Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Reasons I Probably Maybe Ought to Go to the Gym:

  1. Climbing three flights of stairs to get home
  2. Feeling tired–a lot
  3. Getting out of bed in the morning, which shouldn’t really be that hard
  4. Building strength, which I strongly suspect will help my ankle recover
  5. Skating with zero stamina
  6. Spending $20 a month for a gym membership that I don’t use
  7. Dancing
  8. Aching body parts, pretty much every day
  9. Sweating–enough said
  10. Jiggling my belly like a bowlful of jelly, which is only okay if I were Santa
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Excuses

Reasons I use to convince myself to skip the gym:

1.       You’re hungry; go home and eat dinner.
2.       You’ve had a hard day; go home and relax.
3.       You have too much to do at home.
4.       It’s Wednesday. Isn’t it better to make a fresh start on a Monday?
5.       What if your workout clothes don’t fit?
6.       It’s too cold outside.
7.       It’s too hot outside.
8.       It’s dark.
9.       Your ___ hurts too much.
10.   Maybe you’ll hurt your ___ again.
11.   You haven’t shaved.
12.   Your skin is dry. Maybe it’ll itch when you sweat.
13.   You don’t have music to listen to.
14.   You didn’t write a workout plan.
15.   You don’t have any snacks to eat afterward.

Gym Barbie

The day of our first boot camp, the original derby wife and I approach the training room at our YMCA. The metal door has a small square window placed at eye level, like the door of a padded room. One nervous look through the window shows us that it is, indeed, a padded room. The floor’s covered in 2-inch thick exercise mats. Weights and other devices of torture line the walls.

Despite our own self-protective instincts, we walk into the room to meet our instructor. We take great care to brief her on our special needs: Wifey has short bones and a hypermobile body; I broke my tailbone playing roller derby like a boss. She can’t do certain arm exercises; I’m allergic to lunges.

Class begins with a series of exercises; remarkably, we keep up. This isn’t so bad. I can do this. Then Instructor explains that this was our warm-up. Wait. This was just the warm-up? Should I be ready to go home already?

I’m looking longingly at my water bottle when Gym Barbie enters the room. Just as I’m wondering if it means anything that already I would trade State secrets for a drink, she breezes in without a care and joins us on the mats. I drink it all in; her skinny frame, her shiny hair, her skin-tight crop pants, her halter-style sports bra. Christ, the swoosh of her Nikes matches the graceful swoop of pink ribbon on her pants. She doesn’t even bother putting up her hair before jumping in.
Class continues; I flail my parts around roughly the same way Instructor demonstrated. My body pulses with pain and exhaustion. I hear grunting. Is someone whining? Wait, that’s all me. Gym Barbie isn’t grunting. Rather than dragging deep, erratic breaths in through her mouth like a dying mummy, she’s taking controlled breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth. Her exhales are cute little bursts of air, almost a whistle.
We begin a new set of exercises with one-minute planks. I plant my palms on the mat and lift up onto my toes. In fascination, I watch as sweat rains off my face. My hands struggle to say in place; they squeak against the mat as my wet palms slide outward. I sneak a look at Gym Barbie; she looks like she could stay like this all day. Not only is she not pouring sweat all over the mat, but her hair is hanging around her head, dry as when she walked in the door.
Burn the witch.
Now Instructor wants us to do tricep dips. I wedge myself in front of a chair, palms on its seat, doing a sort of reverse pushup. I am no longer in control of the noises coming from my body. Gym Barbie is still breathing steadily. Finally, she emits a noise that hints at how hard we’re working. A tiny little grunt, followed by stacatto syllables timed perfectly with her little dips, “Woo! I…hun…ger…for…the pain!”
I can’t decide whether she represents what I hope to someday be, if her presence pushes me to perform better, or if she exists merely to taunt me with what I can never be. I do know one thing for sure.

I hate her.

