Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Existing in the In-Between

I have at times been thinner, but I have never been thin.
I've been talking to my freshman students about the idea of identity and fitting in and all that, and what I haven't told them (yet) is that you never stop trying to figure out who you are and where you belong, even as an adult.

My whole life, I've grown up believing I was fat and ugly. I got teased pretty mercilessly (by family members even more than other kids, though that happened too). I used to hear all the time how, even as a baby, strangers would stop and stare at me in my stroller because I was just so... globular.

Yeah. People laughed about me being fat even at this age.
I was always a stocky, thick-limbed child, and as a teenager, I dreamed of being as thin as my friends and being able to shop at Contempo Casual and other mall stores. I always dressed slightly older than my age because I couldn't fit junior sizes. I got into fitness in my 20s, but not in a healthy way, and it wasn't until I joined roller derby that I started to see myself as more than my weight.

But even then, and even now that I've accepted my weight for what it is, I'm acutely aware of it. I'm aware of it every time I try to buy clothes online. I'm aware of it every time I try to do a bodyweight exercise and my body feels too heavy for my arms to support. I'm aware of it every time I turn on the tv, look at advertisements, or even shop for yarn to make a sweater for myself (because I have to buy more yarn than someone who is smaller than I am).

So, I'm fat, right? The numbers say so. Society says so.

And then two things happened within the last few months that have made me see things differently:

#1 - Someone on my FB said something to the effect of, "Your before is someone else's after." Which really made me careful about how I talked about my own body after that.

#2 - I was in a group that used the word "Fatties" in the title (in a reclaiming, empowering sort of way), and there was a huge, HUGE discussion about how there were women in this group who were totally not fat, and how their being in the group could be considered infringing on a safe space. And while no one was willing to take the step of drawing a line to indicate who was allowed to describe themselves as fat and who wasn't (like, is there a minimum size requirement?), but the point was that for the women in the group who were larger, it was an affront to see those of us who were smaller using their word to describe ourselves.

These two things made me rethink who I am and where I fit in.

Sure, I've had a lifelong battle with myself, and the casualties included my self-esteem. Sure, I've felt ashamed, excluded, and just plain ugly.

But my experiences are nothing compared to what other fat people have faced. I've never been accosted by strangers. I've never been straight-out told that I should die. It's inconvenient and frustrating shopping for clothes for myself, but it's not impossible.

So... am I... NOT... fat?

I think most people would be overjoyed to NOT be fat (which is a clear result of our society's collective fatphobia), but for me, it was... really confusing. Because now I have no idea what I am. Because I know without a doubt that mainstream society looks at me as someone who doesn't "fit in," but now the group I thought I belonged to also doesn't think I "fit in" either.

And let me be the first to say that I recognize that there are different levels of privilege at work here. I know that. Of course I do. And that that's a big part of what the "fatties" discussion was about.

But for the first time, probably ever, I was questioning which side of the line I fell on.

And this isn't a unique thing - people exist in the in-between constantly. My partner, for example, is biracial, and he's always had issues with how he sees himself vs. how other people see him.

So what does it all mean?

I can tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean that I don't have struggles, and it doesn't mean that my struggles are invalid. But also, it does mean that I need to take the time to check my privilege, and it does mean that I need to do the work of being a good ally.

Am I fat or not? I wish it didn't matter. And to be honest, most of the time, it doesn't - I don't walk around constantly thinking about it. But sometimes it does matter, and usually, those times occur when other people want to make it matter. And in our society, people care about fatness way more than they should, their own or other people's. As someone who exists in the in-between, I'm going to do the best I can to change that, for myself as well as for everyone else.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Life, lifting, and the pursuit of happiness

So, this is my first written post in a while! I know I've been sharing a slew of PR videos mostly.

School has started again, and that's been taking up most of my time. Between doing all the prep work and then vegging out at home at the end of a long day, I don't have much free time. I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things, but there's always an adjustment period. And even though it's my 10th year, I'm still trying to find ways to do things better and to keep myself from getting bored, so even if I'm teaching the same texts, I still have lots of work to do.

