“What size do you wear,” the petite older woman asked as she headed to the nearest clothing rack. I was at David’s Bridal to get fitted for my bridesmaid dress. I paused looking at the measuring tape around her neck, then the colorful garments, and then my reflection in a nearby mirror. The question is kind of tricky, really. My dresses that I pull over my head are one size. My dresses that zip in the back are another. And my jean size varies depending on where I shop. Honestly, I’m quite fond of major chains that participate in vanity sizing, so I knew size of the skinnys I was rocking wouldn’t be very accurate.
I couldn’t zip the first dress and the second dress was a bit saggy. My three choices: order a half size and hope it looked right, take the larger less flattering look, or lose a few pounds. I was all for getting the larger dress tailored, but then I figured that the dress could be my motivation to finally sign-up for the weekend fitness boot camp. And, oh how I needed motivation. My gym membership was just an unnecessary drain on my account and I’d gotten quite lazy with my healthy eating habits.
Days after the fitting I read that “African-American and Hispanic women are twice as likely as Caucasian women to report not wanting to change their body in anyway,” and something clicked. As much as I wanted to blame my lack of exercise on a busy schedule, the real reason I wasn’t working out was because I looked fine. I don’t look like the folks on television or in the magazines, but I’m okay with that. You would think that with my family’s history for diabetes, high blood pressure, and fibroids, I’d be doing more to monitor my health, but I wasn’t. Why? Because I looked fine.
Eventually, I started thinking about my relationship with diet and exercise. Body confidence has never been much of an issue for me. Maybe in my teens, but my mom always assured me that I was fine. As I got older I was more likely to dance in the mirror singing India Arie’s “Video,” than to stress about buying the next size up. I learned to love my body through constant positive reinforcement. I was taught to embrace my curves, even when I was pushing pass “thick.” I saw men who loved women no matter their size. And I knew women who loved themselves even when they had to hit specialty stores for the perfect fit. I’ve been assured and reassured my dopeness isn’t tied to my pants size. And I believe it wholeheartedly, but now I’m wondering if all of this confidence, as mentally and emotionally liberating as it is, is actually bad for my health.
Over the last few years I’ve lost about 70 pounds. I only started working out because my doctor told me I needed to lose weight, point blank period. I dropped a little weight and then stopped working out. I looked good. My family thought I looked good. Dudes thought I looked good. I was done waking up hella early, waiting for the elliptical, and avoiding the really buff and fit folks at the gym. Then I started covering health for a magazine. The stats I saw each day had me a little shook. When I found out that women with waists larger than 35 inches were more likely to suffer from heart disease and other illnesses had me running laps, doing crunches, and jumping rope like crazy. But soon whispers of “girl, you look fine don’t,” and “don’t lose too much weight, men like a little something to hold on to” beat out the stats and working out moved to the back burner. And so on and so forth.
Now that I’m working out again, I’m determined to stick with it. I’ve been thinking about how my family would be different if fitness was really about health. What medications wouldn’t be part of our vocabulary? Who would still be alive? If striving for an active, healthy lifestyle wasn’t equated with lack of confidence or trying to conform to mainstream standards of beauty, what would studies and health reports on people of color look like? Maintaining my new lifestyle is going to take some serious reprogramming. Training myself to think of proper diet and exercise as manifestations of self-love, instead of a sign that I hate my body, won’t be easy. But I’m down to work it out.