Guest Post

My hands work hard at the gym

I’m ridiculously vain about my hands. I never used to think about them in a focused way until I stopped biting my nails in 1992. Up to that point I had been an inveterate nail biter, but I just stopped and then my love affair with my hands began in earnest.

In fact, after I had my son in 2000, I had the unlucky experience of being seriously ill. My hands took a beating, as I received massive doses of intravenous antibiotics for four weeks to combat the infection that sidelined me.

The IV needles were bad enough, but over time, my veins were stripped by the medicine running through. It became a challenge for the nurses to see how long they could get one port to last before starting another. When they had to start on my arms, I thought I’d rather have them try my feet.

I took extra good care of my hands after that experience. I accumulated a drawerful of creams to soothe and soften the skin. When the holidays came with the endless washing of pots and pans and dishes, I even took to wearing cotton gloves at night. My care of my hands signified I had control and there was, and still is, a lot I have to learn about that attitude.

To say I was less than impressed when I began rowing and saw the blisters and then calluses form on my lovingly tended hands was an understatement to say the least. As much as I enjoyed rowing, having rough and callused hands was not a plus for me. Still, it beat having rough, callused and blistered skin on my behind from sliding on the fixed seats.

On the upside, after rowing season ended, my hands recovered. They became soft again, but I didn’t get fixated on them. When I stopped rowing for good, I actually forgot what it meant to have hands rough from athleticism.

Fast forward to now, where I am lifting in earnest. I have to apply chalk to my hands to keep my grip tight. Over the past year, my palms have roughened and I have developed hard little pads where I grip hard. I keep my nails trimmed short.

When I first realized how my hands had changed, I was surprised by how happy I felt. In fact, the first chalk, as I called it in my day book, made me rethink what my hands meant to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I still like my hand creams, but I realize the calluses show me every day how I am becoming a strong woman. I have to trust my hands to hold their grip while I tense my legs for the push and make sure my core stays balanced and strong to meet the demands of the deadlift or the bench.

Before, when I thought about women being strong, I focused on our emotional strength, our capacity for resilience, and our commitment to change, to family, to community, to life. I didn’t think about women being physically strong. At least not in the way we usually associate with men and social depictions of masculinity.

But without the evidence of the hard work before me, I don’t know how I could confidently approach the bar to curl my fingers and test their grip, to remind myself of the feel of cool metal linked to heavy weights. I’ve had to rethink how I see my body working. There is beauty in strength. My hands still work hard at baking, cleaning, caring, loving, building, and creating. I love them even more now for the power they hold, for the strength they represent.

I’m still ridiculously vain about my hands, but today, it is for different reasons. Mmyhandsy hands are only the beginning of my new relationship with my body and how I see it working, and it’s a process of discovery that I am enjoying very much.

– Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s. Her goal of fit at 55 has opened new ways of thinking, working, and living.

9 thoughts on “My hands work hard at the gym

  1. Thank you for sharing. I am working on building my own positive body image and I will catch myself thinking, “My thighs are so big…” so I try to change it to, “My thighs are getting bigger from all the squats and running I am doing, because they are powerful and strong.” I read once that women tend to judge our bodies for how they look, while men focus on what their bodies can do… I want to focus more on all the awesome things I can do.

    1. Our bodies are awesome creations, and focusing on what we can, rather than on what we can’t is the way forward. When we let go of social boundaries on what women can do as fit, athletic beings, we can be so much more. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. I’m trying to remember, but I think I had entered into a period of time that was relatively stress-free. As soon as I realized that I hadn’t bitten them in over a week, I made an appointment for a manicure. I think the first two months, I had one every couple of weeks. That kept me focused on keeping them neat and looked after and psychologically, I didn’t want to waste my money. I do know that when I am really stressed out, I start nibbling, but I am aware of that behaviour cycle so I keep emery boards everywhere to smooth the rough edges and give myself a cue to chill and slow down.

  2. Hands are not unlike a face. They do exhibit what we are “into” at the moment and the roads we’ve traveled down. I have permanent calluses on my fingers from years of drawing. I have no nails because of working with solvents and my nails have never been strong, never wore polish because it would not last long. But, my hands display what I do. Good post!

    1. That is great image Christina. Our bodies are a record, an archive of our history.

  3. I used to bite my nails as a child. Then I just stopped: I started becoming interested in art, painting :)…stuff where traces of paint in nails are not what you want in your mouth. And sometimes it was hard to remove all traces.

    Nothing wrong with calluses on women’s hands, but if your hands crack and bleed in dry winter, strong hand cream is essential. Ask anyone who lives in the prairies! OUr air is drier than Ontario or BC.

    1. Thanks Jean. Yes, winter is especially hard. And after my experience with infection, I am especially careful not to let my hands get to a state where they start to crack. Same with feet.

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