That put-on-your-swimsuit-for-your-kids'-sake post that I wrote about has spread its influence throughout the feminine half of the blogosphere, at least the sector* populated by mothering mothers. Elizabeth Duffy, writing at Patheos, had a good post the other day:
One of the swim coaches stood on the side of the pool in a handsome black tank, and she was as plump and dimply as the rest of us, but she stood up straight, shoulders back, making bold demonstrations of each stroke for her pupils. I remember thinking that her confidence paired with an obvious tendency not to take herself too seriously was very appealing, and not just to the eyes.
She was not slouching out of sight, and it wasn’t just because she found the right suit for her body type, or because she had memories to make. She had a job to do, an important one, and she clearly found her work fulfilling enough that she could be at peace with herself and delight in her body’s ability to do its job well.
This is really the way that I prefer to think about it; indeed, though getting in the water and splashing with your kids is important, this it's the reason behind that reason. We're raising kids, and so everything we do teaches them how to be. If we want to teach them what their bodies are good for -- doing and being, as part of their human wholeness; not just appearing and seeming, and certainly not merely things to be used and abused; well, being ashamed of the appearance of our own is only going to teach the wrong lessons.
Too, being focused on the jobs you have to do and the joys you want to have is better than being hyperfocused on What People Will Think When They See Me.
More from Elizabeth:
The irony is, that when a woman of a certain body type or a certain age decides to get thin–I count myself here–you really do end up giving everything else up as your mental energy goes into counting calories, planning meals, and incorporating strategies to prevent yourself from eating. There are many hours spent in the gym, many hours spent working on self-image rather doing things of interest to yourself or of import to other people.
Not every woman who decides to get fit loses their perspective this way, but I certainly have, and I have corroborated my experiences with female friends. When I decide to be thin, I become a very boring person, a stressed out person, someone who only thinks about food and mentally scourges herself for mistakes made when eating.
You don’t usually get to have it both ways–you don’t get to be a skinny woman, and at the same time, a woman who’s happy to sit at a bar and drink pints with her husband. You don’t get to be someone who is fully invested in being thin, and at the same time finds herself interesting enough in her own right to forget occasionally her body and its tendency to grow fat when it’s having fun.
I can also corroborate this. The year that I achieved my big weight loss was a year of absolute concentration and obsession. It consumed almost all my attention. I don't regret it, and I have found the effort to be fruitful in more ways than one -- it was an achievement I had never thought possible, and it opened up all sorts of possibilities for me as well as leading to a lot of reflection on my identity. But it was so costly.
But I wasn't bored.
I wasn't bored because, to put it bluntly, I am a geek, and I can really get into that which bores other people. Whatever my project, I must love it and dig deeply into it, understand it and analyze it, take it apart and put it together in different ways. This is how I cook, how I gestate and give birth and care for babies, how I educate my kids, how I approach faith. My life is a little laboratory, and it's okay if the results are not repeatable by others because they're highly tailored to my own surroundings. The year that I lost all that damn extra weight and learned to be an athlete was the first year that my own body became the laboratory for the sake of itself.
(And I do call it "becoming an athlete" for a reason. I won't call it just "fitness," it was more than that, an identity crisis was involved. I wanted not just to appear thin, but to feel like Elizabeth's swim instructor, strong and capable.)
So I wasn't bored. And if my spouse was bored, he did a good job of hiding it. We sat at the bar and drank pints together -- only we split them, and he drank more deeply than I did, for that year.
We still share pints that way. And that's emblematic of the difference.
Some friends speculated that it was possible for me to temporarily prioritize becoming an athlete in a way that it might not have been for me today, had I put it off. I was six years younger, I had only three children. And maybe that's so.
But staying an athlete, even an amateur one only competitive against herself, is a priority -- not in competition with the priorities of raising my family and accompanying my husband, but in union with them.
I am married to a person who aspires to be always training for the next goal. His sports are downhill skiing and climbing (both rock and ice); seeing as how we live in the northern plains instead of the western mountains, he's never going to be able to find the time to do either of them frequently enough to excel at either, but he can always be training for his next trip so he can have more options and have more fun. And so he tries to get to the gym three times a week if he can. And so it's something we do together -- not so much the climbing (I have an old wrist injury) but the training. Neither of us has the time to train very well or thoroughly, but it's something we can talk about over those single shared pints.
And since he's a geek too, and also since training involves chemistry and physics that neither of us has ever mastered, we can talk about it over and over and over again. That's a lot of pints.
Athleticism of a certain individualistic type is a family value for us. (It runs in Mark's family of origin; his siblings and their spouses have been runners, mountain-bike and road-cycling racers, equestrians, and collegiate-level wrestlers, along with the occasional dabbling in climbing and downhill skiing.) We are working to pass it on to our kids. That priority meshes with our other family and marriage priorities, so it isn't in competition with them (although it has to be balanced with them: I have to teach and feed the children, and Mark has to go to work). I think this more than anything else is why the changes I made six years ago have remained permanent. They reinforce, and are reinforced by, the other good things I have in my life and want to keep.
*Yeah, I couldn't stop myself from googling just to double check that "sector" was the correct geometrical term with respect to a piece of a sphere, as I knew it was for a circle. Although it isn't quite as satisfying because the arcs that define the sectors of a circle, being one-dimensional, perfectly tessellate the "surface" (i.e., the circumference) of the circle -- cf. pie charts -- but the domed spherical sectors by necessity have gaps between. Unless, of course, there are an infinite number of them in just the right distribution of volumes, much as you can fill a rectangular box perfectly with an infinite assortment of differently-sized spheres.**
**Yeah, I finished writing the footnote before I went on to write the rest of this post.