Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Decorational Athlete

There's this chic in my spin class.  The first time I saw her, I was sure she was a triathlete.  She just has that look - confident on the bike, disciplined, buff beyond belief.  Then, the other day, I realized that I only see her lifting weights or spinning.  I never see her run or swim.  That doesn't mean anything, necessarily, but then, it occurred to me - maybe she's a decorational athlete.   You know, a person who is serious about fitness, training and nutrition but for the singular purpose of how it makes them look.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with it - its just a value system that I've been trying to get away from.  That the way you look is the primary goal to any endeavor. 

When I was a teenager and a young woman, I didn't care if something was healthly, only that it wouldn't make me fat.  I smoked, I ate crap just because it was "fat free" (shows you how much we knew back then), I exercised - but it was always about how it would make my legs look or my arms or my abs or my butt.  Most women and many men are obsessed with these things.   We live in a society which prizes appearance over nearly everything else.  Beauty = power.  Its exhausting.  Because not all of us can be beautiful - at least by our narrow cultural standards.  And those who are beautiful realize only too soon that beauty fades - at least the kind that is defined by youthfulness.  I've met Boston Marathon runners that have gotten boob jobs, Ironmen who obsess about their body fat percentage, cyclists who worry what their thighs look like in a pair of jeans.  And me.  Before I got pregnant, I was hoping to lose yet another ten pounds so that I could get my body fat down and be lighter and, therefore, faster.  Truth be told, the "faster" excuse was just a cloy for my own desire to be closer to the "cultural image" of beauty.  Now, I wish I could just lose the last ten to get me back to where I was.  And, next year, I'll probably be back worrying at the next ten pounds, right where I started. 

When does it stop?  One of the things I love about Crossfit is that it focuses on performance not appearance.  If you can do the pullup - you win.  Who cares what your back looks like while you do it.  Racing is much the same.  Though there are competitions within the ranks - silent, appraising competitions where each athlete compares his or her body to the one beside them - the bottom line is finishing time.  Whoever makes it across the line first wins.  They don't have a scale or calipers at the finish line to separate the buff from the average.  It doesn't matter if you look like a winner.  And for those of us in the back-middle of the pack, the ultimate test is how we run ( or swim or bike) compared with how we did it last time.  Did we beat our record?  Or did we feel better than we've ever felt or go farther than we've ever gone?  Objective, comforting numbers. 

Back in September, 2007, I found someone inside myself that I didn't know was there.  She was strong, she was powerful - and those things made her beautiful.  I began to find my legs attractive because of what they could do not how they looked.  Sure, it was cool to see all those muscles but what was cooler was that they could carry me across a fifty mile bike ride or a ten mile run or an Oly distance tri.  They could take me places I never thought I could go.  I wish that feeling had been permanent, but, unfortunately, the old patterns creep in.  I want to get back to that place where Power = Beauty, not the other way around.  And power, friends, is out there if you're only willing to grab it.  Let that be my New Year's Resolution - to strive to embrace my power and not my desire to be a knick knack.  Let someone else be a decoration - I want to be a Phoenix.


Vickie said...

I understand what you are trying to say but have to wonder how many others would? So many women and men go to the gym and you can tell then don't have a clue what it takes to be fit because they are only trying to achieve a look. I think one thing we learn from endurance sports, if nothing else, is that while we may think we don't compare with others based on weight or shape, once you cross that finish line you suddenly realize I did this and I didn't even look like her/him. For myself, I always think I look better than most women my age but I still don't look as good as some, and that's what keeps me motivated to not slack off.

21stCenturyMom said...

Well said. I appreciate my body more now than I ever had but I can't say as I've gotten away from wanting to have an admirable ass. I don't think that ever goes away completely. Hopefully I'm wrong about that!