The Threat of Thighs

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If someone called me chubby, it would no longer be something that kept me up late at night. Being called fat is not like being called stupid or unfunny, which is the worst thing you could ever say to me. Do I envy Jennifer Hudson for being able to lose all that weight and look smokin’ hot? Of course, yes. Do I sometimes look at Gisele Bundchen and wonder how awesome life would be if I never had to wear Spanx? Duh, of course. That’s kind of the point of Gisele Bundchen. And maybe I will, once or twice, for a very short period of time. But on the list of things I want to do in my lifetime, that’s not near the top. I mean, it’s not near the bottom either. I’d say it’s right above “Learn to drive a vespa,” but several notches below “film a chase scene for a movie”.
― Mindy Kaling

I used to race a lot. My first 10k happened in 1994. By 1996 I completed my first marathon and kept on going. Babies were born, races were run, I proved and fought and strove. The compulsion to become better, thinner, faster nestled on my shoulder, inhabited my dreams, whispered in my ear.

The drive, my lifeline, my excuse to eat and earn love and desperate approval.

I ran and ran, and when I couldn’t, I swam and swam and then rode and rode, taking me to the pinnacle of personal achievement, an Ironman.

The day in June of 2010 dawned beautiful, water calm and chilly, adrenaline coursing through my veins. Here I was, the starting line of the thing that would make me worthy, the thing that would emblazon me with the title Ironman. All in all, everything went smooth and according to plan, my splits were as I expected and hoped. My greatest goal, to sail through that finish line with a smile on my face, arms raised. I Am An Ironman! 

Family and friends cheered me on, my children saw their mother accomplish something. The race everything I had hoped for: adequate nutrition, generous people, perfect training, assistance from the bicycle mechanic gods.

I wanted to be better. I wanted to be known for something. I wanted to exceed.

Six years later, I sit here in my family room, gazing upon the chickens and sheep doing their thing, the haphazard garden has yielded some produce, the grass has recovered from the summer’s heat, the perennials are on their way out – preparing for winter hibernation. My life is good, my children are growing, my marriage is seasoned. Races are a thing of the past, and it is unknown if they will be a thing of the future.

From the outside you would look at my life and assume I have nothing to fear, nothing to keep me up at night. From the outside you would see a healthy woman, content in her body and purpose. From the outside you might see someone who has it all. And you know what? I do. According to the standards I set up for myself, I have achieved. I have accomplished everything and more. I have a comfortable life where finances are a consideration but not feared. I have decent health, a strong body, generous friends who help me balance and process, a loving church, a beautiful home, a happy family. I live my dream.

But here is where we must be careful. It is easy to assume, since a person looks great on the outside – they have it all together – their insides are in alignment. This is not true. Just because I am at a healthy weight, does not mean I am content with said weight. Just because my marriage looks fantastic, does not mean we do not have our struggles. Just because my house is clean does not mean I don’t wrestle with wanting more. Just because I’m educated doesn’t mean I know what to do with my life.

We cannot ascribe to another how they should feel based upon our own comparisons. We cannot assume anything about another unless we have had the truth-telling conversations. This trust must be earned, this divulging requires hours upon hours of earning.

A woman’s thighs do not tell me the state of her marriage.

A woman’s sense of style does not reveal her finances.

A woman’s success at work does not correlate to her childhood story.

A woman’s education does not indicate her daily caloric intake.

A woman’s pant size has nothing to do with her happiness or contentment.

We have to be careful what we ascribe to people based upon unrelated data. I cannot tell you how many times I have been surprised by somebody’s story because they have a fantastic, to-die-for-body. And I cannot tell you how many times I perceived a person’s fitness because of her size. I have made gross assumptions about the quality of a life, ascribing happiness or misery because of appearances. This is harmful and detrimental.

Our work is to be in relationship. Our work is to earn the right to hear another’s story. Our work is to challenge the narratives we tell ourselves because somebody else appears to have it (whatever it is) better.

We are in this together. We have so much to contribute to the world – our voices, our love, our generosity and nurturing. We are the mothers, the caregivers and lovers, the fiercest protectors. We are the feminine aspects of God: strength and generosity and sustenance. This is our role, this is our beauty. When I get stuck in comparisons, assigning value to another for her outward appearance and accomplishments, I contribute to the problem. I am an accomplice in the furtherance of our competition and threat. When we unite, we achieve. When we seek to understand and give the benefit of the doubt, we succeed.

May we live, offering life to ourselves and to one another. Our great accomplishments are opportunities to celebrate. But our lives are so much more than our achievements. We are valuable and beautiful  because we are.

As I learn to love myself, I love others.

As I learn to love myself, I love others.