Function over Fat

02.04.08: Focus on how your body feels when it's moving, not so much on how it looks.

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I've recently realized that what SHOULD be a primary motivating factor for getting me to exercise—that is, my own extra body weight—has turned into a deterrent. It's a subtle nagging feeling I have that when I get up and move myself around, I simply look ridiculous. When I'm running (or walking fast), for instance, I feel my thighs rubbing together and bouncing around, and think everyone else must be looking at me and judging me. When I'm lifting weights, I look in the mirror and see only blobby triceps and the mounds of extra pounds obscuring my glutes—I figure that's all anyone else can see, too. I push myself into downward facing dog, get a good look at my hanging-down gut, and consider how very unyogic my eating practices have become. What must the super-fit yogini on the next mat over think? What would Patanjali think?

It's oh-so-adolescent, I realize, to carry on in this self-obsessed manner. Who cares? But that's how it is: On the inside, I have the body-image issues of a 12-year-old. And on some subconscious level, I feel too fat to exercise.

What tipped me off to the pattern is this: There's a local gym chain running a post-New Year's ad campaign that shows a woman on a treadmill transmogrifying from fat to fit in 60 seconds. The TV spot is shot low and from behind—purposely unflattering. The model starts out wearing lots of layers, moving slow, eyes and head down, looking very sad and schlumpy. As the ad progresses, she gets lighter and tighter, shedding pounds and layers of clothing and fat, until—at the end—she emerges fit, happy, halfway undressed, and unafraid now to make eye contact with the camera. Ta-da!

Huh. Now, the girl in the ad doesn't start out all that fat. In fact, her "before" state looks a lot like the very best of my "after" state (which peaked late last summer). I'd peg her at 140 in the beginning, maybe in the after—not exactly obese. Still, the message—not exactly subliminal in this case—is clear. If you're carrying around a little extra junk in your trunk, hide yourself. Be ashamed.

That's a message I'd already absorbed, I realized, wholeheartedly, from a lifetime of such media handiwork—so much so that the ad's corollary message, "and come to the gym" had begun to seem like an impossibility. Seeing this particular ad made me feel a little angry, in that feminist way—angry enough to bring my own antifeminist self-talk to my conscious mind (thanks, Court South!).

Now that I realize it, I can do something about it, which is this: Every time I catch myself feeling ridiculous or ashamed or judged, I shift my focus quickly to how my body FEELS and functions rather than on how it looks. I remember that every time it moves and breathes, it's doing me a service—it's what lets me hug my beautiful Truman, after all. By exercising it I'm returning the favor. If negative self-talk pops into my head, I counter with a little affirmation: "My body is a gift; I treasure it."

Meanwhile, to reduce my own misery factors I skip gazing into the wall of mirrors while I pump my iron or tromp on the treadmill. I find peaceful corners of the gym to do my lunging and stretching. I remember that yoga is not a competition, that the only mat that matters is my own. And I take a cue from my coffee mug and dance like nobody's watching.