Last night, I was at a body positive underwear party (hosted by the amazing Pleasure Pie), and one of the exercises we did was to pair up with someone and tell them our life story in six minutes or less with a focus on how we have viewed our bodies.

Once upon a time, an exercise like that would have deeply triggered me, and I might have told a story about struggling with my body, disliking my body, or hoping to change it. But last night, instead, I found myself telling a story with a much happier ending.

I’ve been reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown recently, and one of the things she talks a lot about is how bringing things that feel shameful into the light is a way to take the power out of them. And I think that is what has happened with my body image story; each time I’ve told a piece, whether to a friend, on this blog, or on a stage, it has helped dispel some of the silence and secrecy and guardedness I had previously felt around talking about my experiences of my body.

By telling my story over and over, I have dispelled its power over me.

As a result, tonight, rather than crying or feeling sad or not being able to access my words, I told my story from a place of empowerment. And as I told it, I wove in a new thread – one of knowing that my body has always been fine. Even though I may have struggled with the messages I received from external people and structures, I had this beautiful realization that I’ve always kind of known I was okay and that finding the size positive movement has only validated what I already felt to be true.

But the only way to get to that place where I could tell my story cleanly and without shame was to first tell it when I was still stumbling around in darkness and didn’t yet know its shape. I had to stand up over and over again and say things that felt overwhelmingly hard in an attempt to continuously shed little bits of light on the landscape.

Realizing last night that I was finally at a place where I could see the whole thing for what it is felt incredibly empowering and also breathtaking in it’s awesomeness.

This also comes on a week when I’ve felt strongly that I want to recommit to my writing, and I hope this is only the first piece of that, because by continue to tell my stories here (and hopefully on some other platforms as well), I can bring even more light to the dark shame-y places of my stories and take back the power from cultural narratives that have been imposed on them.

And if I can do that for myself, then maybe the world will also get a little bit lighter for someone else.


Kindergarten for Muscles

by Sarah on April 18, 2015

I talk about parkour a lot, and I worry that somehow people think this means that I’m actually good at it, when in fact I’m often the slowest and weakest in the class and spend a significant portion of my time feeling frustrated as I try to master new skills.

However, one of the things that’s been helping me lately is something the teacher of this tumbling class I’ve been taking told us a few weeks ago:

To paraphrase, she said that you wouldn’t teach calculus to Kindergarteners, and you wouldn’t tell a 5-year-old that they’re stupid because they don’t know how to do calculus. First you have to teach counting, and then arithmetic, and then algebra, and so on and so forth so that, by the time they’re in high school, they have all the foundations they need to be able to access and understand calculus.

And she said that gaining skills in gymnastics is a lot like this; you have to learn to do a forward roll (and a bunch of other things) before you can do a back tuck.

When I try to explain why this felt so profound, people seem to miss the point. They think I’m simply referring to some kind of linearity: A before B. And certainly, when you’re lifting weights in the gym, there is linearity. This week you lift 50 lbs, and in a few weeks you can go up to 60. This is how many of us think about strength and skill gains.

And yet, the more I train parkour, the more I realize that there are other forces at work besides brute strength. Getting from counting to calculus isn’t just a matter of learning more numbers; it’s a matter of synthesis and learning new functions.

As an example, I’ve been working on step vaults, one of the most basic parkour skills, since literally the first day I started, and I’ve struggled with them particularly over rails. And until last month, there were a lot of times when it just felt like I wasn’t getting any closer, despite clearly continuing to gain strength.

And then a few weeks ago, on my 8 month parkour-i-versary, I suddenly was able to get the vault over a rail from the ground. And then again. And again. And while it’s possible that suddenly, on that Wednesday, I had exactly enough strength to finally execute the move, it seems more likely that I’ve probably been strong enough to do this for a while, especially since I was able to do 20+ in a row. Rather than the new skill being the product of a linear strength gain, it was more likely a result of my brain and various neurons finally catching up with my body and being able to synthesize all the parts of the movement; foot up, lift, rotate hips, step through.

