How lifting changed my body image

As discussed in a recent blog post, there were two points in my life where I struggled specifically with anorexia. During these periods of restriction, my primary form of exercise was long-distance running. The more calories burned, the better – that’s what I thought. I don’t remember worrying too much about how my weight loss would affect my shape. Pop culture hadn’t begun its love affair with big butts, and I had resigned myself to a life without big boobs. In my mind, smaller was better.

And anyway: anorexia, specifically, is not about becoming more sexually appealing. The practical consequence of the disease is having no reproductive capacity and, therefore, no interest in sex. It’s very hard to focus on generativity when your body is, quite literally, degenerating. To the surrounding culture, the disease says “fuck you” much louder than it says “fuck me.”

Twenty pounds and a whole lot of recovery later, my relationship with my body and with the culture that surrounds it has changed. In popular media, smaller is no longer conclusively better. But while I appreciate the idea that “fit” and “curvy” have replaced “skinny,” that’s true in more than one sense. Not only are they just as desirable as skinny once was, but they are equally unattainable. “Fit” and “curvy” are a prescription: big butt, tiny waist, perky tits. No fat deposits that aren’t strictly necessary for reproduction.

On the bright side, a woman with these features can help with the continuation of the species. On the downside, she’s still the 1%.

In recovery, I replaced running with lifting weights. I’d love to say that solved the problem. I’d love to say, “With lifting, weight loss isn’t the goal. If you under-eat you lose muscle, and you can’t grow your glutes without eating to support that. So lifting made me less afraid of food and less interested in the scale.”

Me, Saturday

Boom! Perfect. Very clean. Very blog.

I wish it were that simple. Weight lifting is better for me than running. No question. I look forward to going to the gym. I'm left energized rather than exhausted. And "progress" is not defined by getting smaller.

But. Lucky for me, my neuroticism knows no bounds. And sometimes, it seeps into weight lifting, too. When I go too many days without it, I worry about losing my shape. About becoming weak. When I don’t get the proper nutrition, I worry I’ll become soft and flat as a protein pancake. And when I see girls who can lift more or look fitter than me, I still wonder what I’m doing wrong.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being an addict, it’s this: wherever you go, there you are. Changing jobs, apartments, or workout routines can only go so far when you’re bringing the same brain along for the ride. Although the environment can certainly support change a psychic change, ultimately are no external solutions to internal problems. The track and the squat rack beg the same question: would you be good enough without me?