My Ass, The Sequel

Paper towels … check.
Shampoo … check.
Birthday card for brother … check.
Pair of jeans … Here we go.
I put off this part of my Target mission until last. My pear-shaped frame—a term I didn’t know until it was bestowed upon me while shopping for jeans—was particularly hard to fit.
My plan is simple: lowered expectations. If I don’t emerge with a pair of jeans, no big deal, I’ve accomplished my other goals, crossed plenty off my list.
I navigate the forest of too-close racks overstuffed with cheap clothes. Fortune smiles on me; I only knock one thing down before finding the rack of jeans that will cover my bull-in-a-china-shop ass. I find a dark wash in my size and place it gently in my cart, because that’s how I roll. Next, I add a pair of skinny jeans, because I believe in torturing myself.
Maybe I’ve been too judgey about the skinny jean. People can change; so could jeans. Everyone wears them; there must be something good about them.
I sidle up to the lone woman manning the dressing room: a factory for naked women squeezing into mass-produced clothing. I can almost smell the frustration and sweat from the Gatekeeper’s booth. She stands, cuddling a gigantic stack of clothing, over which her lackluster, apathetic eyes spy me. With a sigh, she reaches across her desk and hands me a plastic-colored card that she won’t pay attention to later.
Once inside my dim room, I kick off my shoes, pull off my jeans. After a quick glance at the mirror, I rush to cover my pasty, almost-translucent, thigh-touching legs with the skinny jeans.
Noooope.
Hell no.
Fuck no.
I don’t know who these were made for, maybe no one. They take the worst parts of me and magnify them. I look in the mirror with disgust; I’m pretty sure they defy all laws of physics.
Next!
I hitch the other pair over my hips and button the waistband. They’re snug, but I can still breathe comfortably. A good sign. I take a good look in the mirror: top to bottom. I squeeze the roll of fat above my belly button. When did that get there?I remember, like a year or two ago, it was almost gone. Suck in your breath. Does it go away? Not even close.
I turn around, contorting my neck like an owl to check out the view from the back. Fuck! Backfat?
Sneaky bastard.
I mean, knew it was there all along. I could feel it, but to see it up close like this … Quickly, I move my eyes downward.
Hunh. Look at dat ass.Shapely. Round and juicy. Perky, even. Just to be sure, I turn the other way, ogle it from another angle. Nope; it’s true. I have a damn fine ass.
Oh, I am buying these jeans. And every pair in this store.

Ode to my Ass

Exhausted and relieved, I crashed back to the exercise mat. It was fifth grade gym class, and we had just completed a minute-long sit-up test. I had cranked out more than most in my class. The boy next to me, however, was only aware of the tremors in the mat radiating from my last one.
“Geez, ease up on the Ho-Hos, why don’t you?”

But I’ve never even had a Ho-Ho. 

Indignation, shame, anger all coursed through me and flushed my cheeks. That boy radiated judgement and assumptions. I knew he was wrong … about most of it. Of course, I said nothing in my own defense. Instead, I mentally added sit-up vigor to a growing list of body-conscious issues to worry over.

Such an encounter was nothing new. As early as first grade, I towered over most of my class, including the boys. In the second grade, my girth caught up to my height. Sometime around third grade, it began to outstrip my height. Next to cute, petite little girls, I felt like Shrek with my supersized body. I became ashamed of the space I took up. I learned to suck in my breath, shrink into myself, pull in my arms and legs tight, try to occupy no more space than an average person. It was my burden to carry, along with all that extra me.

Then skating and roller derby came barreling into my life. I had dreams of becoming a graceful, nimble skater like Suzy Hotrod or Francey Pants. I went to bouts and imagined myself jamming through tight spaces, lapping the pack. This was the skater in my head. In the rink, though, I still felt clumsy and unsure. I didn’t skate like anyone I knew, certainly not like anyone I admired.
At Rollercon, I attended an on-skates seminar, “Does This Make My Butt Look Big?” Like a bird puffing up its feathers to look intimidating, our goal was to make our asses more intimidating, into the biggest obstacles they could be. I was a natural. For the first time, I wasn’t focused on defying the laws of physics. Quite the opposite; I unfolded from myself. Years of self-consciousness melted away. This is what my ass was born to do.
At practice a few months later, I was struggling with a drill. As usual, I was caught up in where to put my feet, wishing they were quick and nimble. After a particularly disappointing performance, our coach for the drill, Ivanna Schoop, skated up to me.
“You know, you have so much power; I would love to see you harness it. Use that leg of yours, with all its strength, to push those bitches out of your way.”

Power? Me?

Dazed, I skated away from Schoopie on a cloud.

On the car ride home, I mulled over her words. I would probably never be fast and nimble like Lola Blow or Queefer Sutherland. With just a few words, the imaginary skater in my head was hip-checked right off the track. Another skater was forming in her place. She uses her ass like a weapon, harnesses her mass and strength for offense and defense. She may not zip through tight spaces between skaters, but she makes her own holes on the track. This skater holds her own valuable place on the team.

So what if my ass knocked things off shelves in a store? It could OWN a bitch out on the track. So it took me ages to track down a pair of jeans with enough fabric to cover that juicy butt. Nobody was getting past it on the track. So what if I towered above the rest of the pack like a giant? I could get loooow. And then? Good luck knocking me down.

Through derby, I stumbled on the most honest relationship with my body I’ve ever had. The transformation was huge, but I didn’t understand it fully until a Derby Lite student told me a story about one of my classes.

“You said something like, ‘with all this mass, I was meant to be a blocker.’ You just owned your body … all of it. It was like you realized the beauty and power in your own body, regardless of its size. It was so inspirational and empowering.”

I remember that moment and several others like it. There was no shame in my body, no apology or vain efforts to make it what it wasn’t. There was only truth and acceptance.

Power.

That student was more right than she knew. It was beautiful.

It was a goddamn miracle.