I got a lovely complement yesterday. It felt like it came totally out of the blue and I don’t even think it was actually intended as a complement.
I had just finished teaching Barre Conditioning at the gym and was in the locker room. One of my regular students, who I’d never had the opportunity to talk to before, asked me whether I had any other classes on the schedule and then blurted out “what do you do?”. I started to go through my laundry list of jobs and she interrupted with “no, like what do you do? You look really fit”.
Ummm, thanks! I told her I run and dance and do yoga and Pilates. I also said that I used to really be a gym rat and “exercise” a ton but these days I just stay very active in general without necessarily “working out” hard.
This conversation stayed with me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because I was flattered and surprised.
The student was a beautiful young woman with a very small frame and who I think most people would consider ‘in shape’ by virtue of her thinness. I, on the other hand, have often in my life felt like people don’t see me as ‘in shape’ by virtue of my thickness.
My body is awesome and serves me very well but it is not the kind of body that has often solicited admiration from random (thin) women.
On the contrary, when I lived in Peru my response to the inevitable ”what do you do” (in the job sense, not the workout sense ) was “I’m a personal trainer/dancer/group exercise instructor”. This would almost always (and especially by men) be met with a slow and thorough up and down examination of my body and then some sort of surprised comment about how they wouldn’t have guessed. Admittedly I was carrying few pounds more than I prefer when I lived there but I was also running more than I ever had in my life so I was absolutely fit and in shape. Sadly, most people seemed to see my thickness rather than my fitness.
Now, I know I am not a big woman. But I am thick. My bones are broad and dense and my muscles like to be big and strong. For the most part I am more than okay with this. I won’t pretend for a second that at times I haven’t wished for more inches here (I’m 5 foot 3!) or less there but overall I have always been grateful that my body is strong and proportional and I am fond of my muscle tone and athletic build.
The other thought brought on by this little locker room interaction was about how much my body image and relationship with exercise has changed and improved over the last ten years.
I used to work out hard and as a result I was hungry so I would eat a lot. In retrospect I feel like I spent my twenties in a tug-of-war with my body. Regular hard workouts would tug it one way and then the resulting refueling would pull it back the other direction. I was strong and fit and healthy but not always thrilled with the way my body felt or looked and frustrated at an appetite that was hard to keep up with. I was proud of my fitness but wasn’t fully embracing my thickness.
Over the last several years I’ve lightened up on the exercise and as a result my appetite has decreased. And I just may be in the best shape of my life, both in the actual shape of my body and in my energy levels, overall health, and endurance. I feel like both ends of the rope have gently let go and rather than crashing down into the mud pit, I calmly stepped away from the whole game. I still eat plenty but it’s nice to be able to go several hours without needing to refuel, although I definitely still notice an increase in appetite when I do exercise especially hard. I’m active, almost everyday, but many days I am satisfied with a long walk or a quick yoga session or teaching a class whereas years ago that wouldn’t have necessarily “counted” as my daily exercise.
Lastly, I think this conversation struck me because it made me realize how rarely we make comments/complements on each others bodies. I have been known to shout out to a passing runner that she had awesome legs but more often than not the complements I give are of the I Like Your Earrings/Shirt/That Color On You/Hair/Nail Polish variety. Perhaps we are worried that straight-up commenting on someones body will make them self-conscious? Or is it that there is so much envy/jealously/comparison surrounding people’s bodies (especially among women, let’s be real)? Is it that we are concerned it could be misconstrued as sexual? Like we’re not supposed to notice someones beautiful body unless we want to touch it? Have you been complemented on your body? I’m not talking about the sort of generic “you look great” but rather a direct reference to your physical shape. Do you regularly give out this type of complement?
So if you haven’t gotten complemented on your body lately, now’s your chance to brag on yourself. What’s your favorite thing about your physical body? What makes your proud? What do you like to show off?
I am small breasted and like to wear v-necks and lower cut tops to show off my collarbones and tan chest. I also like that my stomach is muscular yet soft and feminine. Your turn!