I spent a large portion of my life wishing I were small.
After years of programming (by society, the media, my mother, you name it…the blame is on all of us), I had been conditioned to think that my purpose in life – especially as a woman – was to be thin, lithe, tan, blemish-free, and – above all else – small.
I can remember sitting in a study hall in 9th grade, looking at the girl in front of me, and seeing how narrow she was. I remember thinking, “how come I take up so much space?” I did nothing but compare myself to the girl in front of me, obsess about the width of her ribcage and the size of her waist, and wondering why mine wasn’t built that way (because why would I use study hall to study?).
Particularly as women, we have been taught to be obsessed with our bodies, willing them to conform to a predetermined ideal. We’re all guilty of being caught up in comparison: wishing we had her arms or her booty or this set of legs or that impossible waistline.
We discussed mental gymnastics with nutrition, and the same acrobatics apply to body image. These things are, predominantly, distractions: just like agonizing over why Jenny McTiny (*name has been changed…mostly because I don’t know if I ever knew it) took up far fewer square inches than I did rather than study, our preoccupation with why we aren’t ____ (thinner/flatter/taller/fill in the blank) keeps ups from being productive.
Read that again.
How many hours of mental space have you wasted being at least partially consumed with thoughts of your body?
I’d like to buy those back, personally.
All of those hours can be better spent adhering to our real purpose: nurturing, loving, caring, teaching, learning, and being. And this, to me, is where my personal fitness journey really started.
Instead of wishing I were small – instead of using exercise as punishment to work off the chips I ate so that I wouldn’t deposit more fat on an already-too-large frame – I began to explore what my body could do.
That, you see, is what fitness really should be: a method of expanding – of creating space to step into who we’re meant to be, casting aside the distractions of smallness and shame and shoulds – that fits into our actual lives.
It doesn’t have to be difficult (but the fun is when it is – we get to see what we’re really capable of, when it gets down to the nitty gritty); it doesn’t have to take hours; it doesn’t have to be full of crap we don’t actually want to do. It’s about shoving off the notions of tiny, abandoning the small to step into the big. It’s a journey in itself and a means to an end. It’s a way of life – not just a lifestyle, but a mindset. And it’s magic.
Because, you see, when we abandon the idea that we need to be small, quiet, meek, and submissive, we gain so many more things: the freedom to choose our values, the ability to say what we really want for ourselves, the energy to work toward our desires, the focus to solve our problems, and the confidence to achieve every goal along the way (and empower those around us to do the same). We don’t need to be angry, yelling, screaming warriors (unless you really want to be); we can be composed beacons of fiery strength, standing up for ourselves and what we believe in with grace, dignity, and eloquence.
Moving from one camp to the other isn’t necessarily easy. The best way I know how to do any hard thing though, is to start with the physical. Because emotions can be messy, but lifting is not.
It’s pretty simple really: when we don’t know what to do, what should we do first? Pretty much everyone’s answer to this, in any arena, is, “what we can do.” Which, for many of us, is taking action. Because action and stewing in thought are incongruous: we can’t be doing and agonizing about doing at the same time. So, my shift from the world of meek to a life of mighty began in training. Seriously.
To train for physical strength is to train for mental strength. The iron is a proving ground, and it never lies to us: we can either lift the weight or we can’t. And when we discover that we can – and that we can do more than we imagined we could – we begin to discover that we can do other hard things too. We become aware of our limits, but also of our ability to transcend them. And with this newfound confidence and focus, we begin making choices, both in and out of the gym, that step us into expansion, showing other women (and men!) around us that smallness is not where it’s at anymore. We take up all the space we’ve created for ourselves, and we own every inch of it.
If that sounds scary to you, let me share a liiiittle bit about my current journey: the thing that makes me feel small right now is this! Beginning an online biz can be tough. And, just like changing our bodies, progress isn’t always linear. I came across an email from my friend Jen Sinkler (@jensinkler) about a program that falls in line PERFECTLY with this philosophy – like, I had drafted this email, and then she showed up in my own inbox – called Bigness Project. Jen and Kourtney Thomas (@kthomasfitness) have the same philosophy: in fact, Kourtney’s motto is #BigArmsBigLife. And it resonated so hard with me, that I just HAD TO be a part of their private coaching group (both because I haven’t worked with a lifting coach for more than a seminar or two since I was part of a sports team, and because it was a unique opportunity to see how these things run, because I’d love to host a program like this one day). I applied, and got the cost, and initially got sad that I didn’t have the money. Not that I recommend charging things all the time, but it stayed in my head for a few days until I realized that this is what I’d been looking for: the chance to learn from someone doing smashing a shared passion on a bigger scale than I currently do it. What the heck is money?? We’ll make that back.
THIS IS A DECISION I NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE YEARS AGO. Attribute it to bad past financial decisions, or fear that I wouldn’t ever get it back, or whatever, but, really, it comes down to choosing to stay small – to not learn how to improve, to take criticism, to level up, or to see what else is out there – in the name of comfort. And who wants that??
I say, “I lift heavy shit” all the time, and it’s true. But I don’t just mean a physical external load. We’ve all overcome quite a few things to get to where we are, and it’s all heavy. Having the mentality that we aren’t teeny tiny mice who are here by chance, but as a consequence of our strength, changes everything. We get to choose to take up the space we’re allotted and then create more. In the gym, in our relationships, in life. #WonderWomanLoading is the motto ‘round these parts.
In the coming weeks, we’re gonna go through my favorite lifts (squat, bench, and deadlifts…what else? And, okay, I’ll call myself on it before anyone else has to: I do HATE to bench, but there are lessons in expansion there too.), a brief primer on how to perform them, and what they can teach us.
SO looking forward to it! But, for now, comment and tell me…what’s one area of your life you’re looking forward to leveling up the most?
Go get ‘em, tiger.