Me (on the left) with E., my best friend from college, the summer after our senior year.
What did the wink mean? Probably nothing. The habitual act of a friendly person. But I decided that she was trying to send me a message. A covert message, from one exerciser to another: "Be good to your body, because it's the only one you're ever going to get."...
I wanted to be that bench-pressing granny. I wanted to be her now, at forty-one. And I wanted to be her at fifty-two and sixty-two and ninety-two, should I live so long. She seemed to represent a conscious choice between (1) a healthy, strong future of thriving and surviving and (2) a slothful existence of inactivity, illness, decline, and dependence.
The choice was obvious. For me, there would be no more fooling around with weight loss and re-gain, or a protracted periods of inactivity. At a certain stage in the aging process--and I was well into that--fitness shouldn't be a goal or an obsession. Fitness is life itself.
You have to love your body as a living organism, not hate it as a flawed decorative statue. Only a fool or a child would put a premium on pretty over healthy. Bad body image, I realized, was kid stuff. Mine had kicked in at eleven. I'd dragged a childhood problem into my forties.
That wink was my wake-up call. My grow-up call. Which brought me to Tenet #2: Take care.
My bad body image, a vestige of the past, was now history. My future would be devoted to strength--of character and muscle. My new role model was that iron-pumping grandma with the fingerless gloves and the frosted blond hair. When the body image demons rattled the cage, as they sure would from time to time, I'd think of her and remember that I only had one body, and one choice. To love it--or leave it. I wanted to stay around long enough to see my daughters' daughters take a big bite out of a cookie and smile with unmitigated pleasure.
So, yeah, I choose love.
There are so many reasons why women don't choose love, and instead live out our lives hating ourselves and our bodies. Shame has been the currency of female existence for centuries. There is a real and true misogyny in our culture that comes through our media, our social structures, our religion and other meaning-making cultural narratives. We need to speak our stories out loud, and rail against these sources of oppression. But we also need to simultaneously take responsibility for loving ourselves and showing our daughters (and sons) a different path. It's interesting, and not coincidental, that our mouths are used for two things: for speaking and for eating. Let us speak the truth in love, and let us nourish ourselves with love.
"What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." -- Muriel Rukeyser