A year or so ago, I walked up a steep hill to a waterfall, where I found the stream choked with wire and detritus. I stuck my arms into the water, feeling it freeze my skin, and used all the muscle I am naturally blessed with to wrench it out.
It was the most wonderful feeling, the sense of accomplishment from being able to use my body to DO something, to help my environment, to work.
It’s the same feeling I get in a dance studio.
I have never, ever felt that way in the gym. I HATE the gym. Every time I try it I hate it more. I hate being focused on myself, on how many reps and how many minutes and muscle gain and fat loss. I don’t care. I know society says I’m supposed to, but I just don’t.
I am naturally a tiny tank, packed with body builder muscles, all power and tension. I lift one heavy thing and Popeye muscles burst from my legs and arms. When I don’t move, those muscles relax into jelly, taking some time off, but they’re always there – even when they’re covered in fat. They’re always ready to be called into action. To work.
I grew up hating that. That I would never be thin, always curved and beefy with chunky limbs and thick joints.
But I am also stronger en pointe with little work than most dancers are after months, because my thick ankles step into action on a moment’s notice. I can move a washing machine on my own, lifting and swivelling it, even when I’m chubby.
I am often chubby.
I stopped eating for a while, tried to starve my muscles into submission. My body responded by keeping the muscles and putting me to sleep instead, slowing down every process, halting the healing of disease.
Towards the end, I was certainly thin. I had no fat on me at all. But my arms were still chunky. My ankles were still thick. And I still hated the gym – but now I couldn’t dance either. Couldn’t move a washing machine. Needed a nap after walking to the fridge.
Worse, I started a chain reaction that would lead to years of rebellion by my body, years of it throwing away perfectly good food because it no longer had what it needed to digest it. Years of rebellious blood, randomly refusing to build new cells. Years of dormant autoimmune issues triggered and running rampant.
And all this for something I have never cared about, but only felt guilty for not caring. Felt ashamed of not being disciplined enough to give a shit.
Rebuilding is the hardest thing I have ever done. Being chubby and thick and all jelly muscle as I heal. Not moving too much while my body relearns what food is, relearns how to use it. Accepting that what’s healthy food for my body isn’t what all the nutritional guides say is healthy – because if I can’t digest it, it’s not healthy any more. Accepting that maybe some of this is permanent, and that’s okay.
Being chubby isn’t the end of anyone’s world, least of all mine. Health comes in so many more forms than well-meaning family and friends will ever know about.
I love to move. I love to work. I am on a quest to find new movement, to rediscover that love in this new body that society thinks is gross but loves me more than it ever has. To give my secret Popeye muscles what they crave: something to DO. I don’t know what form that quest is going to take yet, but I know one thing:
I’m never going back to the fucking gym.