athletes · body image

Mine All Mine: How Getting Active Gave Me a New Way of Being in My Body

tracy triathlon embodimentHow do you feel in your body?  At home, absent, at war, at peace, comfortable, uncomfortable? I ask this because, since my fiftieth birthday back in September, I’ve discovered that apart from doing a whole bunch of stuff that I used to think impossible (see my post about that here), the most remarkable change over the past two years is internal.

It’s not just internal in a psychological way. It’s more than that.  Feminists talk a lot about our embodied experience. And lately, I feel that my triathlon training — all that running, swimming, and even the detestable biking (sorry — still not loving it) — have altered the way I feel in my body.  For the very first time in my life, I have a sense of my physicality as belonging totally and 100% to me.

I own these activities–every endurance run, every early morning workout in the pool, every struggle on the bike. They’re mine. I do them for me. Not for you or for my parents or my partner or because someone else/society/my employer/Oprah thinks I should. Nope. None of that. No one would blink an eye if I never did any of this stuff again. And yet I do it anyway because they’re things I want to do.

How is that different from what I felt like before? If you’ve been a regular reader of the blog from the early days, you’ll know that despite my repeated attempts to let go of the need to look a certain way, I’ve experienced my share of challenges in the body image department.

I know it’s kind of  big yawn for lots of people when small women with average sized bodies who can easily buy clothing off the rack at any store say they don’t like their bodies. But it happens and it’s painful and — anyway, I stopped blogging about it awhile back because I too find it tiresome.

A couple of weeks ago Canada had a shock when a well-respected and popular radio host from CBC radio was let go by the broadcaster because, in their words, they had learned something that made it impossible for them to continue their relationship with him.

As the story unfolded in the days following the announcement, numerous women came forward with allegations that the host had sexual assaulted and/or harassed them. For a few days, news about the firing and subsequent allegations was only thing that showed up on my newsfeed.

And for the first time perhaps ever, Canadian news was dominated by discussions of sexual coercion and the importance of consent.  We also had a national conversation about why sexual assault goes unreported so much (like this and this one, “I didn’t report because fuck you”). In every paper. On every television broadcast. On all the radio stations.  On Facebook and twitter and in the hallways of workplaces, conversations over lunch, telephone calls with people who lived in different parts of the country.

So what does this have to do with a new way of being in my body?  Well, you know, it just made me realize the extent to which it’s a rare thing indeed when a women feels confident ownership of her body — like she doesn’t owe anyone anything and she gets to say “no” and let it mean “no” (not “maybe” and not “let me talk you into it” and not “are you sure?” and not “maybe later” but “NO”).

And when we don’t feel that confident sense of ownership, it’s hard not to feel insecure about choices that may upset people or make them angry or, heaven forbid, disappoint someone or not meet their expectations. And hence the level of coercion and coaxing that lots of women endure (by the way, said radio host’s alleged actions were a lot more serious than coercion and coaxing).

And so to discover a domain where that shit doesn’t happen is like a small miracle, like finding an oasis in the desert or something like that.

And that’s what diving in with both feet into some athletic activity that I love has done for me. It’s like hello. Who’s been keeping this big secret from me?

Has discovering a physical activity you love changed the way you live in your body?





18 thoughts on “Mine All Mine: How Getting Active Gave Me a New Way of Being in My Body

  1. You are so awesome! Thank you for sharing.

    Learning karate was one of those kinds of activities for me. My best moves were kicks and I loved my round house, it just felt so powerful and effective.

  2. I’m working on finding comfort in my body after two kids. I feel fit, but I still find myself looking in the mirror and analyzing in a way that I didn’t do as much of prior to having kids.

    Glad you found your comfortable center!

  3. Absolutely! I totally agree with you – I have had the same experience (including not loving the bike leg of the triathlon lol). To me my body is only as good as the laps it can endure or the kilometres it can run. I love the muscles exercising builds and how strong I feel. I don’t care what I look like in a dress, heels, jeans anymore. I know what I am capable of. I am not thin and all muscle by any stretch of the imagination and I just don’t care. What I do care about is whether I can run 20k tomorrow morning. And it certainly does make you feel much more confident in all aspects of your life. Well said Tracy.

  4. really lovely post, thank you. being friends with my body is not my natural way of being, but something i’ve worked on. slowing down has helped that. yoga, and walking. half marathons increase a certain kind of confidence. dancing. dancing is a good one. lovely writing! x

  5. Reblogged this on The Activist Classroom and commented:
    The following thoughts, from my friend and colleague Tracy Isaacs in the Departments of Philosophy and of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research at Western, and one of the main voices at “Fit is a Feminist Issue, aren’t strictly about teaching. But they ARE about activism in the best way possible – embodied activism. They speak to Tracy’s experience of taking control of the way she feels about her body in an unrelentingly positive way, and she reflects on how and why that experience has given her a new way to be in the world, with all of its profound, gendered challenges for women (even a successful, petit woman at middle age). I really recommend it as inspiring reading, especially for young female students.

  6. Nice post. I think it’s so important to look after yourself for YOU and not for anyone else’s approval. I came out of a bad relationship 5 years ago and to help me destress I started running more frequently (before I was just an occasional jogger or fitness class attendee. I soon noticed how much stronger I felt in myself both physically and mentally being set free on the open road.

    Since then I have ran 4 marathons, travelled the world and am now about to have my first child. Running changed my outlook on life, changed the views I had about myself and generally made me feel empowered – for me! Right now, being a week away from my due date, I don’t feel so confident with my body, but I do feel content with it; knowing I am bringing new life into the world. I know that as soon as baby arrives I will start thinking about my journey back to fitness as it’s simply just a part of my life – it’s not forced, it’s just natural for me to want to look after my body and my mind and I know that exercise works for me. I intent to bring baby along for the ride as much as possible and set this child up with the right attitude towards health, fitness and wellbeing…. and from that I have decided to set up my very own, first blog to document these adventures!

    Wish me luck and I look forward to more of your posts as I really did relate to this one.

  7. I associate cycling simply as giving me far greater choice and mobility ability to see more, experience. More than I ever dreamt of. I also feel safer on bike vs. walking alone in unfamiliar stretches.

    I continue to be amazed by some women who still don’t feel safe cycling into various neighbourhoods. And I’m not referring to lousy cycling infrastructure. More about so-called certain types of people living in various neighbourhoods. (Wearing flashy cycling wear in certain areas is probably not a great idea…)

    I wish they would feel more empowered ’cause that’s 95% psychological barrier/myth. That’s about the closest in terms of body ownership enlightment for me. I don’t want to go on too much how strong I feel (which I do feel this) because we will not be always strong later. But at least experiencing and owning our body’s potential/capacity makes us more likely to defend, look after it better now and later in life.

  8. Thanks for articulating some of my own nascent thinking. I’ve been contemplating a kind of “fittest at fifty-five” personal challenge and trying to dissect what would keep me from it. You’ve helped both break and illuminate a path forward.

    I think of our bodies as our books, or a flesh tapestry that grows richer and more textured with time. Life events seem almost literally etched in. It tells others a little something about each of us….I tried to capture it here:

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