Saturday, April 5, 2008

Exercising the Devil

(Yes, I know that it's 'exorcising'; it's a play on words. Stay with me, here.)

I was a very active child, as are the vast majority of children who are not naturally sickly. I loved to run around, skip, jump and occasionally crawl through the grass looking for garter snakes to keep as pets. In short, I was a fairly average child.

I began to lose my zest for activity when I was, oh, nine. That was, not entirely coincidentally, the year that I began menstruating and growing breasts and otherwise "filling out", as they call it. Looking back, it was mostly the fact that I no longer looked like my peers that made me loath to play with them; they knew it and I knew it and that isn't a good combination in any case. I had those big flappy arms; I had little nubs of breasts; I had... a belly and thighs. (Horror, the horror.)

In short, I was growing up - I was doing what all girls are destined to should they live long enough. Biology is destiny when you are talking about the biological process of puberty. But somehow, this message got lost; I was ashamed of my body... and frankly, I wanted nothing to do with it. Ever. Period. (Or, you know, preferably not.)

It wasn't so much that I was growing up as it was that I was growing up more quickly than my peers and was ostracised for it - not that I hadn't already been for my "weirdness", but now I could see the difference in my body and my peers' bodies. Now I was The Official Freak.

So I went to the computer and distracted myself, 'turtling' and divesting myself of anxiety and unhappiness through the internet (namely, Neopets).

This trend of avoiding exercise at all costs carried on through middle and some of high school for me. I remember that once, my middle school P.E. teacher forced us all to run/walk a mile on the track... and I was the last one in. It completely, utterly humiliated me, and that only made me more afraid and more ashamed of my body.

Angela Stokes is wrong. It isn't that fat people are ashamed of their bodies naturally, as she implies in her book Revealing the Hidden Changes - it's that other people, both thin and fat, make us feel ashamed of our bodies. To make fat people feel like exercising (and I say this as a stalwart anti-dieting activist, mind), we need to get rid of these prejudices that say that they have to exercise and make exercise feel like fun.

I am quite sure that is why I didn't voluntarily exercise for most of my pubescent and post-pubescent life: it wasn't fun for me. More than that, other people had made it not-fun for me because they used it to set me apart from my peers. Soccer I would always, always willingly participate in: we got to play soccer perhaps once a semester. Dancing, yes, that too, on occasion. But most of the time, things like running, jogging, walking, dancing, swimming, basketball, volleyball - all these things were constructed into my mind as activities that other people would use to humiliate me.

Exercise should not be humiliation.

And yet, when I was actively eating disordered, I would constantly exercise - twitch, twitch, twitch, how many calories can I burn by swinging my legs back and forth? twitch. So, as the diet credo has designed it in our minds, exercise is something necessary, not-fun, not-stress relieving, not-playful, not-happy. Exercise has been constructed as necessary toil.

And it's not. I have come to learn that, now, after having taken up running last year and this year and having made the breakthrough, using my raw food diet, of training my chest not to burn every time I run for more than two minutes. Now, running is fun for me - it just took a little while to get there, a little bit of learning how to again. The process was actually quite quick and the results enduring, given that I stopped running for about four months between last Tuesday and my last run of 2007.

So... I guess what I'm trying to say is, the world's fucked up. Don't let it get to you so much; find a physical activity (not including guns) and do it, and enjoy it. You'll love it, it'll pay off in mental health, peace and better sleep, and you will discover another way to love your body.

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