Of all the things I bitch, moan, complain, and obsess by omission about, body image is somewhere in the top three. I am not a small-framed woman, and growing up with a very petite mother and a taller, next-size up proportionally naturally slender sister, I grew up feeling like the “you would be so pretty if you just lost weight” Hulkette without the strength or green-tinge to my skin. Tiny people I am not.
My mom was 82 when she passed away (uterine cancer), my sister 47 (breast cancer). Both exhibited doctor-adverse behaviors – my mom, in her 80s, was suddenly again having menstrual-like bleeding and waited 2 years and intense, unrelenting pain before even mentioning it to her doctor. My sister, upon discovering a lump in her breast, waited for almost 9 months and for it to grow to the size of a walnut before consulting her doctor about it, only to die of bone cancer less than 3 years after the initial confirmed diagnosis. I see my doctors regularly and discuss any weird aches and pains with them. I also recognize my intense denial of how quickly my type 2 diabetes was advancing before getting myself organized enough to actually follow their recommendations about diet and exercise. Eventually I got there though.
Family history – all of my family of origin died of cancer. My parents were heavy smokers most of their adult lives, and my dad had various types of cancer and fought and good fight for 8 years before succumbing. My sister did not smoke or drink, yet she fell to breast cancer, which is very common within our family. Thus far, I’ve been lucky. But I also do monthly self exams and have been enduring mammograms since I was 30 (now 55), so if that should ever find me, I suspect it will be caught early, not at the much later stage my sister let it get to before consulting her doctor.
More than just the better lifestyle habits, I am truly blessed to have no impacts to my overall health. Yes, I am a well controlled diabetic, but if I exercise regularly and am reasonably responsible about my diet, my pancreas are in good enough shape to support me without the benefit of additional medication. My stomach processes the food I feed it without many hiccups, although I know there are certain trigger foods that will give me a stomach ache or worse if I eat them. So I don’t eat them, despite how much I love them. In-n-Out french fries and fatty and delicious beef ribs are not worth the terrible suffering for hours afterwards. In-n-Out is a rare, rare thing, because there are so many other good burger joints for us to get our cheeseburger fix it’s not much of an issue. M makes these amazing beef ribs at home, but he always makes bbq chicken for me to eat while he’s snarfing down ribs. Or I will make a pork version and enjoy those.
What brought about this latest train of thought: on another board I follow a young woman was discussing her efforts to get a health and wellness coaching business off the ground yet being impacted by digestive issues that regularly zap her energy and challenge her ability to get her own exercise regimen completed as well as participate in marketing efforts to build her fledgling business. Since she is trainer J’s age, she is still a young woman. It is unfortunate she is troubled by this type of health issue and how it impacts her energy and ability to pursue opportunities in this new field. But from there it morphed into a lot of other thoughts that i find a little unsettling, but I’m human and decidedly as flawed as most people and probably more flawed than many.
I know it is difficult to get a new business off the ground, especially it seems to me in health and fitness, when there is so much competition from others in the field as well as youtube videos and online coaches. Having now worked with someone I admire and respect for almost 2 years, I think my judgment is more specific, sharper and to-the-point than it was when I first started. Starting out, I hoped trainer J would be patient and kind, not yell at me (in tone, inflection, or word choice, not volume) for my many shortcomings. As we have “grown up” in our training partnership, I have come to admire the way he walks-the-walk as well as talks-the-talk. In 100+ training session, low-energy sessions have happened, but so rarely they and the reasons behind the low energy impression and feels stand out in my mind. A lot of that is professionalism, powering through and putting on the trainer face and faking it until he’s making it. J has now been toiling his craft long enough that he has worked hard to build and expand the tools in the toolbox to make up for the extremely rare low-energy, don’t-really-feel-it-today days.
The young woman on the budgeting board, I do not sense she has developed that level of discipline and professional demeanor. While I make allowances that this is a board where she can vent about her finances and the struggles of her new business venture, so much of what she says makes me feel it leaks out in her sessions. Or I am simply hypersensitive to it having to be “on” at my primary job and with my clients so much of my days.
I tried hard to frame my comment in a positive way, to suggest that with the struggles she is presently experiencing perhaps it might be best to dial-back on some of her efforts and focus on the things that seem most likely to bring her the greatest immediate success. But inside my head, I was idly wondering how successful I would have been with someone who is suffering with digestive issues and low energy while trying hard to teach and by extension incite interest and excitement in my better health quest.
While I know it is not my trainer’s (or any other trainer’s) job to motivate me to pursue my personal objectives, I think those who market themselves as life and/or health coaches have a different job description than a personal trainer. I use the terms trainer and coach very interchangeably when I speak about J, but our partnership has evolved to the point that I trust his judgment and will ask his opinions on a variety of topics, not just exercise and diet. Maybe it’s just me, but the relationship has to grow into that level of intimacy and support; it is not created out of thin air because you have chosen “coach” as a professional title. It’s earned, not bestowed.
Trying to explain my thoughts to her – she didn’t get it. She fails to understand how the relationship, the trust, has to evolve. I wish her success, but unless something changes, I think it will continue to elude her.
The primary reason I hired a trainer was to learn how to exercise safely and sanely. I thought he’d look me over, see how insanely uncoordinated I am, show me how to use some basic machines, and then send me off to work at it for a few weeks before coming back to evaluate my progress. With lots of cardio to fill in the gaps, of course. Obviously, how I thought things worked and how they did work are very different things, and every day I am grateful for the good things regular, consistent exercise has brought to me and how it colors my whole life. That did not come about because J has magic, transformative words to share. I am thinking back through so many conversations we have had and cannot really recall a time where we have had anything directly related to body image. It seems a natural byproduct of my level of engagement with the better health through more exercise, improved eating habits process.
I still have body image issues, although they are very tiny, minuscule, single bite cupcakes in the bigger picture of the things I think of on a routine basis. If anything, I am having to train myself out of reaching for larger size clothing than I routinely wear now when shopping, and I recognize my successes feed into tendency to reward myself with new workout clothes (Zappos gift cards from Christmas certainly did not help). But oh well – this fixation will fade and I will return to admiring shoes I won’t wear. This morning at the gym I was doing concentration curls and was marveling at how pretty my bicep was looking rather than looking away so as to not see the flabby ugliness of fatty batwings. Oh, I still notice the significantly reduced batwings, but I care so much less about it these days. I have bigger, better, more positive things to consider, like that I actually have biceps and where my elbow is when looking at J’s scapular plane diagram on my sheet.
It is a new thing, being thankful for body I have. The exercise brings forth this new sense of fascination, because suddenly I have biceps! And suddenly there are creases showing muscles in my shoulders and legs. In the past I have struggled with a sense of shame, because I’m not now and unlikely ever to fit the model of petite equals more feminine. And to be clear – this is not a view presented by M or any other close male friend in my world. Quite frankly, this is a body image opinion presented by many women I know, based on their interpretation of what mass media has us brainwashed into feeling this is what is approved and others desire to see.
Healthy, feminine, pretty comes in all shapes and sizes. Being very honest, there are still things I might change if the opportunity presented itself and the cost – physical and emotional as well as financial – was not too dear. Fortunately, my eye is adjusting and I know what looks and feels good to me about me. Body is getting stronger, fitter, but so is my heart and mind along with it.
Progress is accepting myself and really knowing that improving my overall health has never looked or felt better. Thank you, body, for hanging in and hanging on while I sorted myself out and stopped a lifetime habit of being so unmercifully abusive to you.