I had to give myself a little tough love earlier this week. It turns out I’ve been nurturing some pretty negative body image thoughts without really realizing it.
Let me start at the beginning.
I will only be taking a carry-on sized bag (plus a backpack) on our six-month around the world trip. Since space will be tight I have become obsessed with ensuring that everything going in my bag can serve more than one purpose. For example: shoes that work for both nice dinners as well as river rafting, a camera that takes great pictures in bright light as well as 20 feet below water, or a long-sleeved base layer that will keep me warm at high altitude but also shield me from the burning sun. I recently got a pair of athletic shorts that I thought could work for running as well as swimming (when paired with a tank top).
I decided to take my new shorts for a test run.
I’ve always hiked, biked and run in capris length shorts (pants?). When I was larger my thighs rubbed together so much that shorts would ride up between my legs and I’d constantly have to stop to readjust things. I guess I grew comfortable with this longer style and so it is what I have worn ever since.
I threw on my new shorts to head out for a run. I caught a glimpse of myself as I walked past the full-length mirror on my way out the front door…and stopped dead in my tracks.
Do my thighs really jiggle that much?!?
That is what I thought as I danced and shuffled in front of the mirror, mesmerized by the wiggle and jiggle unfolding before my eyes. I guess I’d never really studied what my thighs look like when in motion.
When I weighed 130+ pounds more than I do today everything was packed nice and tight. My arms, thighs and calves had stretched my skin to the breaking point (and I have the stretch marks to prove it). They didn’t jiggle so much as they swayed – like perfectly cooked, plump and juicy kielbasa sausages. Now, although I have toned muscles underneath, there is a lot of excess loose skin and remaining cellulite that has room to romp and play.
“I can’t go out in public like this!” I thought.
I did an about-face and headed back into my bedroom to change into my tried and true capris workout pants. “I jiggle, therefore I am” ran through my mind. I had seen that as a slogan in a memorable video (see below) that is part of a fabulous campaign in the U.K. called “This Girl Can” aimed at encouraging women to get over their fear of judgment, get out and get active.
I took a deep breath and forced myself to head out the door in my new “short” shorts. I spent my run trying to figure out what had come over me. I was never self-conscious of what I looked like exercising when I was obese, so why would I care now? I think I figured that when people saw me they thought “Oh, look at that fat girl exercising. Good for her.” Or even, “If she can do it, maybe I can too.” (Others likely had less generous thoughts, but they weren’t worth my time or energy.)
Somehow the fact that I was easy to label (fat girl trying her best) made me feel more comfortable in my own skin.
Now I look like a relatively healthy sized person that is in mediocre shape. But, I have lots of loose skin and flesh on my arms, back, stomach and thighs that wiggles and jiggles in unexpected ways. That is much harder to characterize or label. “Oh, look at that girl exercising…she’s…well, huh, I don’t quite know what’s going on there.” Apparently, this makes me self-conscious. Who knew?
At some point in my journey I had gone from a fierce “take me as I am” mentality to a “let me just cover that up so you nice people don’t have to look at it” mentality. Not cool.
I jiggle, therefore I am. I kept replaying that over and over in my head as I ran.
By the end of my five-mile run I had come to terms with myself and gotten my head on straight. So what if my arm skin flutters and my thighs rapidly slosh around when I move? Those imperfections are a badge of honor. They represent the hours of hard work I have put in to become healthier and more active. I shouldn’t be ashamed of them; I should celebrate them and show them off! So, I’m packing my new shorts on our trip and my thighs are going to wiggle and jiggle all over the Southern Hemisphere. I’m okay with that.
And the next time my arm flaps make a racket by slapping against my upper back as I scramble over boulders and tree roots on my next trail run – I’m going to think of it as my own private cheering crowd clapping in encouragement…because I pretty much rock!