Welcome to the week of Weighty Matters: a website- and podcast- series devoted to weight-related issues that have popped up among the #motherrunner crowd and seem to have resonated. Today, columnist Adrienne Martini chimes in.
Running has been both the best way to manage my insecurities about my weight and the worst. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I don't fixate on what I look like. I’ve finally reached peace with the body I am increasingly honored to be in. The remaining 1 percent of the time is a work in progress.
Sure, my body has its quirks. My immune system finds spring pollen to be an affront it shall not bear quietly. My lower back and bladder, while not all they once were before the two babies, work just well enough to avoid a trip to an actual medical professional. Lately, my digestive system has been a bit irritable but, I mean, aren’t we all at times? All of my body’s current inconveniences have more to do with how it functions and less to do with how it appears.
That might be a function of age. I’ve reached one where friends and family and friends who are essentially family have bodies that are actively falling apart. There’ve been so many kinds of cancer, strokes, and heart attacks in my circle lately. My body functions is pretty awesome by comparison. For now, anyway.
My body can also carry me for miles and miles and miles, with nothing more complicated that a decent pair of shoes, a bra, some water, and a few calories. That is a miracle, right? And one that should be more than enough for any woman.
I was a super skinny kid until I hit my double-digit years. There was a lot going on in the early '80s, starting with my parent’s divorce (which, frankly, was the best choice they could have made in the long run) and puberty and changing schools and, you know, growing up. Food was my friend. My favorite after-school treat was to sit down with a box of sugary cereal, a bowl, and a carton of milk and eat until I started to feel OK enough to tackle my homework.
(There’s a lot to unpack here. Know that I have during many (many) therapy sessions. Simple carbs, as it turns out, are not a substitute for self-esteem or a cure for depression. I’m shocked, too.)
The summer between high school and college, I weighed 200-ish pounds. True story: I was once out to dinner where I was trying to impress a boy I had a crush on. I dropped some piece of cutlery, bent under the table to pick it up, and split the inside leg seam of my pants. That’s a hard one to maintain your allure through.
I lost the weight by starting college. Turns out that a change of scenery and some freedom was a good diet for me. My weight has bounced around since then but never reached that high school high point. Still, in my head, I’ve always been the 200-plus pound version of myself.
Here’s where I’m supposed to say, “until I started running.” That would be, at best, a half-truth. While running has proven that my body is strong and capable (and helped me keep my weight in a medically advisable range), spending time around runners can be a wee bit triggering. One look at Shalane or Deena or, hell, SBS and Dimity brings back all of those feeling of being too big to be worthy of success and love.
Our brains like to level-set, by which I mean, we tend to compare ourselves to those around us to figure out how we’re doing compared to the rest of the world. When I’m in the grocery store or an airport, I feel like I look like everyone else, if maybe a little sleepier. But when I’m at an Expo before a race, I feel like the Stay-Puft marshmallow man, which is exactly the burst of confidence you want right before a race.
I get fixated my upper arm being about the size of a speedy female runner’s thigh. That my feet stop moving before my boobs do. And that the sound of my shoes hitting the ground is a mighty one. Given how many years I spent believing that I took up too much space, letting these comparisons go is rough. This groove has been well worn in my brain.
Which isn’t to say that I’m not getting better about it. A more finely tuned sense of perspective is an advantage of age and experience. My body is just that: mine. It’s doing just great, all things considered, despite years and years of the media and my own mind telling me that it was worthless. Even if I have my moments where I let comparison (the thief of joy) raise his toxic head, I’ve made significant progress, one loud step at a time. Not toward perfection, because that’s just not a thing, but towards ease with all of me.