Every now and again, I receive an email from someone who's happened upon the blog and who is curious why I don't focus more on size, or more exactly why I rarely discuss issues that come up for those who are larger than the average person on a bicycle. By larger, I don't mean taller - I mean wider.
My response is generally that I have touched on these subjects in the past (and likely will at some point in the future), and I am happy to offer any thoughts that a person might find useful, but the reality is that finding our way as individuals has more to do with our personal strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, experiences, preferences, and so on. In my mind, the beauty of riding a bike is that it is one of the few activities people of many different sizes and shapes can participate in without needing to *lose weight first.
Additionally, it's simply not how I choose to focus this particular space. Sure, once in awhile I go on a rant, but I think those moments come up in times of frustration with the way the general or even a specific portion of the population is treating another segment of the population. It's not that I don't have thoughts or opinions on such matters, but simply that I generally have other things on my mind.
Today is not one of those days. Today also isn't a rant, but just more of (hopefully) a discussion point that I hope others will offer personal opinions and thoughts on.
To be fair, I suppose I should provide some personal background (because of course everyone has bias) So, for those who haven't heard it before, I'll offer some information that definitely forms my opinions today.
I have never been a normal weight at any point in my life past the age of about 3-4 years old. I am the product of two (both formerly - as they've each returned to normal weight ranges in their aging years) obese parents whose idea of helping their children not grow up to be like them meant weighing them in each morning and telling them not to gain any more weight. Daily.
|I was about 2.5 yrs old here - already with the chubby face.|
When I was about 8 years old, my mother decided that I needed to be involved with a sport or activity of some kind. After lots of searching, I decided I wanted to take tap lessons. But, tap classes didn't start for a few weeks and being the impetuous child I was, I decided instead on ballet because it started immediately.
You can imagine the horrors for a chubby kid in a ballet class. Most of the time I didn't realize that I was much bigger than the rest of the girls in class (thank goodness I had a kind teacher), but I recall my mother telling me to "cover up" after class when we'd stop at the grocery store, which only fed my insecurities. Other kids were walking around in leotards and tights. Why did I have to wear clothing over my clothes?
There were the pre-teen and teen years that found me trying to figure out how to get all of the fat off of my body. I went through eating disorders (including starving myself and binge/purging), I attempted to work all the weight off with hours of exercise, and I read countless Shape Magazines in an attempt to figure out what I was doing wrong. I was so obsessed with working out and losing weight that I literally did exercise in my sleep.
I recall the first time my mother came across my nocturnal workouts. One morning, she commented that I really needed to go to sleep at night and not be so concerned with sit ups and jumping jacks at midnight. Confused, I asked what she was talking about and we quickly realized that I was doing all of this in my sleep. Some people walk, some people talk, but for me, I was a sleep-exerciser. I actually do talk in my sleep occasionally too - but that is entirely off topic.
|Just at the start of high school in this photo. I recall my mother telling me not to wear this particular top, but I was definitely in the rebellious stage and didn't care.|
In high school, I found a friend with similar body issues and I drug her in to my ridiculousness. We ate baby food in an attempt to control portions. We met up at the track to run off the excess - though I'm not sure how much was leftover from a small jar intended to nourish an infant, not a growing teen. I tried desperately never to eat unless I absolutely had to do so, which inevitably led to eating too much and then feeling guilty or as though I had no self-control.
Through all of this, it should be noted that I was never an athlete. I was always picked last or nearly last (occasionally, a friend took pity on me) any time we played team sports. It didn't help that I am uncoordinated and a bit of a klutz. But, I knew that wasn't why I wasn't being chosen last as there were plenty of klutzy youths on the field. I was being judged for my size. Even teachers encouraged students to put me in a position that didn't require much of me. It was as though I was expected to do nothing.
As I moved through my young years, I recall my parents telling me that I would always be judged in anything I did because of my size. I would likely be turned down for jobs, men would find me unattractive, I wouldn't be able to do anything physical, and the likelihood of ever finding a partner in life was highly implausible. In short, I learned that if I was going to survive life, I either had to lose all of what society deemed excess weight or start to hide.
I don't recall a point in my life that I didn't feel that others where judging me by my weight. I suppose it's why I felt the need to prove myself as I grew into adulthood. I became more stubborn and determined to prove that my weight was not limiting my accomplishments.
My first attempt at kickboxing actually wasn't in the last few years. My first kickboxing round took place just after the end of high school. The friend that I'd conned into my bizarre diet plans talked me into going to a class with her. As it turned out, I actually liked it. I enjoyed the fact that I couldn't move my arms for days after. I loved that I was able to push myself to a point of near-break. I had never in my life felt so sore - and I absolutely loved it.
But, I was young, working two jobs and going to college, so I really couldn't afford (nor did I have the time) to continue going. After a short time, I had to give it up. In fact, I gave up all activity. All I had time to do was focus on work and school. It was all about survival.
One of my jobs was working at a restaurant, so I had easy access to food. It wasn't so much that I was eating all the time, but what I was eating that did me in. I packed on the pounds and even though I tried to get in the occasional workout, it was tough because I was already sleeping less than 4 hours a night.
|On a ride to Carter Lake not too long ago.|
I share all of this not because I feel a need to explain myself or for some sort of sympathy, but because it forms my thoughts today. While I have a more balanced viewpoint of all things body-related today, these formative times stay with a person. I have worked hard (and continue to do so) in adulthood to overcome the seeds planted in my youth. It is why when I was sent a link to this **article about Amanda Bingson I thought I'd love to delve into this topic a bit.
*Image from ABC
Most of us are taught from a young age to never judge a book by its cover, yet we all have done it at some point in our lives. I also have belief that a 210 pound athlete is a far cry from a 210 pound couch potato. Bingson describes herself as "dense," and I definitely understand those thoughts. I've noticed in myself that weight itself seems to change very little, but the composition of my body can change dramatically, depending on what I'm doing and how hard I'm doing said activity.
One of the things Bingson said struck me as unusual in today's world. She states, "I'll be honest, I like everything about my body." How rare it is to come across anyone, particularly a female, of any size or shape who says she actually likes her body. She notes that she didn't really know what "fat" meant until middle school, stating that it was a school yard boy who pointed out that she was larger than others. Thankfully, she had enough sense to realize that there was nothing wrong with her body. That she is athletic and strong.
If you haven't yet read the interview with Bingson, please go and give it a read. It's short, but a perfect representation of who I would hope young people are aspiring to be. I'm not holding her as an example because she happens to be bigger than some athletes, but rather because she's using the body she has to accomplish her goals and doesn't fit the typical mold for an athlete. What better message to be sent to our nation's youth than to tell them they don't have to look like air-brushed super models to achieve great things?
She's a great representative for adults as well. It's easy to want to force our bodies into becoming something they were never meant to be. As someone who's struggled her entire life trying to make my body conform to what I'm told it should be, I appreciate women like Bingson who remind us that, "You might be prettier or skinnier than me, but I'll kick your ass in a game of one-on-one." We all have our strengths and abilities and I look forward to a day when we aren't judging each other based on what the scale says or what we look like, but because of who we are and what we are capable of doing and achieving.
Do you have any favorite athletes who you think represent where we should be heading? What do you think about the images we typically see in media regarding size, weight, ability and so on? I'd love to hear what you think about anything this topic touches on.
*For the record, I think anyone of any size can do whatever s/he is capable of doing. However, I've definitely seen doctors who insist I shouldn't run because of my size. If my body is cooperative and not giving signs that I'm doing damage, I think running, climbing, kayaking, or whatever activity a person chooses is one s/he should do.
**Thanks to Sam for sending the link to this article my way.