Friday, June 6, 2014

An Open Letter to "Real" Women

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that you can't take a single peek at Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest or even a bumper sticker without being told how a "real" woman should look?  It isn't just me, right?  You've seen it too?  A person can't chuck a rock these days without hitting someone telling you how many crunches you should be doing or how much you shouldn't care how many crunches you should be doing.  Well guess what.  I object.  I object to all of it.  As a woman, as a mom to three little girls, and as a human being...I big fat OBJECT!

You may think this has nothing to do with blogging, but I object there too.  Because blogging is about sharing your story and having a voice and saying something that sometimes just needs to be said.  I think the following needs to be said.  Maybe you need to hear it, maybe you know someone who needs to hear it, or maybe I just need to say it.  Either way, I am making this my first article in our Shabby Blogs YOUniversity series.  Buckle up.

I am a cyclist.  It has taken me nearly 4 years of consistent riding to get to the point where I feel I can say that about myself.  Just between us, if I'm being totally and completely honest, I still say it a bit sheepishly, half afraid someone will challenge me on it.  But I am a cyclist.  I am because I say I am.  I say I am because I ride my bike almost every single day.  What started as a 4 mile ride on a cruiser bicycle turned into 8 miles and that somehow turned into 30.  I recently did something completely crazy and invested in a legitimate road bike.  It took me months to decide on the right bike for me, but in truth, most of that time was really spent convincing myself that I deserved a "real" bike.  Despite those bits of lingering guilt, my daily bike rides have always filled me with an insane amount of joy.  Seriously.  Like, a LOT of joy.  When I'm out there on the road, I soak up nature until I'm positively drenched in the magic of it.  I think the thoughts that I want to think because my head is somehow clear and open to them in a way it isn't during the rest of my day.  I focus on doing my best and being my best and beating the girl I was the day before.  Yes, I am a cyclist and with all of my silly heart, I love riding my bike.

As I was riding this evening, another cyclist rocketed past me with freakish speed and elegance.  One minute I was cruising along, doing my best, happy to be lost in my own thoughts on my own journey and then just like that, I was beaten.  This other cyclist, this other person, was better than me.  There was no denying it.  They looked more like a "real" cyclist than I did in their more impressive gear on their more impressive bike with their more impressive body.  I watched as that intimidating figure smoothly faded into the distance ahead of me, despite every muscle in my body fighting its very hardest to keep up.  With every round my feet pedaled, I felt more discouraged, more defeated.  The thoughts in my mind that moments before were light and lovely and uplifting suddenly took an infinitely more sinister turn.  Just like that, the golden rays of sunlight weaving in and out of tree branches became utterly invisible to me.  The only thing I could focus on was my inadequacy.  Like a child jumping from one mud puddle to another, my mind quickly and easily jumped from one part of my body I was unhappy with to the next until I was covered in my own wretched kind of mud.  Then, as if that wasn't disparaging enough, my mind took a flying leap right into the deepest and darkest puddle of all as I allowed myself to wonder what I must have looked like to the cyclist who passed me.  Did they see nothing but an entry-level bike and an entry-level body?  And, if that was what they saw...was it true?

I'm not going to lie to you.  Those thoughts ran rampant in this noggin of mine for longer than I'd like to admit.  I went from feeling defeated and inadequate to downright ashamed.  Actually ashamed.  Thankfully, however, somehow, at some point, I managed to get a stinking grip!  It took effort, but I willed myself to stop wondering what that other cyclist thought of me and to instead ask myself a different question.  Does it matter?  Spoiler alert: NOPE.  It soooooo doesn't!

Here's the thing.  I had two choices.  (We all have the same two choices.)  I could either focus on the flaws or focus on the facts.  Flaws?  There are many.  Maaaaaaaaaany.  Many.  Many, many, many.  Facts?  The facts are sometimes harder to identify, but you fight your butt off so you can do it anyway, gosh dang it!  Do you hear me?  Fight.  Your.  Butt.  Off.  Find the facts and focus on them.  Tonight, for me, these were the facts:

Fact 1: My bike is not the nicest or most perfect bike on the planet.  There are a gazillion bicycles in this world that are faster, prettier, newer, nicer, and straight up better than mine.  Though my 2-wheeled bestie isn't ancient, it already has dings and scratches, failings and flaws- because I USE it and that is what happens along the way to things that are used.

Fact 2: Despite the above, I freakin' love my dang bike!  It does what I need it to do and it takes me where I need it to take me.  It may not be the best bike made, but it is the best bike I can have at this moment in my life.  I am so blessed to have it.

Fact 3: My body is not the nicest or most perfect body on the planet.  There are a gazillion bodies in this world that are faster, prettier, newer, nicer, and straight up better than mine.  Though it isn't ancient, it already has dings and scratches, failings and flaws- because I USE it and that is what happens along the way to things that are used.

Fact 4: Despite the above, I am trying really hard to love my dang body!  It does what I need it to do and it takes me where I need it to take me.  It may not be the best body made, but it is the best body I can have at this moment in my life.  I am so blessed to have it.

