It was as if my body, from the skin in, had been awakened.

Elle on bodybuilding

I ended up being a woman bodybuilder by accident: my husband (a runner) and I walked by a gym in Brooklyn, looked in, were curious, and went in. This was in the 1980s, when women had just begun going to gyms The manager offered me a year membership for $100. How could I resist?

Then, because he was bored at the time of day I went, he trained me. He’d won the Mr. USA contest at some point and he knew what he was doing. You can still find photos of him on the web: Joe Spooner.

The first thing that happened was that I felt parts of my body I’d never experienced before. For instance, the muscles between my ribs got sore. Who knew there were muscles there? It was as if my body, from the skin in, had been awakened.
But the coolest thing was that I woke up to my internal senses. You know, besides the senses that are turned outward, we have sense that are turned in, like balance, sense of time, direction, and temperature. Even the feeling of the difference between simple-pain and injury-pain seems like an internal sense. Do you know the feeling you have when your body is working perfectly, like everything is easy and maybe you’re weightless? You might feel it running or working out, but you might feel it dancing or just walking to the subway. I think that’s an internal sense, too.

The next result, besides fitness, was that I became conscious of another level of body experience and enjoyment. Really, when you think of it, sex is an internal body enjoyment. Appearance may help get you there, but it has nothing to do with what happens next.

Now I do yoga in a class and crossfit with my husband. Both make you feel your whole body, like bodybuilding.

Why #healthies are bullshit… or the one where I humiliate myself for no real reason

Taken (with permission) from Crocuses In The Snow

Type in any of the following into Instagram: #fitspiration, #instafit and the much talked about #healthie and you’ll see the following things: flawless tanned abs, lithe tanned bodies in the crab pose, lycra clad no-sweat-off-my-back plankers and many more.

I know they are supposed to be inspirational and I am all for anything that encourages healthy, happy bodies.

But these images, for me, aren’t inspirational in the slightest. In fact, it’s the opposite. These images make me feel as though my fitness efforts aren’t enough, that because I’m not aiming for a six-pack or doing push-ups in the snow, I may as well give up and go home. They make me feel as if I met these people in real life they’d scoff at everything I achieve, eye my fleshy, still-a-bit-chubby body up and down and make me feel as though I am lying when I say I enjoy working out.

It made me realize that if these images make me feel this way now, three years after starting my own fitness journey, then how are they making those who are starting out now, as so many in January have? They could be online looking for inspiration and come away thinking that world isn’t for them, and give up. So I decided to write something on what fitness means to me, something for those who turn red as a tomato as soon as they step near a treadmill, people who fart in yoga class and for whom the plank means collapsing on your nose after two seconds.

I used to be as exercise hating as you get. An expert note forger, the girl who got her period four times a month or the one who left her kit behind: anything to get out of PE. And if forced, the one at the back of the running group, huffing and puffing, sobbing that she is going to die and, always, always picked last for teams. And bad PE lessons stay with you, they give you the idea that you are simply not one of those ‘fit’ people, so why even try? Leave it to the hockey captain, the 6-minute miler and use it to form bonds with those like you. “Go to the gym? Nah, let’s sit in and eat chocolate instead…” and yeah, living that way was so much fun. But then three reasons forced me out of my slippers and into my trainers:

1, I’ve never really got the whole “does my bum look big in this?” thing – my policy was always, “it’s behind me, why should I care?” I looked at myself straight on in the mirror and was fairly happy with what I saw. But then one day I made the dreaded mistake of looking at myself from behind wearing just a pair of pants. It was a shocking discovery. My bum DID look big in this but worse were the rolls of fat rippling down my back. I didn’t mind the bum (after all, a chubby bum is surely comfier to sit on?) but, I reasoned, the back was a problem: they really should be flat. Alas, my cider years were catching up with me: it was time to lose some weight.

