Archive for January, 2014

A few weeks ago I learned not all mother daughter pairs bond in Jazzercise class.  Crazy, right?

woooooo!

My mom has been doing dance aerobics since I was born.  I went to daycare at her class, and when I was an adolescent started attending classes with her.  For those of you who are uninitiated in the practice of aerobics, nee Jazzercise, let me explain.  A class full of women, mostly middle aged, in the suburbs, dancing to pop and country music.  Generally.

As an awkward, chubby, generally angry and unsure 12 year old, you can only imagine what [trying to] grapevine next to my mother  in front of the mothers of my friends was like.  Usually I’d get so uncomfortable I’d stop class, just sit outside until she was done, where I would subsequently be yelled at for being uncomfortable.

omnomnomnom now i only have to run 5 miles!

In high school I discovered running, which acted as an unhealthy behavior for many years (running on 1000 calories a day, anyone?), but also gave me an idea of why people actually liked this exercise business.  To this day, running and weight lifting are two of my favorite things.  I even teach dance aerobics.

Now those who struggle with their weight, or those with negative body image, so basically all the women I’ve ever known, are constantly told to exercise.  It’s a common shaming tactic to tell “overweight” folks that they just aren’t exercising enough.  Calories in, calories out, amirite?! (hint: no). Health at Every Size, the movement promoting healthful behaviors regardless of appearance or body composition, encourages movement.  Just moving your body is healthy.  And it feels good.  HAES keeps saying you should exercise because it feels good.

To those of us who grew up with expectations of weight loss, exercise as a positive experience is really hard to grasp.  Even now, after seven years of enjoying the movement I do, somewhere in my reptilian brain it’s still only for weight loss.  How can you enjoy exercise for the health benefits or the fun of movement when you’ve been raised thinking of exercise as a weight loss tool only?

People with and without eating disorders use exercise as compensation (it’s been termed “exercise bulimia”).  Have you ever run an extra mile to “make up for” something you ate that day?  Ever skipped a meal because you didn’t work out hard enough?

 

Monday in Jazzercise class, there were about 30 women dancing along to Britney and Kesha and Pitbull.  Most of them were sweating, but also smiling.  Then the instructor announced a 20 week weight loss challenge.  The class was silent until the end.

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The wonderful Brené Brown has recently released her newest book, Daring Greatly, which I am eagerly reading cover to cover.  As always, it sparks new motivation in me to continue analysis of all the messages we receive about worthiness.

Recently I’ve discovered part of my mental health involved not feeling worthy, or like a worthwhile person.  I think this is linked to our culture of achievement, the one that tells us we are what we do, the one that pushes us to believe what we do is never enough, the one that expects us to be perfect but not with effort, not with the work it takes to try and reach that (unattainable) level of “right.”

Weight loss is an obvious place we see this model writ large in our culture.  I’ve talked about the Biggest Loser, but it’s not only on reality television.  We hear it day in and day out, in tabloids, at our workplaces, at our gyms, with our families.  Almost without exception, it’s a congratulatory tone, praising willpower, praising the “finally made” decision to be thinner.

When one is faced with cultural values that do not fit with personal values, there are generally three big options.  You can ignore it, and pretend it isn’t there.  You can accept it, and strive to fit your values into the cultural framework.  You can reject it, creating values of your own (punk rock, amirite?  amirite, ladies?!).

The problem with creating your own unique value system is the kernel of positive focus in some of these cultural standards.  Achievement is a worthy goal – it’s at the top of the Maslow hierarchy of needs, it’s an essential part of Erikson’s developmental stages, and I know I personally feel validated and positive when I have concrete accomplishments to look at.  When my worth as a person is in question, because of failure or performing at a mediocre level, that becomes a problem.

If we’re only good for what we achieve, and weight loss is an achievement, no wonder we always feel worthless.  Most people who lose weight gain it back.  Adding healthy habits to a routine does not always add up to weight loss – our bodies are created to survive, and to hang on to fuel if there’s food scarcity.  Adding muscle can add to weight, or at least keep weight the same.

To be healthy and at a “non-ideal” weight is, in itself, vulnerable.  Constantly playing defense with the hours you exercise or the vegetables you eat does not lead to acceptance and peace – the need to prove yourself healthy can be discouraging, and keep that angry furnace alive and well.  Let’s start building up our shame resilience today; we know ourselves.  What other people know will always be incomplete and inaccurate.