Saturday, March 9, 2013

Be Your Own Beloved #17

Every day, I am taking a self-portrait in conjunction with Vivienne McMaster's Be Your Own Beloved e-course. Sometimes it takes me longer - like a week or more, but I'm dedicated to finishing this project!

Taking Up Space with Strength in My Big Body

The next assignment is about taking up space. Just like the last assignment, this sent me on a whirlwind of thoughts of feelings. As a big woman I have always been hyper-conscious of how much space I take up. We live in a culture that STILL wants to punish women for being big, for being powerful and for taking up space, both physically and energetically. It's amazing to me how threatened strangers are on the street when I walk by. I'm often wearing something bright and festive and I often have a smile on my face. Some people see this act of "being happy while fat" as a threat to their very existence  - "A woman can be that large and happy too? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?" I've had strangers tell me I "shouldn't wear" what I'm wearing. I've had cars full of boys scream horrible things at me as I walk. I've had groups of girls comment on what I'm wearing and laugh as I walk by. Sometimes it's exhausting to be a walking, revolutionary statement, but after 40 years, I'm used to it.

I had so many ideas for today's theme, many of which included me being out in the world and taking up space in places where I have felt "too big." There's a restaurant that has tiny chairs and tables that I don't fit in. There is a store, whose aisles I can barely walk down, because they are so narrow. And I won't even begin to talk about airline seats! But when I arrived at some of these places to take some self-portraits, I ended up feeling tight and cramped and sad. I was reminded over and over I am "too big" for so many small spaces in the world and the self-portraits I took felt strange and forced. I realized that I needed to come more from a place of celebration and not necessarily of political activism. But what does that look like? How do I celebrate how my body takes up space?

Flexing for the Camera!

As many of you know, I am a weightlifter. It's been an amazing journey to find my way back to loving my large body and really being present in it and weightlifting has played a big role in that. As I lift heavier and heavier weights, I become stronger and as a result, I build muscle. This means that my body has been changing. My body has gotten "bigger" in some ways, while also getting tighter, curvier and smaller in other ways. For someone who has grown up being afraid of her body, afraid of her strength and afraid of her power, this has been an amazing journey for me.

I have lots of great talks with my teammates, in between lifting (at the wonderful, totally size-positive Myles Ahead Fitness - if you are ever in Northern California, come visit!). Yesterday, our conversation shifted to a terrible article some random male personal trainer had recently published about "weight-training for women" that had gotten everyone riled up. I'm not going to link to it here, because I do not want to give that man any web traffic. In this article, he talked about how women can get "bulky shoulders and traps" and how that "wasn't attractive" and that personal trainers needed to "be careful" that they didn't "bulk up" their female clients. Again, we see the fear of women taking up too much space and being too strong. When I shared this article with my coach, he just laughed and shook his head and said "What an idiot." Needless to say, I adore my coach!

Here's Me Using my Strong Arms and Shoulders to Snatch 40 kilos (88 lbs.)

My weightlifting team is incredibly diverse, in body type, age, and gender. Yesterday, I was sitting with two of the strongest members of my team, a man and a woman in their early 20's and both of them were decrying this ridiculous article. Our conversation reminded me of something that had happened the night before - I was getting ready for bed and my husband said suddenly "look at those shoulders!" Now, he meant it in the most positive way. My husband loves my strong, big body and I know that completely. And yet, my first reaction was fear and shame. "Oh no! Am I getting too bulky?" Even now, I still have that secret, dark voice inside me that says "big is bad."

So back in the gym, as I heard these two lifters, whom I admire so much, talking about how fantastic it is for women to be strong and have big shoulders and big traps and lift big weights I felt a light joy spread through my body. I realized, THIS IS HOW I TAKE UP SPACE - by loving my body and pushing it and helping it get stronger and embracing the way it changes. When I returned home from the gym, I asked my husband to take pictures of me and my big shoulders and large arms, as I took up as much space as I could in the frame. I love how these pictures came out! It was also hilarious to be flexing like some kind of body builder while my husband snapped pictures! I know he enjoyed it!

I really love how this project continues to push me and take me to new places. I'm having so much fun!

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