2, I rewatched Titanic and looked at it totally differently. Rose would have had to be pretty fit to run up that boat while it was on such a steep angle and have good upper arm strength to hold onto those railings. If I was in the Titanic, or indeed any other disaster, I wouldn’t survive. I’d be the guy that let go and slid down the boat, thunking on that big metal thing (technical term I’m sure) on the way down.

3, (the main one) I began working for a slimming magazine. Part of my job was to attend fitness classes with health journalists. I once even had to go spinning with Victoria Pendleton. And there is nothing more humiliating than dying by the warm up, surrounded by those who write about fitness for a living. I had to try and match them, or at least get past the warm up.

In the process I learned a lot of ways to trick myself into thinking of myself as a gym person, of changing that voice in my head that told me I was still the fat, ginger kid writing notes with my right hand so that Mrs Sie wouldn’t recognize my handwriting. And here they are…

1, It’s just you

Thinking back to those school day sniggers I spent a lot of time worrying what others would think of me. When out running I’d avoid the nods of fellow runners, scared they’d judge me for how slow I was going. At the gym I wore muddy trainers so others would see me as a ‘serious exerciser’ and I was so ashamed of how red and sweaty I was at the end of classes. But as I went more often and my confidence improved I realized that it didn’t matter what time that person on Facebook got for their run, or if I can’t keep up with the Zumba moves. I was only against myself. I hate looking at myself in the mirror so I don’t: I look at the instructor and the others in class. And doing that makes me realize that everyone else in class is doing the same. They’re as caught up in their own heads as I am.

2, It’s not fun

Sorry, what I really mean is, it’s not always fun. I got this idea in my head that if I found the right activity for me, the one I really enjoyed then exercise would be a doddle. And in a way that’s true – I would not work out if I couldn’t find enjoyment in any of it (which is why I left the yoga class where the instructor whistled at me like a dog) But this attitude left me shocked when, during hard bit of dance class or running up a hill, I found myself out of breath and gasping, and not enjoying this whole exercise malarkey at all. Then I remembered that I was overweight, hadn’t exercised in years and was throwing myself around the room like a mad man, using muscles that had, previously, been enjoying a lounging life. Of course at times it wasn’t going to be fun. But I began to adopt the attitude that if I didn’t enjoy that certain class or that workout then it was only 45 minutes of my life. And that was OK, it’s impossible to have fun all the time.

3, Mental tricks will get you through

The voice that tells me I’m not good enough, that I am not someone who enjoys working out is still there, daily. So I’ve had to adopt some tricks to drag myself to work out. These include: not going to the bathroom before the gym and not wearing a coat on my way there. That way I am forced to into the gym (which, conveniently is 5 minutes from my work) to relieve my aching bladder and get warm. Once I’m in there I remember, “oh yeah, it’s not so bad in here!” Before a class I’ll always, always arm myself with an excuse to get out of there early. It’s a treat to the old PE hating me. It says, “I won’t shout at you, or force you to do anything you don’t want to, you can do 20 minutes and if you hate it you have permission to leave.” I’ve not had to use one of my excuses once.

4, #healthies are bullshit

The most important piece of advice I’ve ever been given about working out is: “even an Olympic athlete should be red, sweaty and exhausted at the end of their workout. It shows you’ve given it your all. If you look good you aren’t working hard enough.”

So, to inspire you to not be intimidated by that fitness world, here are some real life #healthies…

Actually looking at them again I wouldn’t blame you if they scared you off exercising for life…

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“Just because I often look at my reflection though doesn’t mean I like what I see.”

Feels quite strange to sit down and type up how I feel about my body. I think it is on the whole it being seen as narcissistic or vain to talk about one’s appearance.

I can’t really remember how I felt about myself as a child so any issues I do have is clearly something that came later in life. I do remember however being told off for looking at myself in the mirror, something (even as a 23-year-old women) my mum still calls me on. She has often commented that I have an ‘obsession with my appearance’. I always seemed to think it was natural to know what you looked like at any point of the day.

