Friday I went to hot yoga.
I bought a Groupon awhile ago for ten classes ($35!) and went to one class. I didn’t particularly like the teacher and also I don’t particularly like hot yoga, or even yoga that much. This is a thing I forget regularly and buy groupons for and then remember that I don’t love it, and even though I don’t hate it, it’s hard to plan on doing it because so much depends on the state of hydration, vertigo and IBS my body happens to be in, whereas other types of exercise have a bit more leeway where that comes in. Gross. Anyway. You see what I mean. Hot yoga takes very particular planning, and a lot of things they say about it is kind of bullshit tbh. High heartrate doesn’t necessarily mean more calorie burn, and calorie burning is really not what fitness is all about.* Anyway. Hot yoga is not a blast, but I also enjoy the last fifteen minutes or so, when I feel really bendy and like I can accomplish any of the moves.
The only reason I went is because my groupon is about to expire, and when classes are regularly $16, you have to go to at least three to make the groupon an actual deal. I think I’ve told you this before, but there is no better motivator to work out than having money on the line.**
So. Rewind a bit more. Earlier in the day, I was teaching my usual Friday morning aqua fit class. I teach from the deck, in clothing. I really think that in the grand scheme of attractive women, I’m a bit above average but far from a hottie. Lots of t&a if you’re into that, but really I’m not that special. I do, however, dress pretty well, at least in the sense that I’ve learned from trial and many, many errors what looks good on my body and what doesn’t. (Thanks, Clinton Kelly! See my humblebrag below.).
What I’m saying is that while I don’t think I look all that great naked, and I certainly don’t try to spend long amounts of time with people when I’m unclothed and lights are on, but I work somewhat hard to make my body look decent, and I also wear things that mask or accentuate things, rather than exaggerate them.
So I was doing one of my ridiculous jumpy-aroundy things (you try demonstrating water activities on land and see how graceful you look) and two women*** were talking to each other and said, “No jell-o there!” and pointed to me. The pool is indoors and it’s impossible to hear anything, so I asked them what they said because I thought maybe they had a question. They repeated themselves and told me I was “solid” because apparently I have no jiggle to my thighs.
This is an outright lie.
This is supposed to be a compliment even though “solid” is an iffy word.
I told them to hush, that I look good in clothes and there’s a reason I don’t wear my swimsuit to class**** and also a good half of my measurable difference in thigh appearance over the past year is magical body cream, not the workouts I do.
These are true things, but they’re also things I’ve been trained to say because women are trained to deflect compliments. When is the last time you received a compliment and immediately follow it with a qualifier or a modifier or a negative thing to balance the compliment with? If you identify as a woman, I’m going to go with never, and I dare you to tell me different.*****
I don’t want to be flippant about body dysmorphic disorder, because that is a real thing in the DSM and I really hate when people use true disorders and diseases as if they’re silly (“omg, I’m, like, so bipolar today!” NOPE). But I think those of us who live in western, body-obsessed developed nations are all trained to have a touch of body dysmorphia because we’re constantly barraged with messages telling us our bodies don’t look right. And if you don’t look right ever, but you’re only ever seeing “right” bodies in front of you, but if you’re also educated enough to know that those “right” bodies aren’t even “real” because of Photoshop, how do you even have the mental capacity to consider what your real, physical body actually looks like? I don’t. And I don’t want to. I don’t really want to look at my body unless I’m looking at a cute outfit I have on. I have been so confused by messages my whole life that I also cannot competently buy foundation or concealer because magazines have confused me about what color my skin is. That’s a story for another day, though.
So. I told them to shush and went on with class. Then I went to hot yoga.
Hot yoga is terrible; did I mention that?
There is nothing you can wear that is not uncomfortable – and while I haven’t tried it, I’m going to posit that not even nudity is comfortable in hot yoga because hello, dangling parts and boob sweat. So I wore Spandex bike shorts, which I have been wearing for pole fitness recently****** and a cotton t-shirt that I wear when I want to look not totally shlumpy but not waste a real outfit. Cotton is terrible for sweating, and it’s especially terrible when you keep bending over and are being told to breathe and the shirt is covering your face.
I was so fed up that I just tore the shirt off. So then I was in bike shorts, which, like Spanx, only stay down on your thighs if you don’t have any thigh fat to worry about anyway, which were constantly riding up, and a sports bra. Thank goodness it was this really adorable Panache one, because other sports bras I own look like granny bras.
So there I was, with my cellulite-y thighs, uneven shorts, cute bra where my nipples were showing through even though it was ONE MILLION DEGREES IN THERE, and with all my belly rolls for people to see.