A few weeks ago, in fact, one of the female coaches here did a lesson on the step vault where we went over a very small object while practicing really good technique, and I’m convinced that it was her comment about needing to rotate the hips up that eventually percolated in my brain and through my body, resulting in the vault. I had been convinced that I wasn’t strong enough, when actually, my body just hadn’t quite grasped all the functions it needed.

Of course, while this idea that my muscles are still Kindergarteners (or maybe first graders by now?) is really helpful, it also feels frustrating sometimes because I know that many other people come into the class with middle school or high school level abilities. They were encouraged to run and jump and play and explore the world and their bodies throughout their lives, and I was not, both as a function of my size and my perceived gender.

If I had been picked earlier or teased less often in gym, if I had ever made any of the dozens of sports teams I tried out for, if I had learned to jog instead of being thrown into a field once a year and told to run a mile… maybe I would be further along than I am now. If I had seen images of people who looked like me having fun in their bodies, if I had found anyone who had encouraged me to be more athletic, or if I hadn’t been self-conscious of how my stomach stuck out in dance costumes by the age of 8, maybe this would all come a little bit more naturally.

Of course, stressing myself out about never having been Kindergarten isn’t going to help me actually get the skills I need to do to the things I want to do. For me, thinking of this metaphor has been most helpful in getting me to stop focusing on what I can’t do and instead focus on each new baby step in front of me.

And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be able to do the parkour equivalent of differential equations too.


Fat Kids Can’t Jump

November 29, 2014

In grade school, we used to have to do this thing called the President’s Physical Fitness Test. This was generally sprung on us with no warning, twice a year, and we would suddenly have to demonstrate and be evaluated on our ability to do sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, a standing broad jump, and a run. Please […]

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I Did a Thing

September 26, 2014

Eleven weeks ago, I tried my first parkour class. Seven weeks ago, I decided to sign up for a weekend long parkour event happening in Boston. I also made a commitment to myself that I would go to three classes a week between then and the event. I would give my training my all and […]

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How to Treat a Fat Person in a Fitness Class

September 23, 2014

Body image and fitness are so intertwined in the general consciousness that some truly bizzare things can happen when a fat person sets foot into a fitness class. Fat people are often encouraged to work out (which is problematic for many reasons, but not what we’re discussing here), but when many fitness environments are basically […]

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On Intersectionality and Stuff

August 28, 2014

I was all set to kick up the frequency with which I post on here a few weeks ago… …and then Michael Brown (an unarmed teenager) was shot and killed in Ferguson, and I’ve been sick to my stomach ever since. Yes, there is a war on fat people in our society. Yes, married people […]

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Fat Parkour

August 9, 2014

Me: I’m not sure if it’s lack of strength or fear. Coach: Welcome to parkour. It’s probably fear. In case it is not evident from the title of this site,  I am fat. I have been fat my entire life. It wasn’t until two years ago that I stopped thinking of fat as a bad thing, […]

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Subverting the Stereotypes

July 16, 2014

There are a lot of negative stereotypes out there when it comes to singles, and the more confident and vocal I become about relationship issues, the more I find myself able to engage with them out in the wild. Which I have to admit is a hell of a lot of fun. Today, at work, […]

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Singles and Healthcare

July 2, 2014

Since my social media feeds are blowing up with comments about the shit-tastic SCOTUS ruling (and Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s rockin’ dissent) I thought I’d take a moment to talk about singles and how our relationship to healthcare is different and more challenging than coupled folks, and why this decision is extra-frightening for single people in […]

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The Courage of My Own Convictions

June 10, 2014

When you believe a thing that is very different from what most of the world believes, it can be hard to hold on to that belief. And this feels especially true when that belief is so big that it becomes an identity. There seem to be only two good options: silence or flag-bearing. I started […]

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