‘It’s not all about being bloody size zero, you know, Jane,’ said the woman in the pub, stabbing her finger at me. ‘All this diet and exercise stuff you do; it’s not where it’s at. It doesn’t make you happy, you know.’
Now, admittedly she was very VERY drunk but it did rather take me aback because she sounded really angry. And it got me thinking. Yes, I’ve lost a lot of weight over the last year – nigh on fifty pounds. But it was never about being stick thin; it certainly wasn’t about being size zero (not that I’m anywhere close). It was simply about not killing myself with food anymore. I’m still not totally balanced out but I’m getting better; I’m trying.
The exercise stuff I just found I liked. I tried a lot of things and some worked for me; some didn’t. As my pal and fitness instructor Trisha always says, unless you find something you enjoy, you won’t stick with it; it won’t become part of your life. I enjoy walking the SP cos it frees my head and gets me out in the fields or up in the woods, stroking the trees, kissing the sky, whispering to the river. And I love yoga cos it shifts my perspective and makes me feel sooooo stretched. Zumba, oh Zumba, I adore because it’s tough but fun and I can lose myself in the music and, shit, it’s just sexy as hell - plus I haven’t had a day’s backache since I started (cos it shimmies you out like nothing else). When it comes to the gym, let’s be honest, I spent most of my time chatting with Trisha and when the house is cold, the gym is warm and I can scribble notes on the exercise bike. Kettlercise? Well, slugging kettlebells around just makes me feel…strong.
Yeah, strong. I love that I have well-defined muscles now – that if I flex my arm I can see those twin mythical beasts, biceps and triceps; that my quads ripple a bit when I walk. Let’s be very clear here, I’m not talking muscle-bound Ms Universe stuff – just a bit of toned lean muscle. I’m not entirely there yet and I’m pretty sure my stomach will never be a washboard but I’m starting to feel comfortable in my skin for the first time that I can remember.
But that word - strong. It took me back to Israel and a woman we met at the Daniel Rowing Centre in Tel Aviv. Her name was (and, as far I know, still is) Moran Samuel. She was an athlete (a talented basketball player) and a student. Then, when she was 24, she had a stroke, clean out of the blue, and became paralysed from the chest down. Suddenly her life was turned upside down and she headed into rehab. Did she give up? Did she hell. She went and qualified as a physical therapist, working with children with disabilities. She returned to playing basketball (in her wheelchair) with the men’s Paralympic team and then, as if she hadn’t already achieved enough, she took up rowing and has recently won a bronze medal in the World Rowing Championship and has a ticket to the 2012 Paralympics. If you want to read her story in words far more eloquent than mine, do visit the Vibe Israel blog here where Sally Whittle tells her story.
She was wearing a t-shirt when we met her that said simply:
Strong is the new beautiful.
I like that message. And it struck me it’s one that might not be bad to impart to our children. Because, while I may not be after a size zero body, a helluva lot of teenage girls are. And boys aren’t immune either. They’re trying to disappear, to vanish somehow. Young bodies need to grow strong, they need the nutrients a good healthy diet gives. We ain’t gonna stop the glossy magazines and fashion designers peddling anorectic models, however much we may wish they would – so it has to come from us as parents. How do you do it? I dunno. Be careful about the messages you give out maybe? I just wish someone or other had gently nudged me into exercise when I was fourteen, instead of sticking me on a starvation diet.
So no. I know that a size zero body doesn’t bring happiness to anyone. I know that dieting and exercise doesn’t make one happy per se either. Happiness is a curious concept and not, to my feeling, a process so much as a glimpse - a moment, a song on the wind, a tug in the heart, a tingle in the gut. Or maybe not even a noun but a verb – a happying. But while I wait for my lovely happyings – and come they do – I think I’ll settle for trying strong. When I'm not feeling weak. :) What you reckon?
btw, if you live around Exmoor you might like to come along to a day's bootcamp I'm doing with Trisha and another local fitness instructor, Nicola. See here for details...