Yoga is supposed to be meditational, about pushing thoughts aside and just focusing on your practice, but how can it be when there is a person with cellulite in the room with you? And with rolls all over her torso? People who have muffin tops are not entitled to wear skimpy outfits, even when it is, again, ONE MILLION DEGREES in the room and there is so much sweat dripping into your eyes you think your contact lenses will fall out.
I kept staring into the mirror, being kind of disgusted with myself, trying to figure out where in the world people were getting this idea that I was ripped or something. And also I was trying to make my body do the things that the instructor was telling us to do, and it’s easier to do that when you have visual feedback. I couldn’t see it.
But at the same time, I could. Because if I were truly so disgusted with myself, I would never have taken my shirt off. I never would have worn those shorts. A year or two ago, I would have worn a parka into that room and stayed the whole class, even if I fainted, rather than admit defeat or show people my body. Today I said, “fuck it. My body is doing this thing and I’m going to make it as bearable as possible, and that means only wearing this small amount of clothing.”
Do I have any idea what people were thinking? I kept telling myself I did, but no, I didn’t really. Probably no one cared. Probably because I was managing to keep up with the class, the guy next to me that I could have sworn was judging my fat rolls was probably thinking, “damn, she can balance on her leg for longer than I can.” Or maybe he was thinking about his own leg. Or his cat. Or what he was going to eat for dinner. I don’t care. So why would I think he cared so much about me to do anywhere near the level of analysis I was already throwing at myself?
I got through the class. It was actually the best hot yoga class I’ve ever been to, I think. And I will never not wear that type of outfit again. Fuck shirts. This is my body and this is what’s comfortable and also now I’ll have less laundry to do.
It’s been amazing to become a fitness instructor and realize that people respond to a lot more things than just appearance. Confidence is one. I’m not a particularly confident person in this sense, but I do put on a pretty good sense of authority and “I’ve got this”ness. Qualifications are another. I have five fitness certifications. How many do you have, random person taking my class? Being in the front of the room and knowing that people know that you’re getting paid to be there is another.
We respond to social cues. I thought every fitness teacher I ever had for years had the perfect, most unattainable body and spent a lot of time thinking about how there was no point in trying to be fit when I was never going to look like that. I’m thankful I made it over that bridge, and now sometimes I wonder (in the most complimentary, you-inspired-me kind of way) whether my instructors really had these Barbie doll bodies or if I was just seeing that because I was supposed to see someone powerful leading the class.******* And now that I’m the one at the front of the class, are people projecting onto me?
I know I am a different size and shape now than I was a year ago, though by no numbers or photos would you see any sort of Biggest Loser transformation on me. The pounds are the same. The clothes fit a little bit differently. Mainly it’s just that I feel fucking powerful and I don’t get tired doing activities that used to instantly exhaust me. So I wonder if that’s what people are seeing, not the “solid” thighs – which bounce. I promise. I punch them regularly and they jiggle. I haven’t had a thigh gap since I started college, and that was just one really awesome week.
tl;dr: enviable bodies are in the eye of the beholder, blah blah blah. If you are the type of person who tries to hide their body in baggy pants and old cotton things that don’t let you breathe when you exercise, I implore you to purchase clothes that fit properly and are designed for exercise. When I started wearing legging-type garments, which I now do almost exclusively, my posture changed. I felt better. I worked harder. And I started seeing my body for the powerful thing it is, not the sack I had let myself believe it was because I didn’t fit some bullshit societal mold.
I realize it’s incredibly unfair to write about my breakthrough without posting a selfie, but I’m not good at selfies and also I’m wearing a really unattractive (sartorially speaking) sleep bra as I write this, so some other time, promise.
*it’s partly what it’s about, but it’s really not that simple
**Unless you are really wealthy, I guess? But those of us who don’t have lots of money think about it a lot, or at least I do. I cannot really afford all the different groupons and deals I’ve been purchasing to try different fitness studios, but I keep doing them.
***I think the youngest person who takes my class is 50, and that’s why it’s my favorite class to teach – they’re all awesome and they think I’m adorable and silly and probably hopeless but in a sweet, harmless way
****the number 1 reason being my boss told me not to wear a suit and not to go in the water, but I’m not sad about that all the time
*****and then teach me your ways, o wise one
******and that class takes place in a pretty dark room with women of wildly varying body types and that’s why I feel safe there
*******You should be well aware that I am all aboard the Health At Every Size train, but this essay is about western beauty and body standards and how internalized they are, you feel me?