If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred,/And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,/And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more beautiful than the most beautiful face./Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body?/For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves. –Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric”
A body is not a catalog of limbs or a machinery of organs at work. It’s not a drape of skin over skeleton, nor is it a costume we so assiduously assume and then discard. One’s body is a house with all the lights switched on. It’s a place where we invite others in, and sometimes we take up lovemaking like needlework. Other times we solicit solitude and revel in our rest. But mostly, it’s our life’s work, our personal harvest, and we tend to it with the sort of care that give our beloveds or children. We have this one great, sweeping life, and I’ve come to realize that our body carries us through this journey out of the dark — that first thrust, the screams, the tightly-clenched fists and face all flushed and bloodied red — to the light and back into the dark again, skin like worn cashmere and a body that longs for an eternal rest. So in the space that occupies the child and the departed, don’t we owe it to ourselves to love this house we’ve inherited? Every nail, every brick?
Last week I looked at a photograph of myself in my twenties and wished I had loved myself more. I was thin, but not thin enough, back then. Or so I thought. I lived with a man who regarded my slight frame as something gargantuan, a mythic beast out of a sci-fi movie, and during a time when I subsisted on coffee, Lean Cuisine, yoghurt and red wine, an angry man on a subway platform called me fat. Why did I choose to see myself through eyes other than mine? Why did it take this long to see me through me? And when I read Grace Atwood’s post, it reaffirmed a sea-change that many women I know have been experiencing — fitness as a celebration of our houses rather than tombs in which we exercise punishment.
I’ve been waging a war with my body for as long as I could remember. From an awkward child who developed too fast to a rail-thin writer turned executive with a severe drinking problem, my body was a shape from which I sought exit. If I could crawl out of it, I would. And instead I’d slip into what I’d coveted — long, tawny limbs and hips that don’t bloom. For a time all I did was stare at other women and compare my mess of a body, regardless of how small it was, to theirs. If only I had more discipline. If only I hadn’t lost that tape measure, the object I used to record my shrinking. Waist 26, Hips 36.
Five years ago my body changed. A stressful job, a manic schedule and an obsession with food delivery, and my weight ballooned more than I wanted it to. I hadn’t seen this body since I was in college, a time before I devoted a considerable amount of time to the reduction of Felicia. Around this time I was friends with someone who was cruel and verbally abusive, and because she had envied my professional success, even as I was adamant that one woman’s triumph is every woman’s triumph, she made snide comments about my weight. Told me that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, and I felt lethal. I could kill. I could maim. Instead, I did the very thing I should have done all those years ago. I made the long journey back home. And I excised my friendship with a woman who was the human version of a barnacle.
I was determined to love my house, regardless of its shape. This took time. Oceans of it.
I don’t own scales. I don’t own tape measures. I don’t go on trendy, unhealthy juice cleanses and I don’t regard food as a thing from which I need to detox. I don’t shame myself like I once did, and I try to be mindful of bad habits, of talking about earning the right to eat a cookie. It would be a lie to say that sometimes I don’t glance over and pine for what another woman has, but I try to think about my house. How I need it to be strong to weather storms. How I need it to be warm and inviting. Because singing the body electric is about the thrill with oneself, awe at what the body is capable of achieving, and what it can deliver if you tend to it.
Today I spent the day with two of my very dear friends. My friend Sarah and I sweated through a class at Chaise Fitness, and after class we talked about how much we motivated one another, how we fed off our energy and how, during class, we’d sometimes roll our eyes and laugh because through all the work, we were still having fun.
Instead of the requisite let’s meet for an expensive dinner or drinks, my friends and I are trying classes all around the city. Many of us snagged Classtivity Passports, so we can sample yoga, barre, bootcamp, spin, dance — all on the cheap. We’re booking classes for Core Fusion, Bar Method, Physique 57, Yoga Vida, Pure Barre. We’re not comparing classes as if we’re in some marathon rap battle, because our predilections run personal. But I will tell you this: we’re laughing our way through our classes. Because, in the end, we want our houses sturdy and strong, whether we’re a studio apartment or a mansion.