I’ve never liked working out or going to a gym. I conditioned as part of growing up as a competitive dancer, but I much preferred the actual dancing to the wall sits and planks. That was where I could have fun and express myself, though I understand why targeted strength was needed to hit skills.
There have been times in my life though where I felt pressure to work out. I would start for a day or two doing exercises, trying to unrealistically tone my muscles and shape to their pre-pubescent states, but by the end of the week I would give up on the exercise routine. Often, these spontaneous exercise regimens were because I didn’t like the shape of my current body, and I wanted to be in a smaller body again.
I am currently in my biggest body. I understandably don’t have the same body I had in high school, and I don’t even have the same body I had in college. And I’m working on being OK with that. I know bodies naturally come in all shapes and sizes. I know bodies fluctuate and change over time. I know my worth is inherent and not tied to the size of my body. And I know being in a smaller body doesn’t even necessarily mean healthy or being in a bigger body doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy. But I also know it is normal and valid to struggle with these body size changes.
Personally, I am the heaviest I’ve ever been. Yet, I’m also the healthiest I’ve ever been. This includes a wide number of aspects of health, such as both physical and mental health. I’ve likely gained weight for a variety of reasons, including aging, taking mental health medication, and going on birth control. I can’t stop aging, and I need these medications for both my health and to live by my values. Sure, in college, I was in a smaller body, but I was chronically depressed and extremely stressed out. When I look at pictures, I notice that yes, I look smaller, but I also look miserable.
I’ve been thinking about my body’s weight and shape a lot during coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine. I barely moved for several months since I could no longer participate in community theater and mostly stayed home. However, this week, I started moving a lot more again as part of working at a summer day camp. And my body hurts. My muscles ache, I have sore tendons, and I have pains I can’t even name. I wasn’t used to moving much, let alone running around for hours with kids.
It’s tempting to see this as an opportunity to get back into shape and to have a smaller body again. After all, I’ll be moving for several hours, five days a week. But I won’t allow myself to go there. I’m nipping this one in the bud. Sure, I will probably get stronger over the course of the summer. I may lose weight, and I may even notice a change in how my clothes fit, but that is not my goal or why I’m moving my body.
When I move my body, it is not as a punishment or to earn food. I will not let myself see exercise as currency for earning food, worth, love, satisfaction, or whatever it is your brain tells you that you have to earn. I move my body for activities that bring me joy. I enjoy being able to leap to catch a ball or run to play tag with the kids. Once theater starts up again, I will move my body because I love dancing, not as an exercise regimen. I move my body because I want to see what my body can do. I want to see how high I can jump or how fast I can run or how flexible I can stretch.
Some people love running or doing squats, and some people do not. I do not enjoy these things, so I won’t do them just to be in a smaller body. Some people love doing ballet and stretching, and some people do not. I do, so I will do them because I enjoy moving my body in these ways.
Movement is an act of joy, or at least it should be. I want it to be for me.
For more, read Morgan’s personal essay on her changing body, “Taking Up Space”