Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More weighty misconceptions

Here are a few other things I hear too often when the subject is fitness or weight loss:

1. The only reason women go to the gym is because they are vain. And that's sinful! Actually, I've asked a lot of women why they work out at the gym. And here's just some of the reasons we've come up with among ourselves, in no particular order:
  • part of physical therapy after injury
  • doctor's orders
  • to prevent and/or treat osteoporosis
  • as a preventative measure or treatment for other health conditions
  • stress relief
  • husband insists on it
  • need the increased energy level it brings
  • had to improve my fitness level in order to keep up with my children & their activities
  • to set an example of health & fitness for my children
  • weight loss
  • in order to be better able to fulfill job requirements
  • friends thought this was a healthier way to hang out than just eating & shopping
  • to maintain health in old age
  • to have a healthier pregnancy, labor, and birth
  • so I won't be as much of a burden to my family in my old age
  • helps me sleep much better at night
  • to maintain good heart health
  • fun activity to do with my husband
  • thought I'd try out the free trial membership and was surprised how much better I felt
  • to cope with the pain of arthritis
  • to deal with lower back pain
  • friend invited me
  • singing coach suggested it to improve my posture and breathing
  • other types of exercise I tried (biking, jogging, etc.) made my asthma worse
  • to experience the health benefits of a good cardio workout coupled with weight-bearing exercise
  • to prevent muscle atrophy and/or bone loss that most women suffer at my age
  • when I couldn't bend over to tie my shoes, it shook me up enough to join the gym
  • children pleaded with me to do something to improve my health
  • mother nagged me to start exercising
  • to fit in a smaller dress size for some special upcoming event
Sure, some of those, like the last one, could be thought of as a sign of vanity. (Although the last one could be sentimentality or a desire to please one's husband. I know several women whose husbands begged them to wear a long outgrown special dress --- sometimes even their wedding gown --- for a special anniversary or event.)

I'm 50 years old. I've had six children, which has taken a heavy toll on a body that was not that great looking to begin with. When we were engaged, my husband told me that I was certainly not beautiful or pretty and that the best thing he could say about me was that I was "kind of cute". Since then, whatever bit of cute I may have had has long since faded. The best you could probably say about me now is that I'm not significantly overweight and I look younger than 50. [Edited to add: my family disagrees with this assessment. My boys think I'm beautiful and my husband says I've actually grown better looking which each year. I was told to add their opinions, biased by love though they may be.] But I have no delusions that there is any workout on the planet that will put in what God left out or undo all the damages of pregnancy and aging.

Vanity would have never gotten me out of a warm bed on cold, dark mornings and to the gym at 4:30 in the morning, so that I would be back home again before my children got up. Anyone who has ever seen me would hardly accuse me of vanity; if anything, I've been accused of not caring enough about my appearance. (My husband is pleased that finally, after all these years, I have an actual hairstyle and, most days, manage to tame the unruly curls and the unkempt-looking "wildness".)

What keeps me exercising: I've discovered the enormous benefits in terms of improved health and increased energy, and that's something that a low-energy type like me really desperately needs. I'm also working hard to prevent/manage the inevitable osteoporosis that I am at extremely high risk for. Although it's mostly God's grace, I also credit my fitness/eating habits with the fact that, although all the women in my family develop diabetes in their 40's, I have avoided it so far. The bottom line is that I've been unfit and I've been relatively fit. Knowing what I do, why would I possibly go back? Why would I treat the body God has given me with such shabbiness? I'm looking forward to being a grandmother and, since I'm already older than my friends were when they became grandmothers, I've been able to benefit from the wonderful examples they've been setting. And you know what? I want to be as healthy and in as good a shape as possible to be a blessing to those grandbabies when they come...and I've probably got a few more years to wait!

Vanity? I've discovered that the really vain women usually aren't the ones working out very hard. They are too reluctant to sweat, get out of breath, or do anything that doesn't look girly, dainty, or sexy.

2. Gluttony isn't the worst sin. Actually, that's true. In fact, we could make a case for saying that about every sin except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But since when should we excuse our sins in this way? "There are worse sins than indulging my sexual appetites." "There are worse sins than constant drunkenness." "There are worse sins than selfishness and pride." "There are worse sins than knocking you unconscious right now."

