Wednesday, July 19, 2017


As I was writing about my body as something that performs (rather than appears), I couldn't help but think about a lot of the things that I used to be able to do and can't really do now. I have written about this before somewhat, but I want to spend a little more time on it.

My grade school had an after-school sports program. We did things like basketball and soccer, but also dodgeball and playing with a giant parachute. Often they were things that we did in PE, but instead of your class, there were different grades represented and it was voluntary. I loved it. I had to be really sick to miss it. For a while I was also the only girl playing basketball at recess. I didn't think of myself as someone who loved sports, but the evidence was there.

I never tried out for school sports teams. There were concerns about time and money, but I was also sure that I could never be on a team that had tryouts. I did do church sports teams: volleyball, basketball, and softball.

I did not consider myself to be particularly good at any of them. If I could successfully serve the ball over the net when it was my turn in the rotation, that was good enough. Mainly, I was just used to thinking of myself as clumsy and not athletic.

The problem with that (like with so much of my self-perception growing up) is that it was not accurate.

No, I was not great at any of it, but I did sometimes make shots, or return a volley. Beyond that, there is some achievement in playing a game of full-court basketball, running up and down the court over and over again (especially if no one is great at shooting or rebounding).

One of the stories in Beauty Sick  was about a woman who as a child was both fat and athletic. She would do great at various sports, but would still always be picked last when the time came to pick teams again.

I remember being picked last, but I can't remember if I was actually the worst athlete. I assumed I was; I was fat and obviously everyone else seemed to think so, but now I question it. Yes, I could not do the flexed arm hang or climb the rope, and I was horrible at lap running, but I was above average in all of the other Presidential Fitness tests.

I have said before that there was a sense of the inevitable; you either were a good athlete or you weren't. Also, if you were a good athlete you looked like it. That is so wrong, and so unhelpful.

They might have told us that practice would help, though I don't really remember that. Practice isn't enough if you are doing it wrong, and no one ever talked about form. I have to wonder how much of that is that they didn't know anything.

This matters, and not just because all bodies are different, with capabilities that cannot be determined merely by the shape of the body. If you are teaching elementary and junior high kids, their bodies are changing all the time. I have heard of breast development throwing off girls with pitching and things like that, but there are women who have breasts and play sports. It must be possible to adjust. Shouldn't there be tips available?

I feel this loss, because when my mental picture was always that I was fat and clumsy, I didn't appreciate that I would go for a 5-mile bike ride for fun, or that I went roller skating every week. The roller skating couldn't have meant I was athletic because I never skated backwards or shot the duck - all I did was skate around for a couple of hours without falling.

I was a better dancer once too, but I never gave myself any credit for that. Someone even told me that this thing I did with my shoulder during one tango was just the epitome of grace. I had no idea what she meant.

These are frustrating things, because I don't know that I can get them back. It's not just being older - Skateworld is gone, and I no longer own a bike, and also my time is not really my own right now.

Despite that, part of appreciating my body now - and holding onto that strength and fitness that I do have - is recognition. It is necessary to see when I am doing something well or ably, or at least for a sustained period of exertion where I am sweaty and tired but still moving. It is important to acknowledge what is right with my body.

There are reasons that is harder than it should be, and that's where I intend to pick up Monday.

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