So far, my kids have been great. Things are never without hiccups, but I've got a nice mix of kids, and they all seem like good kids. Hopefully things will stay that way.

Outside of work, I've been trying to get back into my groove, workout-wise. I'm no longer training for CIM, thanks to my knee injury flaring up again, and I've been working hard with Steve to rehab it. But by the time I can even start running again, it'll be too late to train for a full marathon, so... I'm sad that this will be my first year not running a marathon in three years, but I know even the average person can't say that they've run three marathons in three years, so I'm trying to console myself with that. I do fully plan to get back to running again when I'm well enough, and I know I'm going to have to start from scratch. It feels disheartening, because I know what I was once capable of, but it won't be my first time starting over. *shrug* That's life, right? You do what you gotta do, for the things that you love.

In the meantime, I've been getting more into lifting.I've finally decided to enter a powerlifting competition in November, after receiving overwhelming support from... pretty much everyone, even people I don't know very well. It's always been an idea in the back of my head, a seed planted by Steve, just as something to consider.

Here's the thing... I don't know much about the sport of powerlifting as I do about other sports. I can tell you names of elite marathoners and I know that their mile time is less than half of my best pace (which I can't even run anymore). I can name some of the biggest names in roller derby, the ones who consistently make it to WFTDA championships with their A-level teams, and I know where I used to stand in relation to them. (That is, very far down the line.)

But what do I know about powerlifting? I know how to do the lifts, but I don't know anything about the sport. People tell me I'm strong, but it doesn't really sink in. I'm used to the sliding scale of running, where my PR is like, someone else's easy pace, but that's okay, because I'm really proud of my times. I guess in my head, I see lifting in the same way. Like, hey, I'm doing pretty well for myself, and I'm really proud of myself, but I'm no one special. I just show up, go through my workout, and then I go home and make dinner. I don't mean to make this sound like a humblebrag or anything, and I apologize if it does - but since I literally don't know anything about what's "pretty good" and what's awesome, I don't really pay attention to where I stand. I mean, really, I just know what's good for me, and that's good enough.

And then stuff happens where I start to think, maybe what I'm doing IS kind of a big deal? Earlier this month, we had an open house/celebration sort of thing at the gym because we recently expanded into a larger space (and it is AWESOME), and usually these functions are the only time where I get to see such a large number of members all at the same time, since we all usually keep to our own schedules.

It's surreal to me every time, when I meet someone new at these things, and they've already heard of me. "Oh, you're THE Thu??" I don't think I'll ever get used to that. I think I'm pretty safe in terms of letting it go to my head, because I totally don't know how to process it when people react to me that way, and then I turn into an awkward turtle. I'm serious - I have a hard time dealing with attention (except for when I'm teaching, of course), so it's not like I'm sitting here patting myself on the back or anything.

I'm bringing this up not because I'm trying to brag, but because actually, I'm in awe. I'm in awe at the absolutely overwhelming amount of support I've been getting from my coaches, fellow gym members, and family/friends at large. I guess I am bragging a little - not about my accomplishments, but about the fact that I've got an amazing network of supporters who boost me up and keep me going. I'm so lucky to have so many people in my life who believe in me.

So, I am going to do this. I'm signing up for a deadlift-only event, because it's not enough time for me to train all three lifts, but I am going to rock the hell out of my one lift because I really want to make you guys proud.

I don't know if I'll ever get around to doing a full competition, because I have some major life changes looming on the horizon (which I'm not ready to share about yet online, but will gladly discuss in person with my real-life friends), but I definitely wanted to get at least this one thing under my belt before those life changes happen.

Because life is uncertain, right? And we've got to carpe that diem before the opportunity passes us by. I don't know where this little foray into powerlifting might lead, but I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

Pause and reflect

I haven't written a blog post in almost a year. I've had a lot of stuff happen, some good and some bad, and I could've written a...