Fact 5: It doesn't matter how anyone else views my bike or my body.  The value of my bike was decided by its maker just as the value of my body was decided by its Maker. No one else's opinion can change that reality.  How far my bike can take me is largely up to me.  How far my body can take me is largely up to me.  I can't control everything, but I can decide where I'll go and how much joy I will get from that journey.

My body and your body are miracles.  True story.  The human body is mind-blowing in its intricacy and capabilities.  Every heartbeat and every breath and every cell all work together to create the most epic and working work of art.  I don't think about that enough.  Maybe you don't think about that enough.  But think about it!  Yes, my arm fat wiggles when I raise the roof.  But those same jiggly arms WORK!  They hug my little ones and make them feel safe and loved.  My jummy (that's Megan for "jiggle tummy") ain't pretty, folks.  It's all squishy and covered in stretch marks, seriously making me look like I was mauled by a rabid grizzly bear.  If that's the price I have to pay for the privilege of bringing my children into this world, so be it.  (Yes, some women have children and then compete in bodybuilding competitions.  Go them!  I'm just not them.)  I may never feel confident in a swimsuit at the beach with my family.  Thankfully, my family probably won't remember the way I looked in that swimsuit.  They will remember that I played with them at the beach!  My point is, we get so caught up in the things we consider flaws that we don't appreciate how fortunate we are to have these miraculous bodies in the first place.  Think about all of the people in all of the hospitals in all of the world.  Think about how many of those people would trade bodies with you if they could.  Perspective, friends.

There will always be someone better than you.  Maybe not at everything, but at something.  When that stinking cyclist whizzed past me, it hurt.  I felt bad.  I did.  But their journey is not my journey.  Even though they could obviously kick my trash on the road, I bet you anything I could beat them at Spongebob trivia...or finding rad stuff at thrift stores...or spitting Cheerios wicked far.  (Yes, I am a woman with impressive talents.)  We don't need to ever compare ourselves to others though.  Because we are all good at some things and decent at other things and full-on terrible when it comes to something else.  That's life.  That's humanity.  That's part of the journey and each of us has our own.  Comparison truly is the thief of joy.  DO NOT even go there.  Ever.  But if you slip up and find yourself in that wretched wasteland, remember two things.  First, what you see when you are comparing yourself to someone else is only a small part of that person's journey.  Nine times out of ten, what you don't see is something that would stop you in your tracks and make you grateful for the life you live.  And second, for every person you compare yourself to, someone else is comparing themselves to you.  I said it before and I'll say it again.  Just don't go there!

Finally, on the subject of body-shaming and this ridiculous war over what a "real" woman is or isn't.  Enough.  It is enough already.  If you have curves, own your curves.  Be proud of your curves!  Do your thannng.  That's fine.  Nothing is more awesome than being happy with the person you are.  Having said that, please do not belittle your less "curvy" sisters in an effort to validate yourself.  While your curves may be attractive, that kind of attitude is certainly not.  Likewise, you girls who are all about calorie counting and cardio, own that mother!  Be proud of your hard work and the achievement of your goals.  You deserve that!  However, please don't shame your less "fit" sisters into thinking they are somehow lesser people than you.  The size or shape or age or color or even habits of a woman is not what makes her a "real" woman any more than the bike I ride or the speed I go or outfit I wear or even my abilities are what makes me a "real" cyclist.  No, I am not the "best" cyclist on the road...and maybe I never will be.  In reality though, that doesn't have anything to do with anything.  The fact is that I am doing my best and I am out there, on the road, on my road, doing my thing, in my own way.  Not only have we all been born with different genetics, but we have all been born with different obstacles.  Some you may see, but many you may not.  Be mindful of that.  Cut yourself some slack and be equally kind to others.  You can be happy for yourself AND for them.  You can be proud of who you are AND who they are.  We can all be different and all be miraculous and beautiful and real.  Every single one of us has inherent value.  Ignoring that fact because we are focused on flaws hurts everyone.

Some of the strongest women I know demonstrate their strength by being gentle.  I appreciate and respect these "real" women for their gentleness with me and my all-too-fragile heart.  I am obscenely grateful for every single person who views me with kind eyes, determined to see the good in me (the facts that matter) and who is equally determined to ignore the many flaws.  These women are not lesser because of their kindness towards others, but are made that much greater themselves.  They are happy women who bring out happiness in others.  The world needs more women like that.  We need to be that kind of woman.  We need to be around that kind of woman.  We need to raise that kind of woman.  Let's all get real by accepting and appreciating the women we see, both in the mirror and on the road.

Homework Assignment:
Write down 3 facts about yourself and memorize them so that the next time you catch yourself focusing on flaws, you can more easily switch gears.

Tell someone you admire how awesome they are.

Do something with your body that you've never tried before or haven't done in a long time.  Play catch, do a somersault, turn up some music and jam out.  Just take a moment to marvel at the rad things your body can do...even in sweatpants.