It’s quite remarkable, and in some ways unfortunate: I can sit on an airplane and post things on the Internet. I subscribe to a monthly service, Boingo (the focus groups that led to that name must have been quite something), which must be charging some account of mine somewhere a monthly fee, and it turns out it gets me Internet access not only in a number of airports but also on Delta. So even here, after 10:00PM, a mile or so above Pennsylvania, I imagine, I am not free.
My daughter and I were watching television for a while, taking a little break from from the truly extraordinary views from our corner “junior” suite in the Millenium Hilton, and an ad for Platnet Fitness came on. A shy woman sat wrapped in a towel, while other women in tight spandex workout clothes talked to each other about how hot they were. “Break free of gymtimidation !” the ad offers. “It’s not a gym, it’s Planet Fitness.”
“Gymtimidation.” I love it. Turns I’m not the only one–the spot has been written up in the NY Times and other places.
This ad is aimed at women, obviously, but it will echo for many men.
I think I may actually have something resembling post-traumatic stress disorder, so humiliated and shamed was I by failing all but the sit-up portion of the Presidential Physical Fitness Tests in fourth grade, getting picked after some of the girls for games in elementary-school phys-ed games, and the subsequent humiliations and harassments.
I was the worst tormentor of all, I now realize. I bought into the idea that a boy’s worth was based on how muscular and athletic he was. I believed I was seriously defective as a person and as a male because of my, well, condition. And through a combination of hopelessness and laziness I didn’t do anything about it, like exercise or really try to get better at sports.
My “exercise365” project, which I mentioned in my last post (with all this Internet time on an airplane and two days ago most of a day in the Minneapolis airport, I seem to have taken up blogging again), in which I’m doing some form of exercise every day, is part of my adult self healing the little boy who hung on the pull-up bar, unable to hoist himself up. I started it with no goals other than to get more energy, release some stress, help out my blood sugar, and hopefully ward off Alzheimer’s Disease, which has turned my mother into a cheerful lady with a toddler’s vocabulary, and which I diagnose myself with regularly.
Amazingly, I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m beyond “gymtimidation,” where I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks about my body, and where I’m realizing that people really don’t care all that much about it anyway. So I’m quite comfortable going into the the Fitness Center at the university where I teach, and lifting lighter weights than the college guys.
I’ve made earlier forays into exercise. 25 years ago I was swimming regularly; when I got busy with work and a new child I got out of the habit. I’d gotten over my gymtimidation then, but it had come back by the time started working out seriously about 2000 or 2001. I remember being immensely uncomfortable going to work out with weights–something I’d never done much of–when I started a “transformation” program called Body for Life. I got over it then, too.
Once again I stuck with it for quite a while, many months in fact. I lost about 40 pounds, and my doctor was really impressed with my spectacular blood-sugar and lipid levels. Feeling too busy, I cut back and, oops, got out of the habit all together. It happens to a lot of people.
There was something more. It was that I still felt there was something wrong with my body. That it was inferior. I felt it needed to look a certain way, lean and muscular. And the more I worked on it, the further I felt I was from it. I’d weigh myself, I’d look in the mirror, and I just hated what I saw. The striving made the body-image problems worse. I just didn’t know to recognize that that’s what was going on. So I stopped hitting my head against the wall, so to speak.
Finally, a little over two years ago, I was on sabbatical in NY, and from the window of my room I could see people running on treadmills and working out on elliptical machines in the windows of the NYSC gym up Broadway a block. I was had teacher’s burnout and caretaker’s burnout, and was thoroughly exhausted and depressed. So I went in and joined.
I knew I might not go regularly. And I knew I had to do something. I’d had a session with a terrific personal trainer, Chris Fernandez, and I bought a very expensive package of training sessions with him–expensive enough that it would really hurt if I didn’t show up for one.
All my body issues came up. Especially because I was burned out and depressed. By now, though, with even more therapy under my belt, I knew what was going on. So I just told Chris everything. And he’d just listen, non-judgmentally, and gently encourage me.
After a while, I was feeling a lot better (and in a lot better shape). When the dark clouds had lifted, I told Chris, and he got tougher with me and pushed me harder.
When I got back from my sabbatical, I kept up the running I’d taken up. Weight lifting or other strength training I let slip. By the time January 1, 2013 came around, I realized I needed more energy and that my weight was creeping up.
So I made a commitment, inspired by Michael Moore’s walking every day for 30 minutes, to do some kind of exercise every day this year. Something Moore wrote really clicked for me. it was about walking every day to feel better, not walking to lose weight or look better–even though those things happened as by-products.
It’s not about “getting better.” It’s about not trying to get better. It’s just participating in a process. And it has been tremendously liberating.
I went back to the gym without the old intimidation feelings being triggered. And without the “there’s something wrong with my body [and therefore me] and I need to fix it [and thereby me]” crap going on. It’s been quite fun.
Sometimes I slip into comparing my body to those of others, or getting mad at myself for not having reached an impossible ideal. But I recognize it and can step out of that internal quagmire.
And I have lost some weight. And I do have more energy.
And as of today, I’ve done some kind of exercise every day for 69 days. Not bad.