What’s a Body Really For?
A journey from legwarmers to breathtaking vistas.
I recently attended a wedding in Sedona, Arizona, a majestic place with red rock mountain formations and blue-sky vistas. The wedding party was limited to 10 people and held outdoors due to the “new normal” of social distancing.
My husband and I, adorned in the colors of the wedding, arrived at the transport pickup lot according to the instructions on the invitation. A van shuttled us to the wedding location. Exiting the van, we looked around in confusion as the others began changing into tennis shoes. The groom, noting our bewildered expressions, said with embarrassment, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, we are hiking to the wedding spot.” Minor detail.
Here’s my point in telling this story: I didn’t panic. I knew I could handle the winding obstacle course of red boulders around sagebrush and cacti about a half-mile up to the vista where our friends would share their vows. I was the oldest in the wedding party, nearly 60, yet no one there doubted my ability to make the climb. I enjoy the fitness activities I routinely participate in: cycling, walking, swimming, and strength training. I like feeling strong and able to embrace the adventures that life affords me. Besides physical training, I also eat for energy, clarity of mind, and the confidence to power through my busy days.
This wasn’t always true for me. There were times in my life when attending that wedding might have been difficult. Not just because of my fitness level but also my body shame and lack of confidence.
At one part of the trail to the vista, a cooperative spirit was required. Someone grabbed my hand and pulled as my husband took up the rear and pushed my bum so I could scale the rock to the next ledge. My dress hiked high, and in my cork wedges to boot! This was fun for me now, not riddled with humiliation. And the view from the top was spectacular!
As I think about this experience, I can’t help but reflect on my historical relationship with my body. I identified as an athlete in the first quarter of my life. As an exercise science major, I entered the fitness industry in the early 80s with Jane Fonda at the helm clad in leotards, leg warmers, and a headband. She had an eating disorder, and so did I.
Exercise was about burning calories and fighting our bodies to stay slim and acceptable. If I went off the rails with my eating, I would quit exercising. When I mustered enough energy to get back on the wagon, I exercised hard, trying to make up for the lost time. It was a difficult, vicious cycle.
Part of healing from an eating disorder is making peace with your body. It requires a caring, collaborative relationship centered on being well and feeling well. As an eating disorder specialist, I work with bodies of all shapes and sizes and live in one on the larger side. In my professional and social circles, the fitness/wellness industry is seen as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a mere disguise used by the diet industry to perpetuate weight and size discrimination.
My choosing to work out nearly every day is not a commentary on other people’s health behaviors, and it is not intended to trigger someone into disordered eating. I’m motivated by feeling good and not being limited by poor fitness or health. Rather than recoil from the industry that formerly fueled my eating disorder, I embrace it on my terms.
Over the years, many clients have expressed grief upon reaching retirement age and finding themselves trapped and immobilized by a body abused or neglected as part of their eating disorder. They lament having to wait in the bus while others take the cruise excursions, wishing they could climb the steps of the Colosseum in Italy, or simply the inability to get down on the floor with their grandkids for fear of not being able to get back up. I know there will be a time when my body will no longer do what I want it to do or take me where I want to go, but I will do anything within my power to delay that, and I will do it because I love to move and breathe deeply. My body is no longer about size or weight, but rather a vehicle to take me to breathtaking vistas.