For two years, I watched my girls do trapeze. I watched with longing because inside me that little girl who used to swing on tree branches and monkey bars wanted to fly again. I remembered being unafraid of anything including my body. But the woman who watched her daughters dance in the air was afraid: afraid of failure, afraid of her body, afraid of moving with others. So I just watched and yearned.
One day, I confessed my desire to try trapeze to my daughter’s personal instructor. She encouraged me to try it but I kept saying that I was too fat. She assured me I wasn’t but not with platitudes about me not being fat. She just asserted that I was capable of being on the bar. And because she saw me, really saw me, I started to think maybe she was right. Still I kept falling back on my old excuse of “I’ll lose a few pounds first.” But those pounds never came off because I was relearning to love my body and nurture it as I was not as what I thought it should be. In that spirit, I signed up for a trapeze class, terrified but determined to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t expect to fall in love but I did. Trapeze made me fall in love with my body again.
Moving the fat body is not made easy in our society. We’re laughed at and mocked even as we’re shamed for not exercising. People take pictures of us without our permission and write public posts using us as an inspiration in such insulting ways it’s not really clear how we’re inspiring. Even worst the pictures are circulated and we’re mocked. We’re given unwanted advice in the gym. Clothing companies don’t make exercise clothes in our sizes. Personal trainers assume we’re weak and teachers roll their eyes when we show up to class. For me, exercising in private felt like the only safe option. And so I watched with longing the classes I wanted to take but didn’t dare show up for. Coming to trapeze took all my courage. I lucked into a wonderful group of students and two excellent teachers. But there are still days when I want to quit.
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There are four things that I do that keep me going even when I feel like I don’t have what it takes and I think these things could apply to any form of exercise.
First, I stopped limiting myself.
We’re told too often that our bodies can’t do certain things. I never realized the insidiousness of this kind of thought until I failed a few times at trapeze. It was really easy to blame my fat. One night we learned a move that involved hanging from the bar with our feet on one side of the ropes and our hands on the bar. We hung horizontal and arched before moving our leg between our stomach and the bar. I tried once and hit the mat.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I told my instructor, “I’m too fat.”
She gave me “the look” and said “Try it again.”
As she watched me, I ended up stuck again and she talked to me about what I was doing wrong as I hung horizontal off the bar. When I came down, she looked at me and said “Do you just realize you hung on that bar for a good two minutes? Remember when you thought you couldn’t do that?”
I got back up on the bar and did the move. My leg fit fine between my stomach and the bar. Right then I stopped blaming my not being able to do things on being fat. Being fat makes things harder at times. I have to haul a lot more weight on that bar than my classmates but that doesn’t make them impossible.
Second, I remind myself that I do trapeze for love. I’m not doing it to compete or to be the best.
I have all the time in the world to get intimate with this thing I love. I think it’s like when you meet someone who makes your stomach turn inside out. Part of you wants to rush through all the feelings. But another part of you savors every touch, every word, every kiss. And then you wake up sixteen years later and realize you’re still learning the curves of your lover’s body.
And with trapeze that body is mine. I can’t pretend I don’t have a body on the bar. I’d get hurt. I have to sense myself in space every second in class. It’s part of what I love about this exercise. It’s a lesson in learning how my body moves and works and what a glorious thing I’ve discovered. I want to savor this relationship. Patience is the key. As much as I want to be awesome now it’s not going to happen. I’ve learned to remember that a love affair is a process over time and that as I get stronger I learn new things about me.
Third, no self-loathing talk allowed.
One night I let my daughter take pictures of me doing trapeze. She loved them and excitedly showed them to me. All I could see was how fat I was and while I managed to not cry in front of her it wasn’t easy. I felt such loathing towards myself. All the work I’d done in seeing my body as amazing came undone in a matter of minutes. I started to berate myself with insults I wouldn’t dish out to my worst enemy. But then I remembered my daughter’s pride. Did I let myself loathing define my entire experience? Or was I going to look at those pictures and see myself as my daughter saw me? As my friends saw me? They saw me as strong and beautiful. I realized if I was going to keep at this thing, I had to learn to love the body doing trapeze now as much as I loved the body that would come.
Now when moves prove too hard due to my weight instead of berating myself for being fat, I think “You will get stronger, you will get there.” I don’t bemoan my lack of skill and instead remind myself of what I can do. When I see pictures of myself hanging on the bar or the ropes, I say “Look at that bad ass woman doing all the things.”
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Fourth, there is no end product.
I think that one thing that sunk me when I was so fit years ago was the idea of an end. That was partly a weight loss mentality at work. When you’re focused on losing weight, there is always this end goal. When you hit it there is a sense of disappointment. It’s not nearly what you imagined in your head aka the heaven’s don’t open and shine light upon you. It’s also a kind of dead end feeling. What’s next? Nothing. But with focusing on fitness, there is no end product. My body needs to be worked, loved and shaped throughout the years not just as an end goal that translates as a number on the scale. There are still planes to my flesh that I have yet to learn. My body moves already in ways that surprise me and I suspect I have a lot more to learn.
In other words, the end goal is the process. It’s an act of patience to sculpt the human body. Each trapeze class doesn’t bring me closer to the end; it just introduces me to new roads to explore.
Are you struggling with cultivating a positive body image and caring less about what society thinks? Join us for our next workshop 10 Tools to Radical Self Love.[Feature image: Individual with fair skin hangs from trapeze pole in black pants and tank top in the sky. Flickr.com/JasonBechtel ]