The Catholic Lent is nearing its end (the Orthodox, this year, hasn’t yet started) and as soon as the Mini Eggs go off the market, the magazines will crack open their “Beach Ready!” cliches, promising your ideal bikini body and easy 1-2-3 step diets. The weather will become warm, inviting people to run outside, ride their bikes, take their children and dogs for longer walks, and the Internet will collectively sing praises for the latest and greatest juice cleanses.
And you know what – if juice cleanses are your thing, all the more power to you. I love moving – I sign up for half marathons to raise money for charity, but also because I freaking love it. I won’t begrudge anybody a jaunt or ten in the park – I’ll be jealous that I don’t have a nice park within a walking distance from my house.
But there is something that I want to invite people to consider, nice and early, because it’s the sort of thing that’s really difficult to do with beach body buzz in our ears.
It isn’t something I did, and in hindsight, not something I could have done right before I put myself through so much physical and mental pain I nearly broke. But it’s a vital part of all fitness, and something we don’t spend enough time on. Our yearly marketing cycles are a constant roller coaster of binge-starve-binge, Christmas-detox-Valentine’s Day-Lent-Easter-Beach Bodies-Cinnamon Spice Lattes-Healthy Winter Soups-Christmas Again. There is no in-between; there is no downtime to reflect. (And it’s all very Christian.)
And what should we reflect on? Why we’re doing this in the first place, basically.
See, it’s one thing to put a hashtag on your fitness goals, and we’ve gotten to the point where “feeling good about myself” is a response that doesn’t provoke hysterical laughter among your social circle. But what does that really mean to you? Sit down and have a long, hard think.
Because when I began to diet and to run obsessively and beat myself up for taking resting days, my goal wasn’t to feel strong and self-efficient. My goal was to “fix” things – fix my belly, fix my acne, fix my professional and personal failures, make myself less of a loser. (To my mind, losers were sugar-addicts who couldn’t get praise from their boss if their life depended on it.) I obsessed with being what I thought successful women should be like, and I ignored how I was actually feeling. No amount of happy exercise endorphins could make up for the self-flagellation I was putting myself through. They didn’t stand a chance.
Here’s the takeaway: if your goal is something impermanent/changeable, like finding a partner or looking like a cover for a sports magazine, you set yourself up for disappointment. Even if you achieve the desired effect, what guarantee do you have that it will stick? More importantly, it may not even be in your reach. My body is naturally the way it is. One of my legs is twice the size of the other. Even surgery would not make me “normal” so why did I think I could do better? Your body may be different. Everybody’s body is different. And that’s okay.
Sit down, while the magazines are still silent and it’s technically Lent and we’re supposed to be thinking about our spiritual relationships as we give up chocolate and other things we’re not supposed to like, and ask yourselves what do you really hope to get. Don’t share it with anybody, don’t broadcast it on Instagram, but sit down and think. Think. Be honest with yourself.
And then ask yourself if this is worth it.
I won’t give you answers because I don’t have answers. I still beat myself up more than I should. I recognize it about myself and I recognize it does me more harm than good. But I’m also finding ways to enjoy my body as it is now. And it’s a victory from where I stand.