Sorry to brag, but I was pretty thrilled to find recently that my thighs have gotten bigger.
About six months ago I splurged on a gym membership (justification: cheaper than therapy). I’ve done my share of biking and hiking in the past, but this was my introduction to the world of regular weightlifting. For the first time I could actually measure my progress as I bumped up the weights week by week.
Since then I’ve leg-pressed my body weight, curled for my hamstrings, extended for my quads, lunged aggressively toward the treadmills with a barbell across my shoulders, and—yes, I’ll admit—squatted a lot. I’ve even gotten new calluses on my palms from gripping dumbbells.
I’m letting myself brag about my bigger thighs because I’ve earned them. These new muscles are all mine, and I love feeling their strength as they power me along the sidewalk or up a flight of stairs.
It wasn’t always like this. When I first started working out a few years ago it was with the clear goal of losing ten pounds. I stepped on the scale, made a mental note, and then headed out for runs. A week later I stepped on the scale again and a fluctuation in the number marked whether or not I’d done well enough. Any upward spike was a failure on my part.
The thing is, my ten-pound goal was clear in terms of numbers… but not so clear in terms of substance. What part of myself was I trying to lose exactly?
Nowadays I measure my success not in terms of the pounds I lose but the pounds I gain—both the heavier weights I’m able to lift and the heavier muscle I develop. Funnily enough, I now weigh ten pounds more than I did back in the day, and I couldn’t be happier with that fact. To be strong you need muscle. Muscle weighs heavy on the scale. There you go.
And let me tell you, working out is a lot more satisfying now that I’m motivated by gains rather than losses.
Burning calories? Fighting off flesh? That race to decrease how much space I took up in the world… it was a harsh mindset to maintain. But these days whenever I finish a tough set I’ve got the satisfaction of knowing my body is growing as a result. Instead of avoiding a snack that I was afraid would cancel out the calories burned in cardio, I seek to eat all the nutrients my body craves to recover. It’s much more rewarding to work toward building rather than breaking down.
And there you go. That’s what I wanted to tell the world.
But… as strongly as I believe in everything you just read, I have to confess that I felt pretty uncomfortable writing it. That struggle prompted me to do some reflecting, and now I have something else I want to tell the world on top of that. Here goes.
The prospect of describing my flesh in text dredged up all sorts of memories: My master’s classes on females’ absence—or token presence and lack of agency—in literature. My college papers on the male gaze throughout art history. My own encounters with street harassment, slut shaming, and a steady bombardment of media and advertising that portray women as pieces of meat.
Could I write about my body without objectifying it?
The last thing I want is to direct the gaze to my limbs and render my blog just another butcher shop window with body parts on display. And while fitness is certainly sexy, this is not about sex appeal. This is about strength and accomplishment and confidence.
So what I’d like to do is subjectify my body.
In language, objects are passive, subjects are active. (I’m sure we all remember subject-verb-object constructions from elementary school, but if not, that’s what hyperlinks are for.) “You’re reading about my thighs.” …You’re the subject, my thighs are the object. “My thighs climb mountains.” …That’s right, I just objectified mountains.
My legs aren’t an object to be analyzed for the appeal of their shape or size. They’re active subjects. They have agency. They drive plots. They’re driving my plot by carrying me all over the city and hiking me up trails left and right.
And there you have it: the two things I wanted to tell the world this week. First: Make that mental switch from breaking yourself down to building yourself up and you’ll find strength you never knew you had. Second: My body is not a passive player in life or in writing. In life and in writing, my thighs are taking me places.
I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.
What gives you strength day by day? What can you do this week to build yourself up and be the active subject of your life? Leave a comment below or tell the world on one of my social media pages...