Fat-bottom gals.

December 30, 2010

I’ve always been the kind of person who hates going clothes shopping, hates dressing rooms, hates buying jeans and swimsuits….  I believe in 3-way mirrors, and eliminating panty-lines.  I bought my first pair of jeans since high school at the ripe old age of 37 — only after seeing Oprah’s favorite “long and lean” Gap jeans which she swears by (and now I do too.)  However, I have never worn jeans to work, even on our long-standing and highly endorsed “casual Fridays.”  And I’ve noticed that perhaps more than a few of my coworkers might consider following suit.  In a cross between modesty and self-consciousness, I am very mindful of dressing in ways that I’ve learned flatter my only asset and conceal most of my flaws.

On the long list of reasons I run, very near the top of the list is the fact that only running serves to keep me about ten pounds under the weight I would gravitate to without it.  And, unlike biking, running reduces my tendency to “bulk up” with muscles.  I’m well aware of my body type.  I haven’t embraced it yet, but I know there is a limit to how thin I’m going to get without completely restricting my diet beyond what I think I could maintain long-term.  I know I have curves.  I know I will never wear “skinny jeans.”

But, still.

A few weeks ago, I was playing with my young sons, and I was pretending to be a bear or maybe it was a lion, crawling down the hallway and growling at them while they laughed and screamed in delight, first running away from me, only to return in a few minutes to make sure I was still chasing them, before scampering away again.

At some point, I glanced behind me to make sure I wasn’t about to back into something, and caught a glimpse of my enormous derriere in our full-length mirror stationed at the end of the hallway.  I was fascinated and mortified all at the same time.  I stood up and kept my inspecting going for a few more moments, feeling the heat of embarrassment creeping up the back of my neck and the tears beginning to sting my eyes.

I was looking at my mother’s bottom.

Let me stop right her and get a few disclaimers out there immediately.  1.  My mother is a beautiful woman.  2.  My mother is also a very modest and very self-conscious woman when it comes to her body.  3.  My mother raised 5 children and did not work outside the home, and did this in the 1960s and 70s, which my history lessons tell me preceded the running and fitness craze.  (In fact, my mother points out that during her gym classes growing up, the girls were only allowed to jump rope.  No running, no sports, no calisthenics.  Nothing that my Title 9 generation of woman took for granted in our development, and nothing that I think my daughter will ever have to imagine, thank goodness.)  Mom raised us and didn’t go off to the gym or the track to work out.

It’s discouraging on both a personal and a more cultural level.  I don’t know if I can explain it well, but I occasionally contemplate how in our day so much processed food and enormous portions undermines the gains we have made as a society that knows so much more than ever before in history about the science of food, fitness, exercise, and improved health.  Successful athletes continue to push the limits of what is known and believed about the capacity of the human form, and yet as everyone knows we are facing unprecedented levels of obesity at all age levels.

My mom served us simple meals, the kind of food that is characterized know as “whole foods” because that was just about the only options available.  If memory serves, the only processed food you could get back then were a few varieties of Hamburger Helper or Shake and Bake Chicken?  We never had chips or cookies just lying around, and when we did have cookies, she made them herself with ingredients she could pronounce.

Of course, joggers and walkers and aerobics classes were not a common sight in those days either.  Exercise was simpler, and it mainly entailed the manual labor of running a household and keeping it and its inhabitants clean and fed.  I have a vague memory of an electric vibrating exercise belt that involved standing on a platform, placing a wide belt around one’s hips and thighs, and flipping the switch.  It would vibrate, jiggling those offending body parts.  I can’t, for the life of me, imagine what the point of this “exercise” was, other than perhaps to horrify the person doing the “exercise” so they would decide not to eat anything for the rest of the week?

So when I looked in the mirror and saw my mother’s backside looming at me, I was more than a little upset.  I run every single day, for crying out loud.  The whole point is to NOT have my mother’s bottom, and yet, all signs point to the fact that it’s there, larger than life.

My mom did the best she could with the information that was available to her at the time that she was raising kids and trying to keep up her mojo.  Her wisdom, passed on to me, has included very good tips, such as “don’t clean your kids’ plates” and “if you find you’re eating everything else in the house because you’re trying NOT to eat the cookie, just eat the cookie and get on with your day.”  She didn’t run, bike, or swim.  She didn’t lift weights, but of course, she did lift countless baskets of laundry, bags of groceries, and babies, toddlers, and children — and now grandchildren — in those arms.

So what lesson can I really glean from this?  I can’t fight my genetic make-up, but at the same time I can’t give up the good fight.  I know it’s not just about fitting into a size 8 instead of giving it up and relaxing in a more spacious size 12.  It’s about being healthy, being energetic enough to be the fun mom at the playground and at the pool instead of the mom sitting on the bench and watching, it’s about having the endurance to get through the day when the day is 18 hours long and doesn’t include 10 minutes to sit down.  It’s about showing my kids just how great it is to be active together and how much fun it is to be able to move and jump and climb and run.

But I will  be thinking it’s still better if I can do all that and fit into a size 8 besides.

Thanks, Mom.

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