Keep It Smart

My father thinks I’m stubborn. He comes to that conclusion whenever I don’t agree with him. That is his sole criteria.

I won’t accept stubborn, but I will own rebellious. And lately, I’ve been turning my rebellion on exercise because I hate the place exercise now occupies. I hate that in coffee house chatter I hear endless comparisons of Yoga and Pilates and Boot Camp and the Barre Method. I hate that exercise has become a pawn of the beauty culture rather than a result of health concerns, that exercise is now the equivalent of a fashion accessory.

As a child I was a hardcore athlete, a tomboy of my era when few girls pursued athletics. For me it was all about the love of sport, the game, the play, the movement through space, the power of training and work and determination.

Just when I was at my peak, approaching seventeen as a tournament tennis player, my body rebelled. Within three days, I couldn’t lift my arm. Pain radiated down my neck and back. Plagued by headaches, I iced and heated, rested and massaged. I visited orthopedists, acupuncturists, chiropractors. My body was poked and adjusted, injected and manipulated. But it wouldn’t give. My body had had enough.

“I’m sorry I used that extreme grip for my serve. If I return to a more traditional one, can I have my shoulder back?” I negotiated.

But my body remained silent, answering only with continued pain.

Aimless, robbed of my athlete identity, and in constant agony, I became a sloth. Arriving home each day from school, I parked myself in front of the TV, ambled through my homework, and ate ice cream straight from the container.

Seven months and fifteen pounds later, I woke up in a foreign shell. Thanks to the prompting of an accidental encounter with the book Long Run Solution, I began to run. A lot. I started at four miles as only an obsessive competitor would. Within two months, I was up to between seven and eleven miles per day and was running on my high school’s cross-country team. Three days per week I added a morning training run before school. I was possessed.

Within six months I was hobbling around on aching knees. I clearly have no relationship with moderation.

The world of sport has changed dramatically since my youth. The term ‘tomboy’ has virtually faded away, at least in referring to an athletically inclined girl, as women and girls now participate widely. So this is all good, right? Hmmm.

In the adult world, the emphasis of exercise is on appearance over health. Accomplishments aren’t measured by mile times or pounds of weights but by pant sizes and pounds on scales.

I see this broadening of exercise as an odd ‘dumbing down’ of the modern woman. It’s one thing to choose to exercise for whatever your reasons are, but how many would put in the disproportionate time – and then talk about it incessantly afterwards – if it weren’t for the outrageous emphasis on beauty and appearance in today’s society? Through the mass marketing of exercise and the elusive perfect body, women are encouraged to focus on the shape of their thighs and the fluctuations of their weight with far greater passion than art or music or literature or anything. If we got the same praise and attention for books read as we do for our form, would we all be racing to libraries?

Exercise and sport are a good thing. My participation in athletics gave me structure and confidence as a youth. The fact that playing sports is now easily available and socially acceptable for girls and women is wonderful, but the obsession with which many women now focus on exercise makes me avoid every conversation on the topic that I can. Call me rebellious, but I prefer the solitary run with no one to talk to, where I can sweat and think and tell no one about it.


Willie Baronet said...

Excellent, as usual. :-) I really like your writing. And I think you're stubborn. ;-) ::kidding::

Anonymous said...

the emphasis of exercise is on appearance over health. Accomplishments aren’t measured by mile times or pounds of weights but by pant sizes and pounds on scales.


Also, gyms are some of the most dreary places in the world, which explains their high dropout rate.

I recommend people take up an activity to compete in instead. Active competition brings out the best in people and is much bigger motivator than dropping a pant size.

You'd think from the way Americans obsess about their health and diet, they would be the fittest people in the world.

Emily said...

When I was visiting a friend in Sweden, I enjoyed the way neighborhood and community was set up so that you walked. Exercise is integrated into daily life rather than something you need to go and do. Here in the U.S. it seems it's easiest just to walk to the car.

Anonymous said...

"... exercise is now the equivalent of a fashion accessory."

What a great analogy. I completely agree. With young kids at home, I've lost the time to keep up with fashion -- on so many levels. Though I have to say, I yearn to indulge sometime soon ... in moderation.