3. So I eat when I'm stressed. You should be happy I don't use drugs or kill someone. This reminds me of a teenage boy I knew years ago. Whenever he would get caught disobeying his parents, he would tell them, "You should be happy I'm not doing drugs." They were happy that his rebellion was relatively mild, and they began to ask themselves if possibly they were being too hard on him and expecting too much. I was barely out of my teens myself, but I suggested they consider not allowing him to do something he really wanted to do and then, when he protested, saying, "You should be happy we don't beat and abuse you." He was a very stubborn boy, and they had to repeat this a time or two before he learned his lesson and quit the ridiculous "you should be happy..." excuse for his disobedience.

4. Well, I don't care what you say. I'm proud that I'm fat. Look at my belly! Read all these amusing quotes and poems and stories about how wonderful it is to be fat! Hey, this is for all the fat people!! Uh, OK, whatever floats your boat. Just don't expect me to join you in your gluttony and lack of exercise. I'm more concerned about my health, while it sounds like you're all about your appearance.

Just do me a favor. Extend the same sort of grace to those who are not as fat as you would like everyone to be. I spent half my life --- all my formative years --- as a skinny person. I know that if I had ever dared say, "I'm proud that I'm skinny. Look at my completely flat, even concave, belly! It's wonderful to be skinny! Hey, this is for all the skinny people!" ... well, I would never have heard the end of angry, ugly, mean, tormenting remarks. I heard enough of them anyway.

Please remember something. Being fat doesn't make you more human. It doesn't make you more godly or more wonderful or more attractive (at least not in everyone's eyes) or more sensible or more humble or more theologically correct. It doesn't even make you more of a woman. (If birthing and breastfeeding six thriving healthy children doesn't gain me access into the "woman club", I don't know what should.) Proverbs 31 doesn't say the virtuous woman has to be fat, so why should you claim that your body type is God's standard of feminity?

In defense of skinny people: some are not skinny by choice. I was one of them. Even as a practicing glutton, I remained skinny. Others discover that living a healthy lifestyle means they will always be lean. If you expect people to love your fatness, embrace it, admire it, never breathe a word of criticism against it --- can't you do the same for your skinny brothers and sisters? Or are only fat people allowed to be content about --- even thankful for --- their size and appearance?

And, finally, a warning: Please don't make your being overweight a source of pride. What will you do if illness strips those pounds from you and makes you look like the people you so disdain?

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  1. Hello Kindred Spirit,

    I go to the gym because I needed to exercise my body.

    I also have a serious medical condition that is helped by exercise.

    Obesity and heart disease run in my family and I must be careful the guard my health.

    I feel better when I work out.

    I am close to 50 years old and have define abs that I have never ever had before.

    Oh, yes, I'm vain. That's right, I forgot.

  2. Rebecca,
    First of all, give your hubby some Karate knockout blast for me. (kidding, but he shouldn't EVER say you aren't beautiful, your mind is definitely beautiful)

    I agree with what you are saying here. For as long as I can remember, I've had to fight my weight. I've been overweight, at an acceptable weight, and pregnant. My body shows the scars.

    I agree with you that gluttony is no less a sin than drunkenness, but I would extend compassion to those who suffer with any of the two. Not because I think they should stay there, but because I know how it feels to really want to stop doing it, but turning to food for comfort once and again.
    I'm not making excuses, just pointing out that some people haven't reached the place where they can do something about their overeating. It's a sin, but it's also a symptom of somethign else. That something else has to be dealt with too, sometimes before the compulsions can be dealt with.

    Keep up the good work! I'm just 30, I hope I'm as active and fit as you are when I reach your age!

  3. Where does it say vanity is sin? I thought it just fades, and we shouldn't make it a higher priority than our inner looks.
    Looking after oneself is a service to one's spouse.

  4. Debra, you are one impressive lady! I loved the pictures of you fitting back into your wedding and prom dresses!

    Madame, you made some excellent points. It's a difficult balance to be compassionate with those who struggle (as I still do) and yet not enable them or excuse sin. And, yes it is important for us to look after ourselves for our spouse's sake!

  5. Hi Rebecca, I left a comment a few months back on the blog about the daddy/daughter "purity dances". Can you please remove my comment? I didn't intend on it publishing my real name, "Shellie Ponce". I guess then you could delete this comment too please...I'm trying to minimize my internet appearance. :-) Thanks!

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