A few weeks ago, I unloaded about female "fitness" and how our bodies' function as tools has gotten lost in a quest to be thin. Readers responded with their own stories, and what awesome stories they are.
You all are fucking machines! I heard from runners, weight lifters, dancers, basketball players, both male and female. The response to the original post was a litany of jockish body positivity and it was spectacular.
Jezebel commenters CollegeBookworm and Haguenite are rugby enthusiasts. Haguenite writes,
What I love so about rugby is that they don't lie when they tell you anyone can play. Any body type is welcome, and any body type has its ‘use.' If you're tiny and quick, you can run around snagging balls (oh yeah). If you're big, you might be a great prop. If you're tall, you're a great asset for line-outs. We had super skinny girls and large girls and everything in between. And every single one of them was so fucking tough. They wanted to play after getting their heads slammed into the ground, with busted ankles, with hairline fractures in their collar bones. Stupid? Yes. That's why that wasn't allowed. But it was so refreshing to be part of a large group of (young) women who saw their bodies as a means of kicking literal ass, and not as something that stood in the way of true happiness.
And among our ranks here are several accomplished roller derbiers who celebrate their own brand of kicking ass. "Your Mom" of the CT Rollergirls writes of similar bodily acceptance in the knock down drag out world of women's roller derby-
The trick to being a good team (and being a good player - the goal we're all working toward) is a balance between speed, strength, and agility, and keeping an eye on improving on whatever our weak spot may be. We all work on the things we're bad at, and one of the most rewarding things about derby is being able to see measurable progress as you improve. When I started, there were drills that I just couldn't finish, or that I took DAYS to get through. Now, I may not be the first one done, but I finish, and it no longer feels impossible - it's hard, but doable. It feels great, to finish, to keep up, and sometimes to get ahead. And every time I do it, it gets easier. Which, for me, is amazing, and kind of mind-blowing. I had never trained for anything before I started derby. I had never really practiced anything before I started derby, and I had never really challenged myself physically before derby. I've gotten better, and we all are getting better as time goes on….
My roommate called me a jock not that long ago, and I was taken aback - I'd never thought of myself as a jock before. The possibility had never crossed my mind, but the more I think about it, the more I think maybe I am a jock now. And maybe that's awesome.
Slaybelle had a similar positive experience with derby-
Derby premiered in Philly the year I turned 30 and I was at their first match, ever, when they were still putting on joke themed matches and trying to get off the ground. I knew, immediately, that I wanted to play. I had loved roller skating when I was a kid and I was what people used to fondly call ‘a scrapper', so skating + hitting people seemed like an excellent outlet for my aggressive tendencies.
It wasn't until I started playing that I really switched my view of my body from this thing I inhabited to a machine that I used. I was taller and bigger than a lot of girls (for one of the fattest cities in the country, our RD team is one of the tiniest groups of girls in the entire WFTDA) so I was a natural fit as a blocker, and I could deliver a mean hit, I had good balance and was tough to take down, and I took up more space on the track, which means it took a bit more effort to get by me. I was not, and have never been, particularly fast or agile, so I got by on brute force to a certain extent.
I've been an aerialist for the past couple of years. I do mostly corde lisse (which is the rope) and some tissu (2 pretty strands of fabric) and the trapeze. It has changed the entire foundation of my body and how it is shaped.
Before Aerials I was a very average 5'4 American in the way my body looked. I had big breasts, big hips, average legs and the non-flat, but not giant, stomach.
After about two years my body was completely changed. My legs and ass are shaped like an athlete. My stomach is now almost completely muscle, with a small layer of fat (so no six-packs, but its rock hard) and my breasts have lifted and shrunk. Or shrunk and lifted.
The (pedestrian) downside to this is that I have serious arms. They don't fit into suit jackets that fit my waist (yay tailoring!) and many cute-girl shirts without stretch in the sleeves or shoulders won't fit me. I also have very prominent trapezius muscles that stick out just below my armpit when I put my arms over my head.
At first, when I noticed this development I was extremely uncomfortable. Having the chubby complex growing up, any bulk on me had a negative connotation. Even if that bulk meant I could lift my body over my head fifty feet up in the air.