Just because I often look at my reflection though doesn’t mean I like what I see. I often change my hair colour as it’s the only thing about myself I can change instantly. I wear make-up nearly every day to cover up what I don’t like. I think I have more body hair than what’s normal for a woman but it can be removed instantly or covered up. What I can’t change instantly or cover up is my weight or my in-step.

I’ve always been a bit heavier than the other women around me. But when you have near enough bow-legs exercising causes me a fair bit of pain and it’s getting worse the more weight I pile on.

Losing weight though scares me. I’m scared that if I lost weight and had a lot of men suddenly interested in me that the only thing they wanted was my body and not that I’m a good person to be around.

I start physio soon for my legs; hopefully the pain becomes less and I can exercise more and maybe get the body I want.

“I can finally proclaim: I am entirely happy with my body”

*Trigger warning for disordered eating*

It was at 17 that I finally realised I had been abusing my body. I was in my Geography class in sixth form, when suddenly I became very dizzy, grew very pale and felt incredibly nauseous. But there was nothing in my stomach for me to actually throw up.

Like any normal teenage girl, I was unhappy with my appearance and had been most of high school. I liked very little about myself. Despite being reasonably skinny, I never had washboard abs – a fact that I hated. At 5”10 I was freakishly tall, towering over most of my classmates, including the boys. I had massive feet, and despised my toes so I could never wear sandals. My skin would break out in spots that I couldn’t cover up with makeup. My boobs were about the size of ping-pong balls. My teeth were constantly in one brace or another. In fact, the only part of myself that I liked was my ginger hair, despite this being the thing I was most tormented about by my peers. I felt weirdly protective of my ginger hair; it was something I was never ashamed of.

However, it wasn’t until sixth form that I really started to criticise myself. One day I stepped onto my scales and the figure hit 9st 3lbs. I was mortified. I had spent most of my high school life floating about the 8st 7lbs mark, and yet somehow I had eaten enough food to put me over 9st. I tried to convince myself that was ok, that for my height 9st 3lbs was actually pretty good. I continued with my day-to-day life. But I started weighing myself more and more. Every week I would recalculate my BMI, to make sure I didn’t fall any nearer to the ‘normal weight’ section of the scale. I fooled myself into thinking I was naturally really skinny, so having a BMI of 18 (technically underweight) was healthy.

For me, it wasn’t a conscious decision to stop eating. I never stopped eating altogether; I had at least one meal a day. But I would often miss out breakfast, convincing myself I didn’t have enough time to eat on a morning, nor to prepare myself lunch. I’d manage, I’d be late for class otherwise. I would grab an apple and that would be my lunch. My evening meal would be enough at the end of the day.

I realise now that I was essentially starving myself, but at the time I didn’t see it as that. I never once thought “I’m fat” or “I need to lose weight”, at least not directly anyway. Yet at the back of my mind I had somehow convinced myself that I should be eating less food; it was definitely a type of anorexia.

My wake-up call moment was the low-point I hit in the middle of class. I had to leave the room, get some fresh air and I forced down a sandwich. Nothing had ever tasted so good as that simple ham sandwich did for me that day. From then on I swore that I’d never go down that road again, and from then on I had grown to love my body more and more.

Now, in my third year at university, I can finally proclaim: I am entirely happy with my body. Sure, I still have down days. But I now eat properly, exercise every now and again (more to keep myself fit than for appearance) and sometimes I even leave the house without makeup on, without having done my hair, but with all my confidence intact. I’m a happy 10st 3lb (with a healthy BMI of 20.5!) and I’ve never felt better.

I was lucky. I never suffered severely and caught my eating disorder before it turned into anything serious. I got myself through it. My appearance hasn’t really changed too much since I was 17, but my attitude towards myself certainly has. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now, finally, and that has made me into a much more confident individual today.

“I still have bad days body-wise, but realising that I am, for the most part, normal, and doing my best in a society governed by warped ideas of female fitness and beauty always helps.”

