Every Sunday morning for the last eight years, I have the honor and privilege of teaching kickboxing to amazing, strong, alive and loving men, women and teens. Each Sunday, as I fasten the mic to the back of my sports bra and adjust the mouth piece to be certain I am heard, it's like nothing else in the world matters. There is no Facebook post I'd rather check, no text I'd rather read and nothing else I'd rather be doing, than to look out into a room of at least fifty people, who not only choose to exercise but choose to do it with me. I get to watch peoples' bodies change shape, size and age, with grace and a welcoming spirit...I assume. I get to witness beautiful newly pregnant women grow and grow over the weeks, give birth, then return to class, continuing on their way like it never happened!
As fitness instructors, especially in Southern California, it it subtly implied we are to have a certain body; Like, our students should be able to see our hard abs, admire our cut arms and marvel at our muscular legs. They should be thinking to themselves; she must eat perfectly. I want her arms. I want her small waist. And why shouldn't they? Since our culture has decided a large body is a body that is not being taken care of, it makes sense no one would want to take a fitness class from a teacher who CLEARLY doesn't care about fitness! Unfortunately, this is where my suffering begins...
When I first started teaching, at age twenty, I was at the beginning of my journey through chronic dieting. I had been (and still was) a binge eater/food hoarder for most of my childhood and teen years and now I was determined to count calories, restrict food and exercise 2+ hours a day, in hopes of molding my body into something different, something better. Funny how all that behavior lead to binging, anyway...
For the record, no matter what diet pill I was taking, how many calories I restricted, the weight loss hypnotherapy (what a joke!) or how much rigorous, exhausting, abusive exercise I made my body perform, I was NEVER able to see my abs. Ever. I'd lose weight, sure, but I couldn't keep it off and couldn't understand why. So, I'd put on more weight than I took off, diet, binge, diet, binge, and wake up Sunday mornings, look sixty people in their eyes and profess to be a health and fitness professional-expert-Goddess. Some days, I'd secretly wish I'd gain so much weight that my class following would dwindle to nothing and my boss would have to let me go. Then I'd be truly free to eat my feelings, cry over spilled pesto sauce, which I ate by the spoonful, and not have to wear spandex, shouting into a microphone, you can do it! I believe in you! If I can do it, you can do it! at the end of it all.
It's been about two years since I've been on a diet or actively tried to lose weight. I have not binged, however I do occasionally eat past the point of satisfaction. My body, in my eyes, is bigger than I've ever been used to, but I've also never allowed my body to find its natural weight so I'm learning more about her everyday. I give her the freedom to find her true size and in the meantime, eat good, whole, pleasurable foods and exercise in a way that feels good. My body is always doing what she needs to do, to feel comfortable and safe. I don't have shame around food and I acknowledge that the voice in my head that tells me I'm too fat to be an instructor, is a moron. Plain and simple. A moron.
Today, when I get up on that stage, fasten the mic to the back of my sports bra and adjust the mouth piece to be certain I am heard, I make sure to remind my students, that we are here because it makes our body feel good. I tell them they are to honor their body and that if they need a break, they are to take it. I affirm that we are not here to burn off foods we have eaten and we are CERTAINLY not here to burn off food we ARE GOING to eat.
It used to bother me that students never ask me how to lose weight, what to eat, how many calories they've burned, etc. I used to feel ashamed I might not have the body that reflected I had answers to any of those questions. But now, I'm grateful for it. I'm glad to talk to my students about life rather than weight loss. I'm honored to go over proper form with the seventy year-old who religiously stands in the same spot each week. I am proud when I hear students tell me AND my Mother --who is a Trainer at the gym-- how much energy I have, how challenging my class is and how funny I am.
To be very honest, I'm not much happier in my body, but I am a better person. I am a better teacher. I thank my loyal class on Sunday mornings, who hold space for me to be nutty, dance shamelessly, speak unabashedly and sometimes joke inappropriately. I appreciate them for letting me be embarrassed about the sweat that now travels down my back and pools in all the wrong places. I thank them for reminding me it happens to them, too. I thank them for trusting that I am every bit as qualified to be their fitness instructor, because fitness is not defined by the number on the scale or the size of a body. I thank them not only for being my light at the end of the tunnel but for allowing me to be that light for them.