I’ve always hated my stomach.
Hate is such a terrible word, and I try to use it sparingly. But it was a good hook, and something I think many women can relate to. My family traditionally carries weight in the stomach, and though I run 100 miles a week faithfully and do core work every day, my stomach will probably never be what I want it to be. The saddest part is that though I’ve never struggled with a true eating disorder, photographs of my stomach tend to reveal something far more appealing than what I see daily in my mirror.
Needless to say when Salty threw out her “shirtless challenge” in “Running Fashion Police: Going Shirtless!” I wanted to crawl under my bed and hide. In a baggy sweatshirt.
But DB had been bugging me about the same thing. He’s never understood my stomach obsession; he sees what appears in the photographs. We’ve had unseasonably (and unreasonably) high temperatures, and I’ve been doing three very hot long runs per week. And it sounded soooooo appealing to get that drippy tank off. But the minute I was out of our driveway, I felt naked. Naked and exposed.
I wanted to run my nekkid stomach home as fast as I possibly could. But instead, I forced myself to keep going. Down. The. Street.
And an amazing thing happened.
No one laughed. No one stared. No one pointed.
In fact, no one really looked at me at all. Just like I don’t really look at anyone else.
Actually, I see women of countless different shapes and sizes in nothing but sports bras every day. And even when the woman is significantly larger than me (which isn’t hard, given my frame), she might be surprised to know what I’m really thinking: “God, I wish I had your confidence.”
So on that run I made a commitment to myself. I made a commitment to myself that (damn it!) I was going to learn to love my body for what it does, not for what it looks like. Whether or not my stomach is problematic in reality is irrelevant. It’s the power I’ve given a single body part to determine my worth that is the real problem.
I’ll be 37 later this year, and I think my generation was the last to have a hope of realistic body image. We had Kelly Kapowski from “Saved by the Bell,” and Brenda Walsh from “90210.” These girls were thin, but they weren’t stick figures. At the same time Tracey Gold (Carol Seaver on “Growing Pains”) was suffering from an eating disorder and Jenny McCarthy was starting to flaunt her rock-hard abs on “Singled Out.” Kate Moss, Shalom Harlow and Amber Valletta were the “It Girls” by the time I made it to college, and by the time I was out airbrushing 20 pounds off magazine cover models was the norm. Make no mistake: it’s gotten harder to look good. And good is actually bad. And kind of gross.
As women we live in a cruel culture. Magazines lie, celebrities lie, and we’re “told” that this is good. That this is what we want to look like when no one even looks like that at all! I mean, did you hear about the ridiculously airbrushed March 2012 cover of Vogue on which Adele magically dropped 30 or so pounds? Did you know that six-pack abs can be airbrushed and highlighted onto a live body and that celebrities have partaken of this service on beach jaunts or at concerts where they’re likely to be photographed? And you do realize that double-Spanxing is more than a little common on the red carpet, right? I’m not talking Christian Grey spanking, ladies – I’m talking about those girdle-like panties that convince the rest of us that not having a tight belly three weeks after pregnancy (or even a hamburger) is a sign of laziness or gluttony.
But don’t kid yourself. You know it happens to runners too. You know you’ve checked your training partner out. Or coveted someone else’s abs or legs or seemingly perfect upper body. You’ve ogled the perfect physiques of the pros. And more likely than not, you’ve allowed it to suggest you’re a) not working hard enough or b) eating too much.
Me? Yeah, I could have some of it. I could stop watching two episodes of “The Office” with dinner every night and do more upper body work instead. I could cut some of the sugar and summer cocktails and squeeze off just one or two more pounds, which would hopefully be that “family weight” hovering on my stomach. But you know what? I don’t want to. I work hard. I work out almost 20 hours per week right now, and that’s it. That, my friends, is enough. And at the end of the week, I’m not giving up pizza and mojitos on Saturday night over a stupid obsession.
So with that, I’m issuing an addendum to the “Run Shirtless” challenge. And I’m asking all of you to try it with me for a week. It’s a very simple challenge to DO; the trick will be getting it to sink in.
Whatever your current workout routine is, do it. Add nothing new, but take nothing away. Eat a healthful diet. Drink adequate water. Enjoy an indulgence or two.
DO NOT beat up on your stomach, your arms, your saddlebags. Or your bum, or the loose skin on your arms, or your lack of defined biceps.
When this happens, your mission is to SAY OUT LOUD: “I love my body for what it does, not what it looks like.”
How empowering is that simple phrase? I love my body for what it does, not what it looks like.
Has your body fought cancer? Delivered children? Lost weight? Forgiven you for years of unhealthful eating, drug or alcohol use or sheer neglect? Transformed itself into a runner’s body?
Because if you’re out there running, you’re living in a runner’s body.
So love your body for what it does, not what it looks like. Let’s do it together and see what happens. I’ll try if you will.
Tell me, Salty Readers: will you take the challenge?