I actually stopped caring when I was able to watch my first performance on tape. I realized that when I'm on the rope, my ‘bulkiness' didn't exist; long, lean, stretched out lines did. Watching my back muscle undulate while I flipped around made me really proud of what my body had gone through. Without those muscles I'd be exactly where I was when I first started: struggling to just climb up a few feet.
Even outside of class or performance my bulk isn't actually bad. It's usually only noticed by massage therapists or boyfriends, who almost always find it impressive rather than odd or repulsive. I love the way I look now. It's a strange body type, and not one that is suited for a lot of styles or clothing out there-but it's a source of great pride for me. It's almost like my own unique instrument that I crafted through a million calluses, rope burns, bruises, strained muscles, and adrenaline rushes.
Another reader writes,
I'm a Wakeboarder. My body gets pulled behind a boat at 22mph and I hurdle myself toward a wake to make myself get high into the air and do tricks. I fucking love it. My muscles enable me to do this. My jacked arms hold onto the rope. My strong legs push me off the water. My body pushes itself to a limit so my mind can experience the thrill.
My body doesn't look like the social norm, or the norm within the Wakeboarding world, but all these muscles (and the padding of fat over them) allow me to compete. I can't wear normal sized jackets because my arms are too big, and everything is tight in the shoulders. But, that high from sticking that trick is worth it for me.
Not being able to wakeboard for the past few months has been killing me!
Many of you who wrote indicated that you started working out to lose weight, to be smaller, and that your attitudes evolved as you learned that part of being "fit" is being strong. A reader who wished to remain anonymous writes,
I have always wanted to be more physically fit and, I fully admit, thinner. (And part of that is due to a fat-hating mother, but what can you do? A weird part of me feels like I'm buying into or rewarding something I hate, but I try to ignore it.) But trying these things out within a negative body-hating diet culture never worked for me. I found it depressing and oppressive and viewing a work-out as a punishment was hardly motivating to me. I'm a pretty positive, happy person. I'm known to my friends as a problem-solver and cheerleader.
So almost a year ago, I was watching Buffy-and this is pretty cheesy. I'm not really a competitive, sportsy person. But I am a rookie feminist. And I was watching an episode of a show (a flawed, imperfect show) about a girl running fast, being super fucking strong, and generally being a super-hero. And I thought, I want that. I can do that. I can be a Slayer. And so I started doing Slayer training every day. I started thinking about my body as an amazing gift that I should be training to the best of my ability to be strong, to be fast, and to be healthy. I run as often as possible, I lift weights and do yoga, I drink my eight glasses and get my five a day. And I'm so, so happy.
Of course, I can only speak to my experiences as an young able bodied American woman with access to fitness facilities and there's inherent privilege in that, but "exercise privilege" isn't the only way to appreciate your body as a tool.
Reader 14KgoldNYC writes-
My body is a source of disability, so obviously I have an extremely different take on the whole notion of body acceptance-but I can speak about the body as it performs music. I sing. Much of making beautiful sounds is based on throat/mouth/nose/etc. techniques, but nothing is more important than what you do with your gut. To make the diaphragm/lungs do what is necessary to produce the sounds you want, singers have to have an extraordinary amount of control over their abdominal muscles. That old idiom of the gargantuan soprano acting the consumptive heroine? There's a good reason for it; extra weight tends to put extra resonance and oomph behind the voice. The most biggest operatic roles-think the Ring Cycle, Aida, La Boheme-are written for huge voices, and yes, there is a certain correlation (not strict at all, but definitely there) between large figure and large voice.
A friend of mine used to be a Pilates instructor; one day, after she'd been teaching roughly a year, she asked me why she recently had been singing with less power than she was used to having. I did what all singers do, stuck my hands on various parts of belly and asked her to sing. Answer-she was using her muscles all wrong; her abs were in Pilates formation when she needed to adjust them to vocalizing purposes.
Other readers noted that other activities that are not necessarily "athletic" still rely on the body to perform. Commenter Soybean remarked that buying and remodeling her house has forced her to use her body as a tool. Others chimed in that motherhood has helped them appreciate their bodies. Still others lamented their lack of physical fitness and confusion over how to get started exercising or how to get involved in sports (there will be more on this in the future).
In the meantime, keep moving.