata style class with multiple different interval drills. And let me tell you: it was hard. Seriously hard. We did a number of different drills, including one in which we grabbed a weighted medicine ball, held it over our head, and slammed it into the ground with as much force as possible.
Which leads me to my story.
Before we began throwing our balls, the instructor advised us to think of something that made us mad, and to channel all of that anger into throwing the ball as hard as possible. Fair enough. For a moment, I paused. What made me really mad? At first, I couldn't think of anything (umm yeah, a bit uncharacteristic for me, loud-spoken, opinionated person that I am. But hey, I was in a good mood!)
But then I glanced at the women around me, and my eyes fell on a particularly thin woman standing a few feet away. She had walked in that morning, shivering slightly, with a towel clutched around her bony shoulders in what appeared (to me, at least) an attempt to stay warm. And then I suddenly knew what made me mad.
I was mad on behalf of every girl and every woman (and heck, every man) who has ever felt like she or he had to live up to an unhealthy ideal of beauty (Note: this is not to say that the thin woman wasn't healthy. I think it's important not to cast judgment on anyone. However, her appearance did spark feelings about unhealthy beauty ideals in general). I was furious on behalf of every person who has ever had to cope with an eating disorder, or disordered eating, or a tumultuous relationship with food and/or exercise in any form. Boy, I was mad, and I threw that ball hard.
And then I paused.
Talk about ironic. Here I was, channeling my anger about body image pressures to work out harder...and thus "tone" (or whatever you want to call it) my own body. Shit.
I was so conflicted that I actually stopped throwing the ball for a few minutes (well, in reality it was probably only a few seconds) to contemplate what I should do. I wondered if the women in the room, myself included, were there because they wanted to be there, or because they felt like they had to be. I realized that for myself, I really did want to be there. But then I wondered: was I just fooling myself? After all, it's a whole lot easier to do something if you "convince" yourself that you actually want to do it.
But finally I came to a conclusion: I did want to be there. I did like exercising. I even liked throwing heavy balls into the ground. Why? Well, because I wanted to get in a good workout, obviously. But the reaon I wanted to get in a killer workout was not to burn "x" number of calories, but rather because of how good I knew it would make me feel. There are few things in life that feel as great as the endorphin high that follows a hard, sweaty workout, and it's the number one reason why I like exercising so much. Of course, one does have to be careful not to overdo it (those endorphins are seriously addicting), but for the most part, I think working out because it makes you feel good is a pretty damn good reason to do it.
However--and this is a big however--that is not to say that my momentary confusion during exercise class is not worth thinking about it. The anger that I drew upon to throw that ball is very real, and the suffering that many people go through in an attempt to find peace with their bodies is very real as well. And I do still think it was pretty ironic (and possibly even hypocritical) that I used that anger to work out harder.
So if anyone out there is reading this:
What are your thoughts on exercise and body image? What do you make of using your anger to throw heavy balls at the floor?
Any and all comments greatly appreciated!