Mirrors are funny. They’re sneaky little buggers. They are also notorious liars. Some drive you to question why you ever question yourself. Others turn you off from ever looking in another mirror again. Mirrors are not unlike people. Some people view you as the epitome of beauty, others would rather not look at you. Our experiences drive us to place a value upon what we view – including the bodies of others. What I have come to understand is that others’ opinions of my body have more to do with the opinion of their own body than it does with mine.
I recently started running. On purpose. For more than a few minutes. Strange, I know. I have long been one of those people who scoffed at the oval stickers on cars announcing the tens of miles the driver ran in one attempt. My annoyance with runners would seem unwarranted by most. Why would I possess such a disdain for someone doing something that had no consequence to me? They ran 13.1 miles, I didn’t have to even watch them do it. My loathing was unconscious. I was a fat kid. I have existed in a larger body for the majority of my life. I was ridiculed mercilessly by peers when it came to the school sanctioned mile runs. I had attempted to run with my runner friends in high school when my body halved in size. I still could not keep up. The size of my body didn’t matter. I simply could not breathe while running. I concluded that I was not, and would never be, a runner. Knowing I could not do something made me hate it; made me feel a certain kind of way about people to whom it came to so easily.
Running was the only form of exercise I deemed “undoable.” I have actually learned to love exercise since I have reframed it as a time to feel how my body serves me versus torturing it to fit a mold it was never intended to fit. I love weight training and indoor cycling. I love extended walks. The Covid-19 pandemic minimized the activities available to my toddler and I during the day so we walked to playgrounds around our town. Nearly every day, we would take a few hours and walk. I noticed a change in my body – internally and externally. I felt alive. And well.
As I searched my Peloton app for more programs to introduce to my body, I kept coming across this one called “You Can Run.” Simply reading it would provoke my inner hater with “Nope, I cannot.” But I ran it by a friend who regularly joins me in fitness inspired journeys and she was on board. Problem was, she didn’t have a treadmill and I was certain that the one I had would not be able to accommodate my heavy uncoordinated body. I was sure I would break it or fall off or at least make a fool of myself attempting to do more than turn it on. Who did I think I was, anyway? Past Tiffany could never run. Why did I think Current or Future Tif could? These obstacles led me to keep putting it off for “better weather” or “better available equipment.”
I can’t tell you what inspired me to click “Start Program,” but I did. Eight weeks later and I CAN RUN! I went from not being able to run for 30 seconds to sustaining minute after minute after minute. Not only that, I enjoy it. I enjoy the discipline it takes to stretch and warm up properly, to follow proper technique to optimize output, and the transition from feeling my body getting uncomfortable to comfortably uncomfortable. The increased movement has had a tremendous impact on my body. It looks and feels different. I have committed to no longer weighing myself as weight loss is not a driving force in any goals I have in life. (I also don’t want it to ever be one for my children. Eliminating weight loss as a goal will have extraordinary benefits on their lives.) Although I am unsure of any weight loss, I am certain I have gained strength and endurance and those gains are more valuable than any losses.
So – my body is different. I feel different. People treat me differently. When they see me, they comment on how “good” I look and ask what I’ve been doing to make myself no longer bad. It feels icky and I feel embarrassed to acknowledge the changes as they were not my intention. Then I feel guilty for feeling guilty because it is not shameful to want to change how your body looks and feels. I quickly throw out info on my new running hobby and change the subject. I understand that the motivation behind these comments is to compliment me. I understand the toxicity of focusing on their belief that I was somehow inferior in my previous state. I also understand that I am more than my body. And their comments about my body are actually a statement on how they view their own.
A strategy my therapist taught me long ago is an essential tool these days. I call it “Of Course.” I move through many groups. Some share similar values, others do not. I am not obliged to convince anyone that my experience is valid. I often stake my claim anyhow and are met with opinions I’d rather not hear. Instead of letting the insidious feeling ruminate and destroy me from the inside out, impacting how I view myself simply on account of someone else’s opinions, I respond with “Of course they would think that because…” I consider how the person could have come to believe what they are conveying to me. For example, if someone says, “I could never wear something that tight, but good for you.” My response wants to be, “They think I should wear baggier clothes because I’m not skinny enough to wear this.” But instead, I use “Of Course” and think, “Of course they would think fat bodies should be hidden. They live in the same world as me where fat bodies are viewed as shameful. They just need to see and love more fat bodies in order to let go of their own shame.” It sounds too simple to work, but by having this little interior chat with myself, their shame is no longer mine – it is solely theirs.
“Of Course” is a great tool to keep you from arguing in unwinnable situations. It also practices empathy, which I believe is contagious. It’s not an excuse to let ignorance prevail. It’s also not an excuse to let someone devalue you. It’s a tool to help you keep sight of who you are without undue influence. I encourage you to slip it into your toolbox and break it out when the opinion of someone else starts to influence who you think you “should” be.
The only mirror worth believing is the one we see inside.
Also – don’t comment on people’s bodies.
Ways to compliment someone working on fitness goals that don’t involve body size:
- You look so happy.
- I love your new energy.
- I love witnessing you prioritize your needs.
- Your dedication is inspiring.
- I love your outfit.
- You look so strong.
- Congratulations, You’re doing it.
To work on your own body image biases, pick up Sonya Renee Taylor’s “The Body Is Not An Apology”.
2 responses to “Of Course You Would Think That”
You should write a novel, I love reading your work. You are inspiring!!