“Geeze... Look at those arms. You could be my bodyguard.”
“Girl, you are too skinny! You need to eat something!”
“OMG! I feel like you could totally beat me up.”
“Look at them thighs, girl. Damn. Sexy build.”
These are all comments I have heard about my body just within the last couple of weeks. None of them made me feel good — OK OK, maybe that last one did — and none of them were solicited.
I am a tall woman with an athletic build. I run marathons and do CrossFit, with the occasional triathlon thrown in to keep me on my toes. No matter what size or shape I am in, I am too big for some; too small for others. It never ceases to amaze me that on the same day, I may have one person tell me I am too skinny and another person tell me an hour or two later that I am big enough to beat them up.
I grew up feeling insecure about my body and when puberty hit things only worsened. I come from a family of late bloomers: I didn’t grow boobs until my senior year.
Being a tall, athletic chick with a flat chest surrounded by insecure boys in Speedos (I was a swimmer my whole life) wasn’t easy. I got bullied and teased a lot.
I remember the insults people hurled at me. I remember what they said and how they said it.
I also remember the people who stood by watching. They didn’t say anything mean, but they didn’t say anything to help either. Many times they would join in on laughing at me.
I no longer harbor ill feelings towards those bullies; they have complexes and insecurities of their own. But I do remember what people said and I remember how it felt.
This is a big part of why I became a teacher.
I do my best to cultivate a classroom built on acceptance and inclusion. I am aware that self-confidence can be shattered in the early adolescent years and I work hard to build my students up every single day because I know how hard society is beating them down Every. Single. Day.
On my bad days, I feel like I have taught my students nothing and am either too nice or too hard on them.
On my good days, I feel like I am helping students who have been bullied the way I was so that they can face the body-shaming insults that will surely be thrown their way for the rest of their childhood and into their adult lives — much like I am experiencing now, even in my 30s.
I used to say I couldn’t wait to be able to “pull off” wearing short shorts at my CrossFit gym. I envied the girls who confidently peeled off their tank tops and pushed through a workout more comfortably in the non-air-conditioned warehouse space; I gave metaphorical (and sometimes literal) thumbs-ups to runners of all shapes, sizes and ages who pound the pavement sans shirt.
And now I am one of them.
I didn’t join the #SportsBraSquad because I am all of a sudden confident or comfortable in my body — but because fuck it, damm it, I can and I should. I sweat puddles in CrossFit and I shed so much sweat on my runs that my shoes begin to squish and dammit it’s 97 degrees in Florida and it’s been a bitch of a summer. I am taking my fucking shirt off.
I have plenty of insecure days; sometimes I am bloated with PMS or a weekend of enjoying barbecue with my family. Sometimes I hear the comments people make and I flash back to high school when my body was too big and my boobs were too small. Sometimes I hate the way certain men feel intimidated around me and there are days I wish I looked more like other girls who didn’t stand out so much.
And those are the days I know I need to rip my shirt off the most. Just like the postures in yoga I cannot stand or the lifts in CrossFit I absolutely hate doing (I’m looking at you, squat snatches), I know that the same rule applies to building my confidence by wearing or not wearing what I want: The more I practice, the more I will improve. With my balance, with my lifts, with my confidence and self-love. Avoiding the issue will only strengthen its power.
As with so many other things, I know that rather than wait until I’m not so scared to try something like a challenging lift or a difficult posture or even something so seemingly small (yet incredibly daunting) as working out in just my sports bra — I need to feel the fear and do the damn thing anyway. I am SO over waiting until I feel good enough or lean enough or strong enough.
We are already enough.
People will make comments no matter how you look or how much you weigh. Those comments say more about them than they do about you. So next time you wish you could pull off that cute gym outfit “one day” or feel jealous of the woman running shirtless, know that you are already there. You can already pull it off — just Pull. It. Off.