I was always the worst kid in P.E. class. I was so bad at making my body do anything besides, like, walking. I was not a physical kid and so I became a not-physical adult. Which I thought was fine. Some girls are good at running marathons and doing yoga positions where they balance on an ear or a fingernail or whatever. Good for some girls, awesome, amazing for them. It wasn’t me and I didn’t see how it was ever going to be me.
Then I hit my mid-late twenties and my metabolism grinded to a screeching halt, and I stopped looking the way I had looked all my life by a noticeable 20 pounds. I didn’t want to be “the girl who was obsessed with being skinny.” I’d rather be “the girl who wanted to be strong” even though “skinny, skinny, skinny, skinny” was constantly playing inside my head like the hook to a pop song you’ve heard too many times on the radio. I liked the idea of building muscle, but I was really invested in was serial-killing all my fat. I don’t always have the most profound and meaningful reasons for doing things.
King Arthur had Excalibur, Katniss had her bow and arrows (and her hot-damn aim), and I had barre class. I chose barre because of its familiarity. It’s a combination of ballet, pilates, and yoga. I had kind of done ballet as a child and kind of done yoga as a college student. Then I chose Pop Physique as my studio because their ads look like American Apparel billboards, and also because Mindy Kaling Instagrams about them all the time. I TOLD you guys I don’t always have the most profound and meaningful reasons for doing things.
The thing about being weak and trying to become strong is it hurts like a four letter word. It hurts like ever four letter word. A combo of ballet-pilates-yoga sounds like the pink, fluffy, sparkly version of exercise but in reality it’s the rusty, iron-spiked, medieval-torture-device way of working out. I thought if I just kept at it what was hard would become easy. And that didn’t happen. It’s still not happening. I’ve been to over fifty classes now and not one has been “easy.”
Here’s what did happen. What was impossible became less impossible. Even if I was still the worst person in barre class, I was still so much less bad than I used to be. I started to understand why people talk about becoming “addicted” to exercise. It’s like your own body is a video game, and when you put in the hours playing, you start to beat levels. I realized in one class I could plank for so many more minutes than I ever could before (I’m pretty sure I started out being able to plank for exactly zero minutes.) During another class, I realized that when I felt like I was done done done with thigh work at the barre (which is basically a hybrid of plie-ing and what I imagine giving birth without painkillers feels like) I could push myself to do five more reps. The best class was when I realized I could almost do the front splits. I wanted to break out into song like my life was a Broadway musical about exercising. The splits had once been so impossible for me I never even tried to try. The victory didn’t come from the splits becoming possible, but becoming ALMOST possible. That’s the thing about getting strong. The thrill doesn’t come from how awesome you are. It comes from realizing how awesome you have the potential to be.
Pretty soon “strong girl” I had invented for myself actually was kind of came to life. Being strong became more important than becoming skinny. I am, of course, still so susceptible to body image ridiculousness because I am a human woman who lives on Planet Earth. I am still afraid of not being pretty/beautiful/hot/whatever enough. That’s just a thing. But I’m so proud about how strong I’m getting, that pride isn’t enough to vanquish my fears, but it’s enough to quiet them so they’re not screaming in my ear at all hours. Not earth-shattering progress. But progress.
It’s been almost five months since I started barre. I now regularly kick my own butt several times a week. I never thought I would do this as, like, a voluntary thing and I NEVER thought I would spend days counting the hours down until my next butt-kicking session began. The thing that these regular butt-kickings have taught me is the power of turning “This is IMPOSSIBLE” into “This is REALLY HARD.” Barre class makes me feel so mighty and legendary. It makes me feel like Wonder Woman. The more I sweat, the more it hurts. The more I want to give up but I don’t, the more I feel like an Amazon Warrior Princess. The thing about Amazon Warrior Princesses is they’re not obsessed with being skinny or slimming down or any of those other hot button cringe words/phrases. Their one goal in life is to be strong. When a girl says she wants to be skinny, what she’s saying is she wants to take up less space. When a girl says she wants to be strong, what she’s saying is she wants to take up more.