I’m 23. It’s taken me this long to have some semblance of acceptance of my body. For a period of about 18 months I really liked it, because I lost a lot of weight and was the lightest I’d been since I was 13. Still podgy, you understand, but from 13 stone to 10st 7 in a year and a half pretty much by accident felt pretty good. For a variety of reasons (moving back to Glasgow, Stodgeland; illness, new relationship, etc.) it’s crept back up to the high 11st-ish. So I don’t like it as much any more, because I know I used to look “better”.

BUT. Given that I had absolutely despised myself and my body since I was in nursery school, I reckon that’s pretty good going.

So what changed? Basically, I came to the realisation that there were different body shapes. This sounds incredibly stupid, I know. Bear with me.

I’d spent my entire life wanting to wear the same clothes and look the same as tall, willowy teenage models, as seen in Topshop, New Look etc. Indeed when I was a teenager I hated myself because I wasn’t delicate and skinny. If only I could get rid of my belly, if only I could make my arse smaller, if only I didn’t have such a round fat face…you get the idea. Then two things happened: the “ 1950s vintage style” thing- i.e., dresses that suited people with hips. And I got told I had PCOS. So I found a style that I felt good in, and got an explanation for why I looked the way I did.

PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – has two effects which affect me in a concrete sense. Having children will probably be a bit problematic, and it makes me carry weight round my middle, which is also harder to lose. I’d like to think I’ve reconciled myself to the “probs no kidz lol” thing. The only time it’s caused any problem to anyone is when I went for a GP check-up and a demented duty doctor phoned me 2 hours later saying, “Your hormone levels are insane, get to hospital now!“ It was a Friday night; I wasn’t even ill. I told him that, and poured myself more wine.

But the weight thing – hallelujah! I can now accept that I will always have a big stomach, always have a big arse, always have hips. They may fluctuate in size, but they’ll always be there. And when I try to lose weight, I don’t weigh myself any more. I’ve done that for too long, I know that to lose any great amount of weight, personally, I need to cut out carbs and drink only water. I did it when I worked abroad out of necessity, because I was poor. But now, frankly, I have a life to lead. Fuck me if you think I’m gonna subsist on pulses when I have a boyfriend who makes good quality, mostly healthy, food for us.
I do get a bit down about myself still- especially my face. It’s round, and I hate that I always look fatter in photos than I really am, because of my face. But I’m working on that. And yeah, I’d like to lose some weight. So I joined a gym, for the first time ever. And finally, the fear and anxiety engendered by years of bullying in communal changing at school has disappeared. I might not be lighter, but I will tone up. I don’t care how much I weigh. I care how I look.

So to sum up: 5’ 3”. Big arse, big hips, big stomach, round face, small breasts. But I have a great waist, I’m not a blob like I always thought. I love my long, thin fingers. My shoulders are nice. Small breasts are useful – I can run for buses! Yay! And I’m fit – I had always thought, “Oh I’m podgy, I must be hideously unhealthy”. This is BOLLOCKS. I’ve been walking uphill for about 45 minutes most days since 1998, when I moved into a house on top of a fuckton of hills then didn’t bother learning to drive. I might not be fast, but I have stamina and I’m strong. So I needn’t have worried about being shit at the gym, the crosstrainer and rowing machine hold no fear. I might not be skinny and delicate. I might be clumsy and flabby. I’m overweight, but I’m not ugly. I wish more people realised that being skinny isn’t the only option. There are so many issues bound up in the “must be size eight to have self worth and be attractive to men” thing. If I started I’d never get off my feminist soapbox. Since I left school, I’ve never had any problems finding boyfriends when I’ve chosen to look for them, nor any complaints from them about the size of my arse/chest/face/stomach/occasional PCOS beard/insert other cause of neurosis here. I still have bad days body-wise, but realising that I am, for the most part, normal, and doing my best in a society governed by warped ideas of female fitness and beauty always helps.