I thought I’d been down this road before, and had learned my lesson. I’d made promises, and broken them. I’d had expectations, and found them unfulfilled. But somehow I convinced myself to once again entangle myself in that messy and complicated world of sweat and strain and hidden desires. I joined a gym.
I know, right? I haven’t belonged to a gym since my stint at the YMCA a few years ago. That actually went rather well: I took water aerobics classes with a bunch of middle-aged-to-elderly women. They thought I was adorable. I love being in the water, and I didn’t have to learn any crazy machines. I hate sweating in public, and no one can tell if you’re sweating when you’re in a pool. It was perfect for me. Then the Y went and cancelled the evening class that fit into my schedule and that was the end for me and the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
A friend talked me into going with her to look at Planet Fitness; no matter how much I hate gyms, I knew it was time to start looking into something to get more activity into my life and who can argue with $10 a month? Or rather $20 a month, since I went for the upgraded membership with unlimited tanning. I’ve always said that tanning was for white people who wanted to be people of color and had decided that orange was as good a color as any, but that was mainly because I was too cheap to pay for a tanning package at a salon and had to find a way to justify my glow-in-the-dark paleness. But with unlimited tanning at my fingertips for only $10 a month, I was ready to trade in fish belly white for a little bronze, a golden glow, or even a light mahogany. Hopefully my friends will stage an intervention before I start looking like Snooki.
Part of what’s kept me away from the gym is that they are fucking boring. Not that I’m some super jacked up Eddie Bauer type who just can’t wait to get back to “the nature,” but it just seems strange to drive to a building where you walk for 40 minutes without even getting across the room. I’ve never heard a good story that started with, “So, I went to the gym today and…”, except sometimes in porn and I’m pretty sure the reality of the situation is somehow less glamorous. You picked up a heavy thing. Then you set it down again. Then you did it again. You did it a lot. Pardon me for not going into spontaneous orgasm over how many reps you got in today or how many miles you did on the elliptical.
Another problem I have with the exercise is that I just don’t look good while doing it. I wish I could be one of those people running on the treadmill looking dewy and vibrant, a light sheen of sweat illuminating my bronzed and smiling face. I don’t look like that. I get flushed, but not in a uniform way. More of a blotchy, “I’m about to die” sort of way. No matter what I put in it, my hair takes on this strange bed head slash homeless slash disaster victim look. And let’s not forget the aforementioned public sweating. It starts at the back of my neck and works its way outward and down. I can feel it creeping ever outward and I have to fight the impulse to stop what I’m doing and take an immediate shower. It’s usually right when I see someone incredibly attractive walking in my general direction that a drop of sweat works its way over my eyebrow and falls into my eye, causing me to grimace and squint up my face like I might be chromosomally-challenged. Long story short, it’s not a good look for me.
I used to think that those excuses were about vanity, but now I think they are more about vulnerability, and the fear that comes with it. Fear of making a change. Fear of making things different. Fear of taking control over something that used to feel so out of control. Fear of failure, and of success. In her book Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison wrote, “If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” For me, that meant working through a lot of my feelings about weight and body image and self-esteem. You can’t make choices like this out of fear, not if you want to be successful, and when it comes to body stuff there are a lot of reasons to be fearful. If you are a larger person, you get very little reinforcement that your life is worth living. If you are a larger person in the gay world, forget about it. Game over. Hit 200 pounds or 30 years old, and you might as well crawl in a hole and pull it in after you.
So what do you do? Do you hop on a stairmaster, fearful that your worth as a person is dictated by a number on a scale or that dropping a few pants sizes is the only way you can ever hope to get laid again? You could, but you probably won’t get very far. And even if you do, you probably won’t enjoy the results. That’s the thing about fear. Even if it gets you somewhere, you probably didn’t enjoy the journey and you probably can’t enjoy where you are for fear that it won’t last or that it’s not far enough or any of 1000 other things you could be afraid of. That’s why I think the majority of diets and fad exercise programs fail or give only temporary results: lasting change is born out of growth, and fear is poisonous to growth.
It’s a lot easier to remember that when you’re sitting in front of a computer screen than when you’re trying to fold yourself into some inexplicably Minnesota-Viking’s-colored torture device that clearly assumes that everyone who uses it will already be elfin sized and be able to understand their hieroglyphic instructions. Janessa, spatial skills. Spatial skills, Janessa. We’ve never met before. The worst is the stretch machine; the instruction panel clearly shows at least 9 different possible positions, all of which seem to require either bending the laws of physics or levitation. After several sad Quasimodo-like attempts, I’ve pretty much given up on the elliptical and stick pretty close to my trusty treadmill. Despite my appreciation for alcohol and a spirited game of “Guess That Pill,” I can usually manage to walk forward in a straight line. And if not, that’s why the damn things have handrails…
In the end, I keep going back because I’m trying to find an alternative fear, and I think I have: love. I think you have to find a way to go forward through love. You have to know that you are perfect as you are, now, at this moment. You have to love yourself right now, in the body you have. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to make changes or that you don’t set goals and challenges for yourself; it just means that you stop putting your own feeling of self-worth on the line when you attempt to make those changes. You have to love yourself as you are, and at the end of the process you have to love yourself just as much whether you succeeded or failed. It means embracing all of that icky vulnerability, and putting yourself out there anyway. It means deciding that you are worthy of a good life, even if you’ve never felt that way before in your life. It’s brave. It’s scary. And it’s hard as fuck.
I’m certainly still struggling with it. When I’m tired and sore and I’m trying to motivate myself to get to the gym, my mind is much more likely to go to the place of, “Better get your lazy ass in gear, fatty!” than “You deserve a life that is healthy and full of blessings.” Fear has a very insistent voice, and it likes to be heard. But fear isn’t what eventually pushes me out the door. Even if I’m not fully on board with the whole perfect-as-you-are thing, even if it’s too much of a stretch that particular day or feels a little too “hug and cry and learn and grown”, I dig deep and look for that place of worthiness where I feel like maybe, just maybe, I have value and worth. Not because of anything I have done, but just because. And that value pushes me to do better and to be better.
I think it helps that Planet Fitness is sort of a strange concept for a gym, and not just because of the rather hideous purple and yellow interior. At first I was skeptical about a gym that featured a pizza party once each month and bowls of tootsie rolls all over, but I came around to it. After all, if you feel like everything you do will be undone by a single tootsie roll or a slice of pizza, then you’re operating out of fear. If you are proceeding from love, you can sometimes choose pleasure over responsibility and still feel good and worthy. If your worth isn’t determined by fear, then you recognize the value in all experiences. You shift your value away from what you do and into who you are.
And if even that fails, if it’s a harder day than most and I just can’t get to that secret place inside where perfect love and acceptance are found, then I turn my thoughts to more practical matters: the Zombie Apocalypse. When I’m sweating and panting, trying to decide if I should get off the treadmill or go for another mile, maybe turn the speed up a click or two, I just remember this simple piece of advice: when you are escaping from a brain-starved reanimated corpse hungry for your flesh, you don’t have to be faster than ALL of the people. You just have to be faster than ONE of the people.
Maybe fear isn’t a completely useless motivator after all…
(Not to get too self-help-y on your asses, but lately I’ve been inspired by Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. Has a lot to say about vulnerability and what it takes to live a fulfilled life. Check it out, yo!)
Tags: acceptance, body consciousness, body image, Brene Brown, exercise, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, love, Planet Fitness, self-help, The Gifts of Imperfection, vulnerability