Do you see that beautiful woman in the picture above, her hands thrown up in surrender? This is Susan Olive, one of my newer runners and a real inspiration to me and countless others! One of the great things about Susan is that the moment you meet her you feel like you've known her forever. You'd trust her with your life and your dirtiest secrets. This very special lady is also a breast cancer survivor. Like pretty much every woman I know, she struggles with how she feels about her body. Body image issues are particular close to my own heart, since in my teens and twenties I struggled with anorexia and bulimia. You might say I have an internal radar for women who are afflicted with the body-dissatisfaction gene! On a recent run, I listened to Susan make a number of harsh remarks about her body--which broke my heart, since she is so very beautiful and dear. As a coach, I understand just how much negative self talk can affect how you feel about your running and can limit your progress. To help Susan realize just how awesome she is, I assigned her the following essay. Look for her soon, strutting her stuff down the catwalk! This lady has the goods!
Running at the Mouth
By Susan Olive
I can’t say I wasn’t warned.
“She assigns essays for punishment," I was told.
“She made me write an essay for complaining last class," they whispered.
I had figured she’d cut me some “newbie slack”. I was wrong.
So here I am, only 4 weeks after joining Alexa’s 5k/10k running class, and I’m writing my “punishment essay”. I suppose I deserve it. No, I know I deserve it. To be fair, she assigns these essays not really for “punishment”, but more to help the offender self reflect and work through something that may be holding them back physically and/or mentally. Alexa figured me out right away. I use humor a lot. It’s a significant part of my personality. I would like to think that I always use it appropriately and that I’m universally hilarious to all audiences, but I know it’s not the case. (I admit I get some eye rolling, or worse, the blank stares). I also might be a little overly sarcastic and self deprecating with my humor. And that’s what got me into trouble.
I am currently at the heaviest weight I have ever been in my life. I reluctantly admit, even heavier than the day I gave birth to our son. I like to imagine that I’m still just hanging on to that pregnancy weight, but considering our “baby” is now an 18 year old college student, nobody’s buying it. So four weeks ago I join Alexa's 5k running class. There are many reasons why I joined. Alexa’s classes came highly recommended, and it sounded like a good way to meet some new people. Plus, I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of being a “runner”…and, of course, I thought that maybe running would help me get back to a healthier weight. Flash forward a few weeks, and I am absolutely loving the class and doing so much better with running than I ever imagined I could. However, Alexa is noticing that I point out, poke fun of, and joke about my weight/body a little bit too much for her liking. She apparently decides that I need some tough love and proceeds to dole out the dreaded “punishment essay”. It’s a doozy. I have to write an essay on what I like about my body. You would think that would have gotten me to immediately shut up and stop with the jokes. Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment, because a couple of self-deprecating jabs later she assigned me the second part of my essay. Now, in addition I also have to write about the dangers of negative self talk. Damn, she’s good.
I decide to take this assignment seriously and start really thinking about why I publicly poke fun of my body/weight. After a little self reflection, I’m supposing it’s because I am uncomfortable, embarrassed, and maybe a little ashamed of my current size. I joke because I want people to laugh with me and not at me. Perhaps I do the public joking to address my size and have it be out in the open. Like I’m pointing out the elephant in the room - figuratively and literally! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, Alexa. Please don’t assign me another essay!) Clearly I’m dealing with a couple of different but related issues here. I’m belittling myself AND I’m not embracing my body in its current state. Intellectually, I understand the dangers of constantly putting myself down and making negative jokes about my body. Being negative, even if I’m “joking”, is putting out negative energy. It’s not helping me to move forward on this issue, and it’s not helping me to feel good about myself. It’s common knowledge that positive thinking is beneficial to the spiritual and physical self. I’ve read the books. I watch Oprah. I really do tend to be a pretty optimistic person, I swear! But I can work on giving myself more pats on the back. I will work on cutting back the negative thoughts/jokes at my expense. The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?
Now comes the hard part. What do I like about my body? Sigh. Like so many people, I’ve had my ups and downs with my weight. It’s been awhile, but I have had some good bikini days here and there. Although I have to admit I never ever remember being 100% satisfied with my body. I suppose only a lucky few people get to 100%. A quick trip to Google comes up with a 2011 poll from Glamour Magazine that reported 97% of women experience “I hate my body thoughts” on a daily basis. That’s a depressing statistic. I can honestly say I’ve never hated my body. I’m usually just not happy with it. I recently found one of those memes that sums it up pretty well, “I wish I was as thin as I was when I thought I was fat”. That’s so me. Two years ago I had gotten down (once again) to a comfortable weight, was exercising regularly and starting to feel really proud of my body again. Then I was blindsided with invasive breast cancer at age 43. Four surgeries, two years into a five year sentence of endocrine therapy, and an additional 40 pounds later, here I am. I could play my “cancer card” and blame it for all the weight gain, which I would happily do if I was actually making an honest effort and not stuffing my face. But I don’t want to search for excuses. I know exactly how to get to and maintain a healthy weigh--I am just having trouble following through again.
How on earth do I stop this vicious cycle?! And if I don’t…how do I accept and embrace my current body/size? Honestly, I don’t want to accept it. I really don’t. And it’s not just about the size (though it does annoy me to not be able to wear 1/2 of the clothes in my closet). It’s about eating smarter and making better choices. When I’m eating right (which usually results in a healthier weight) I feel better, I have more energy, my cholesterol is down, my blood pressure is good, I feel more confident and strong. I also know that eating right and being a healthy weight will decrease my unfortunately real chances of a breast cancer recurrence. You think that alone would motivate me! I’m thinking I need to (excuse my French) “shit or get off the pot”. Put my money (not the brownie) where my mouth is. Quit with the self abusing jokes and excuses and make a serious effort to eat healthier and get the weight off. But if I’m not able/ready/willing to do that right now, then I need to learn to suck it up (and in), live with it, and accept that this is who I am today, and that’s okay….for now. How does that saying go? Have the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
So here I am thinking that I’m ready to wrap this essay up and that “this wasn’t so bad”, when I realize that I never did answer “What do I like about my body”. Ugh. Hmmmm…. Errrrrr….Well…. I do have decent looking feet. My nose is certainly a respectable size. I’ve never ever once complained about my earlobes. I have admired my thumbs on occasion. My elbows have never caused me any kind of embarrassment. Admittedly, in the right outfit and a good pair of spanx, I will look in the mirror and think, “I’ve still got it”. I don’t like to brag, but this was recently confirmed to me by some very playful winks and flirtatious smiles from members of the opposite sex. Granted, they were near sighted residents of my father’s retirement home, but still.
I better stop before I get in trouble again.
Seriously, this “punishment” has been a very good exercise in self awareness. It has made me really think about how I am presenting myself to others (and to myself), and why I should change that. My body and I have been through a lot. I think that I need to give it a little more respect for hanging in there and not giving up on me. I need to stop constantly poking fun of it and treat it a little kinder and gentler, physically and mentally. And I need to focus more on the positive and work on quashing those negative thoughts no matter how well I think they fit into a great punchline.
Huh. I thought that I had just joined a “running” class. I can already see that it’s going to be so much more than that. Me and my magnificent earlobes are looking forward to finding out what else we will discover as we travel down Alexa’s road.