Monday, July 2, 2007

Loving Your Ass

If I could give one piece of advice to young women today, it would be: love your ass at this very moment. Love it as though you will not have it tomorrow — because the truth is, for better or for worse, you won’t.

I, too, was convinced I never would become the tired woman in the grocery store that just looks like there’s more of her than there should be. I also thought I’d never get crow’s feet or those veins on my legs I refuse to call “varicose.” I thought I’d always be what I looked like that day in the mirror.

Then life intervened.

It wasn’t a bad life, by any means. It just was not one I expected. First of all, I went in the wrong direction with exercise: from high school track and cross-country to the occasional aerobics class in college to walking to the coffee machine at work. I knew I was in trouble when I was winded walking up the broken escalator at the train station. (In my defense, it was one of the steepest escalators in the system.) The one thing I didn’t learn in college was how to stay healthy. I didn’t know how to start. Everyone had the same excuses. Between commuting and long hours at the office, it wasn’t convenient during the work-week, and who had the energy on weekends for anything like exercise?

Then came marriage. The Freshman Twenty has nothing on the Newlywed Gain. It wasn’t too obvious to me until I saw a photo of myself speaking to some of the brightest high school seniors in the nation. Between the bulky sweater that was mostly me with my expanding chin and round face and the tight skirt that once had been loose enough, I didn’t recognize this woman.

Later, add on graduate school with classes and studying every spare hour, a 2-hour daily commute to a job where 50 hours a week was a light schedule and the stress of a crumbling marriage. I had no idea who stared back at me from the mirror. She looked tired and doughy. And when I turned around and looked at my backside, all I could wonder was: where was my ass?

I remembered having a figure that did not go unnoticed. One day, I was wearing jeans, which were too hot for that sunny Southern California afternoon. I grabbed a tiny pair of bright blue Dolphin brand shorts from the back shelf of a drug store, nestled between tube socks and corn pads, and put them on in the car en route to the Rose Bowl. (That was nothing — you would be amazed at what I could do with a bra. While driving. On the freeway.) As Vicky and I walked through the stadium, I in my tiny shorts, I was grateful for the comfort and oblivious to the response they garnered. I just knew I liked the way I looked that day. A recovering anorexic, I had a false body image (and, like many women in the nation today, probably still do). I appreciated any day in which I felt good. And on that day, for some reason I felt great — and, from the looks Vicky noticed, others thought I looked good.

A decade and a half later, the ass I saw in the mirror wa not mine.

That is when I took control. I wasn’t happy at my job, so I left. First, I took a temp job, then I found a well-paying part-time job just a few miles from home. After that, finding the time became arranging the time. I discovered evenings presented a challenge for exercise, so I began running in the morning. Even when the job became full-time, I simply adjusted my schedule by getting up a little earlier.

And I haven’t looked back.

Most people think I am insane to run five miles every morning. And every person who hears about my exercise regimen first admires it, then justifies their lack of exercise program, as though my activities are a gauntlet. I have heard every excuse, including some I have tried to use on myself (and still do, with little success). I know it is a challenge to make the time in my schedule, to prioritize my health and my ass. I know many aspects of life can make ass control a challenge: spouse, children, health, weather, commute, school, work hours, an unsafe neighborhood … name your poison. I do not dare judge anything other than my own efforts; the trip down is so much faster and easier, not to mention exceptionally unpleasant.

I also know there is not a soul besides myself who can either give or deny me permission to run, or to take a kickboxing class, or learn belly dancing, or hike every summer day that isn’t raining. I know that some days are better than others. I know it’s okay to cut myself some slack when my sinus infection won’t go away, or when the surgeon recommends waiting until the stitches come out to start running again.

Then I think of how I felt in my blue Dolphin shorts at the Rose Bowl while watching Steve Perry, and I want that confidence again. I want to feel my best: healthy, fit and comfortable in my skin. I don’t care who is or is not looking. (Usually. I am human, after all.) I remind myself the most important person is the one checking her reflection in the mirror, and I want her to like that reflection. And if it means surrendering an hour’s worth of sleep in the morning, then I’ll drag that same ass out of bed and move it around the nearby college campus in the rain, the snow, the heat and the pre-dawn hours. I did not appreciate it then, but I appreciate what I have now — and I keep trying to love myself the way I deserve.

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