I saw her again this past Friday night, the same woman I’d seen at the gym a few Fridays ago and whose image haunted (taunted?) me for the duration of my workout.
She was standing in front a day locker, clad in an expensive-looking and perfectly-tailored suit. She was tall, taught, and tanned. She wore sleek high-heeled shoes and clutched an improbably small designer bag. Her straight blond hair was glossy and perfect despite the windy, rainy weather, and the brash fluorescent lights bounced off her lacquered nails and sparkly jewelry. She chatted with an equally put-together and equally tall, taut woman about a spinning class. When you looked at her, you just knew she was someone who never missed a workout or skipped a spinning class.
She certainly looked like she a body that worked the way she wanted it to--and she didn't look anything like me.
When I was in high school and college, it was the pony-tailed, lean-legged and perennially tan lacrosse girl who elicited such comparisons and insecurities in me, but now that I am an adult and in the professional world, I found her counterweight.
I am short, I am stocky, and when it rains, my curly blond hair is hard to control. I’d arrived to the gym in my version of “professional” attire—a corduroy skirt, sweater set, and boots with a low heel I’d worn since I had to walk around campus all day and cannot function in heels. It wasn’t sleek or stunning, it was pragmatic and perfunctory. I’d changed into my gym clothes, and yes, I still wear t-shirts from my alma mater (Georgetown), including the cheap ones we used to get in exchange for helping students move into their dorms or the ones they’d give away at campus functions.
I wasn’t there for the spinning class (my muscles felt too weak for that) or to keep up marathon training (the only time I’m involved in marathons is when I am cheering on friends who run them). My goals were much less lofty—to keep the junk in my lungs moving around so it wouldn’t become infected, to boost my energy after a draining week, to lose the vestiges of steroid weight that continually tormented me.
I headed for the treadmill and chose one that didn’t face the room where the spinning class was held.
For obvious reasons, I’d never been much of an athlete (my stint on the JV basketball team was short-lived; my brittle bones broke when I caught the ball at an awkward angle). But I’d always loved going to the gym and feeling like I was doing something for my body that could make a difference. I was proud when I got there and irritated and impatient when I couldn’t. At least that’s how it usually was, except when the same glossy idealized figure I’d been comparing myself to for years re-emerged and made me doubt myself and my presence in that gym.
But later that same night, as I walked to Starbucks to work on my book, I realized it didn’t really matter why both us were at the gym on a rainy Friday night. She might look the part of the well-sculpted, athletic woman much more than I ever will, but I was still there, plugging away on my treadmill and working on strength training. I was doing what I needed to do for my body and my goals, and though they were quite different from hers, they were no less valid or worthy.