Before and After and After and Before…
Can we please stop holding up being physically fit as THE THING?
It’s exhausting all of us.
For some time now, I’ve wanted to do a “before and after” post in which I flip the whole stupid, obsessive concept of before and after on its head.
My plan—pending location of an old photo of me that is god knows where—is to show a “before” photo of me in college, weighing about 130 pounds, wearing a bikini, and showcasing the type of body that our culture likes to put on a pedestal.
The “after” photo would show me in my beloved red bathing suit now, post-three children, about 40 pounds heavier.
Most people would assume I made a mistake in my labeling.
In the before photo, I was throwing up anywhere from once to six times a day and engaging in near constant of self-loathing.
In the after photo, I haven’t thrown up or engaged in eating disordered behavior in many years and have done a ton of work on my relationship with food and shame. And while I still struggle with overeating at times, I am happier than I’ve ever been, much more comfortable in my own skin, with a wonderful husband and kids and doing work I love.
And yet for most people, all these details would be beside the point.
You know, because my washboard abs are gone and replaced by a much softer middle. And some cellulite. And hips that have moved around a bit after three children and on and on…
We have to stop this.
Here is where most people throw up physical fitness as the reason that we have to be vigilant.
That’s circular reasoning. You can’t claim physical fitness as the reason that being physical fit is important and expect me to pay attention.
Now, if you want to talk about how being fit leads you a better quality of life and the potential to live longer, I’m all ears.
Because then I would ask you how the rest of your life if going. This life that you want to stick around for. Working out so you can feel better and enjoy the rest of your life both now and in the future is certainly a worthwhile goal.
Except if the rest of your life is shit and you’re using physical fitness as a cure-all.
We hold up physical fitness as a God because we think that if we look and feel strong physically on the outside, it will make us strong and happy on the inside.
But it doesn’t work that way.
To feel strong emotionally and spiritually, we have to have the courage to feel vulnerable and talk about the things that are hard. No amount of hours on the elliptical machine can do that for us.
We are obsessed with talking about how people look on the outside, while being starved for conversation and honesty about how the rest of our lives are going.
When we tell people they look wonderful only when they’ve lost weight, or that they are to be commended for fitting into their pre-baby jeans again, we are engaging in about only 10% of the conversation.
Because we don’t know what the person has traded to achieve these things.
We don’t know, for instance, if they live in a constant state of anxiety that the thing they have finally achieved—and are being praised for—will suddenly go away if they stop being hyper-vigilant.
Or if they are working harder and harder to push away the nagging feeling that although they’ve finally reached their goal, they still aren’t happy.
Or if their three hours of training a day means they have a spouse and children at home who lack support.
Or if they are starving themselves.
Or if they keep moving, moving, moving so that they don’t have to sit with the fact that they are getting older (and inching closer to inevitable death) or any number of other issues such as job they hate or a marriage that is broken.
I love being active. I make it a part of my every day life – bike riding, walking, yoga, swimming, taking care of my children. Physical activity is important because it balances out the other things I do in my life.
Mind, body, spirit.
But I am no longer willing to pay the price that I would be required to pay – time away from the kids or other activities I love, fatigue, obsession, grumpiness – just to have the body that everyone thinks I should have.
I’d rather have a health mind, heart, and soul to go along with my perfectly fine and lovely body.
Children tell the truth about everything. If you watch them, you’ll notice that they have no story about their bodies – they simply live in them. They run when they want to run, rest when they want to rest, eat when they want to eat, etc.
And they love all bodies – big, small, fat, thin, black, white, etc. – that are willing to hold, love, and care for them.
We could learn a lot from that alone.