Not everyone shares this sentiment, I realize, but for me, menopause is great news. My menstruation was as rough at 44 as it was at 13. But for over half a year I’ve had no excruciating cramps, no backache that feels like it’s splitting me in two, no radiating pain down my thighs. It’s fantastic. Some late-night hot flashes and a little weight-gain seem a light price to pay for freedom from monthly decommissioning.
Today was my doctor’s appointment to confirm that menopause is, in fact, happening, and not something more mysterious. When my mother was my age, she developed large, benign fibroid tumors in her uterus, and I wanted official word that the same was not happening to me. The doctor agreed that an ultra-sound could be done but assured me that usually, the sorts of tumors my mother had were accompanied by more bleeding, not less.
Instead, he said, it is a greater concern that I’m a bit young for menopause, and at higher risk for osteoporosis. “Okay,” I said cheerfully, “tell me something I can do to prevent osteo.”
“Exercise,” he said promptly.
Pause. “Tell me something else I can do.”
The thing is, I have been lucky in the body lottery, getting by on regular walking and not much more, despite a sedentary job. So exercise has always seemed optional to me. I know I lack fitness, but until now fitness seemed like it would be an improvement on my current privileged situation, and not like it was required.
This doctor’s visit was taking all the joy out of menopause.
He sent me to another room for blood-work, where I had time to stare at the long list of tests the lab was to conduct. My options seem to be dwindling. I know, I know, the future should not be presumed to resemble the past. None of ours should. But it wasn’t just that my body was changing. It’s that my concept of fitness was changing. Was fitness an optional state of well-being, or had I always been wrong about what was up to me? Had it always been required from above, an edict that I’d ignored? If I didn’t have the higher risk of osteoporosis, would I reconceive fitness, do what I’m told, obey?
I teach my students about autonomy often. I tell them that autonomy is complex, that it isn’t just equivalent to getting to do whatever you want to do. I have very high-minded lectures in which I emphasize that freedom of choice requires preconditions, and so autonomy also refers to the conditions that make choosing possible. When we refer to children as developing autonomy, we’re not referring to the numbers of new choices they can imagine, but to the physical, mental, and moral powers they are gaining, the capacities to choose. So I know I could see fitness as a capacity, a source of further choices. If I want it, if I choose fitness, maybe exercise won’t seem like a punishment, like I am being told what to do.
I was drawn to feminism because it spoke to my desire for autonomy, freedom, choice. Most of the bloggers here see fitness the same way. Only today did I realize that I don’t. At least, not yet. Before I start an exercise regimen, I’m going to need a little more of a mental workout.