Completing a half-marathon is not an accomplishment I ever fathomed being able to reach. I ran track for a couple of years in high school, but pretty much swore running off ever since. I hated that burning feeling in my lungs and the sheer exhaustion after, oh, maybe a quarter of a mile. All through college and my mid-twenties I stuck to Pilates and the occasional bike ride, mostly counting walking as my daily form of exercise.
It's not that I am an undisciplined person or totally out-of-touch with my health. In fact, discipline and an obsession with my body defined over a decade of my life. I spent all of my teens starving or binging or trying to sweat adolescents away, striving toward an ideal that was really just an unattainable illusion. Starting as an eleven-year-old, I began manipulating my caloric intake to try to shrink my widening pubescent hips and flatten my feminine tummy. I became well-acquainted with diet and exercise as a part of life - and in many ways, they were my life.
Some good friends, a great husband, and perhaps a little more maturity, finally freed me from this constant obsession. But for a time, calorie counting and exercise remained to me what I can only imagine alcohol is to an alcoholic. I could not partake in moderation. I could be mindful about making healthy food choices, but if I began to associate my daily meals with a size goal or even a weight loss hope, it was all downhill. I was so afraid of tumbling down that same life-suffocating spiral I had lived for so many years previously, that I more or less avoided gyms or food labels for the next several years.
Then one day, I realized something profound had happened. I awoke to a new sense of freedom and wholeness. For the first time in my life, I found myself actually forgetting to eat (this was, previously, a phenomenon I thought only skinny girls made up to torment the rest of us!). To go from having thoughts of food constantly on play in my mind to actually forgetting about food for hours on end was nothing short of a miracle to me.
What's more, for the first time in my life I actually loved my body. I was comfortable with the curves and the imperfections and finally, FINALLY, was not spending all my energy dreaming of a day when, at last, my body was beautiful. I could look in the mirror and genuinely see beauty looking back at me. Can someone spell, M-I-R-A-C-L-E?!
I have never taken this freedom lightly. It remains to me a miracle, something I am deeply grateful for, something I think and talk about as though on sacred ground.
And so, when I set the goal to train for a half-marathon last Spring, it was in this freedom that I walked. I did not fantasize about long, slender Greek Goddess legs or even hope that I would lose extra weight, which surely would have been my main concern in earlier years. My focus was on the impossible task of running for just over 13 miles straight, and that was more than enough for my mind and will to handle.
So run I did. I ran and ran and ran. May turned to June, and June turned to July, and by the beginning of July I had already logged hundreds of miles and was walking on legs completely foreign to me. They were far from Greek Goddess legs - but things were firmer, a little less wiggly. One day, I took off my shirt and realized I could faintly see muscle definition in my tummy, almost like a six pack was trying to squeeze through a pile of bread dough. It was there, even if faint.
Naturally, I ran to the store and bought the first bikini of my life. True story. I had never worn a bikini in public, at least not past my pre-teens, and now at 31 and two children later, I finally felt the right to bare my belly for all the world to see. I wore my bikini proudly all summer, in many ways marveling that this was my life. That imperfect, full-hipped, self-conscious 'ole me was actually wearing a bikini. Several times over the summer I patted myself on the back, not for being in such great shape, but for being so courageous and wearing that bikini.
When summer said its goodbyes in yellows and oranges and reds, I snuggled up in scarves and sweaters and talked to my daughter about how beautiful every part of her body is. We talked about loving ourselves and beauty deeper than appearances, until I completely forgot about the bikini in the bottom of my lingerie drawer.
With summer just weeks away, and winter being so damn tasty, I found myself stepping on the scale the other day and being faced with the harsh truth that loving myself and accepting my body are a lot easier to do when I'm sun-kissed and lean from running all summer.Because the reality is this: the thought of wiggling and jiggling back into a bikini right now does not invoke feelings of self-love or self-acceptance - in fact, the thought just makes me desperate to dig out my old one piece or skip summer altogether! And at first I feel greatly ashamed about this, feel like I lived a lie last summer. I realize it has never crossed my mind that my willingness to wear a bikini was perhaps more of a realistic reaction to being in the best shape of my life, than an evolved state of self-love or freedom. Maybe the bikini was just about being in great shape, and had nothing to do with embracing imperfections. Even worse, maybe the bikini represented the old ways, the longing for more and more and more, even though more was never enough.
And so I stand on the scale and wonder aloud, What about beauty deeper than appearances? What about looking in the mirror and finally seeing beauty? I look in the mirror as I ask these things and suddenly I know - I know, regardless of last summer's bikini days or this summer's one pieces, that something akin to a miracle has still come about in my life simply because of this: When I look in the mirror, I do see beauty, beauty just doesn't look very good in a bikini right now.
Ten years ago, I could have never looked at my body with kindness and love, while being a bit too pudgy for a bikini. Never. I would have immediately gone on a diet, berated myself for eating so many sweets all winter and forced myself to wake up at the crack of dawn to exercise. I would have been swimming in pools of shame and self-hate and defeat. I wouldn't have been able to see my worth beyond the extra weight.
Today, I can see that maybe beauty is not defined by being able to wear a bikini. And maybe self-acceptance does not need tan lines and flat abs to know just how far we've come, and what a miracle living each day in freedom from calorie-counting and body-hating really is. And I'll take that over a bikini any day.
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