Infectious Athleticism

Ruby roller skates everyday.

We don’t have a skating rink in our tiny community, and outside is still snow and mud. Not the safest skating surface for a learning six-year-old.

So she skates inside. On the carpet, on the kitchen floor. We rent both sides of a duplex, so our unused kitchen floor becomes her own private vinyl skating rink sometimes.

My girl. Oh, my girl. She loves to go fast, with her long, dark hair flying. She loves to learn how to do it the ‘right way.’ Momma, she asks me, is this how my feet should go? Can I push off with my stoppers? Watch me, Momma.

My mother would not have let me skate indoors. I can’t remember how many times I heard “Take off your skates!” as I stumbled through the front door in my bright blue sneaker skates. But I grew up in Southern California with a smooth culdesac right outside my front door.

I love that when I ask Ruby what she wants to be when she grows up, she says “a roller derby princess.” But right now, she’s only six. And she is satisfied slipping across the carpet, sometimes getting brave enough to skate on the hard floor in the kitchen. And I get a kind of thrill out of letting her break my childhood rules.

Ruby’s enthusiastic athleticism is infectious. It doesn’t have to be defiant, but it makes me want to be. She doesn’t know how to do everything as soon as she tries it, so why do I expect myself to? She has to train her little body to stay upright on roller skates, to push and roll and glide the way she wants to. She never once says, I can’t do this. I’m too young, I’m too small, I give up. When she falls, she pops back up again and keeps going.

She loves her body. She grins when she talks about being the very tallest kid in her class. She sometimes lays on her back on my bed and stretches her legs up in the air and says, “I have really long legs, don’t I Momma? Just like Auntie Jill.” What she never does is wonder whether she’s fat.

It occurred to me this morning that the best defense I have against a world that seems hell bent on turning Ruby against herself, the best way I can protect her from all out war on fat kids (whether or not she actually ever is a fat kid is entirely besides the point) is to love my own body as much as I want her to love hers.

It goes beyond my own little girl, too. The best way I can prove to anyone–my husband, my daughter on her way to college this fall, my teenage son, even you–that their body is spectacular is to truly believe that mine is, and then treat it that way.

Even my belly rolls. Even my big boobs. Even my double chin.

 

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Infectious Athleticism

  1. outrageandsprinkles

    I want to thank you for, well, everything. Your recent blog entries have reminded me how good it feels to move. I have exercised a little bit the past two mornings and I really payed attention to how my body felt. It felt good to stretch and lift and pull. I noticed an increase in energy for a while after exercising. I remembered how good it is just to move, and move without thinking about how many calories I was burning or if I was going to lose weight or not. You reminded me how good that feels and it has made a big difference the last couple days. Thanks.

  2. Patsy Nevins

    Very good post. And I am glad your little girl enjoys her body so much. I am straddling two worlds…disability & fat liberation. I have cerebral palsy from birth, as well as, now in my 60’s, increasing arthritis. I am not athletic, never have been, yet I have always been very active, walked a lot, gone through several long periods of compulsive exercise. Moving your body feels good. Learning to appreciate it & respect it & care for it properly & to honor its limitations also feels good.

    I read an excellent disability blog every day, written by a Canadian man who works with the intellectually disabled, who is himself disabled & a wheelchair user. He is also fat. This morning I was moved by a statement in his post to email him. He doesn’t believe in judging & pigeonholing people, limiting them by their disabilities. However, his life as a fat person (he has apparently also always been fat) has given him a blind spot in his belief that everyone deserves respect, dignity, access, every opportunity to live a full life. He grew up able-bodied, & he said he walked, but that it wasn’t ‘pretty’, as I have always admitted about my own walk…one leg is shorter than the other & I have a very noticeable limp; I am not graceful or coordinated, my balance is uncertain, I fall easily. However, what I called him on was his categorical, unequivocal statement…he said he walked, but he never ran, then stated baldy…’Fat people should never, EVER run.’ So I emailed him & called him on that, on behalf of you & every other triathlete, marathoner, jogger, ballplayer, & anyone else who needs or wants to run. Fat people should do anything they damn well please that they are able to do & want to do, including run. I physically cannot run, but if I could, being fat would never keep me from doing so.

    I cheer you in loving your body & your inner athlete & continuing to set a great example for your children & the rest of us.

    • One of my best friends has cerebral palsy, and is a firecracker of energy when it comes to advocating for people who have disabilities. When I’m writing, I find myself sometimes checking to make sure that I’m not saying something that would disclude her. Because she will not be discluded. I haven’t had the chance to talk to her about athleticism, but I know that she would want to the option to be a defiant athlete if she damn well pleased.

      I love that you emailed this man on behalf of me and all the other defiant athletes out there. But I hope you did it for yourself, too. Because with everything inside of me, I believe that if you want to be an athlete, you can be. And once you decide you want to be, no one can take that away from you. Being an athlete doesn’t mean you have to have goals like being in a triathlon. To me, being an athlete means that you are making a choice to move your body with purpose and joy. That might mean getting in a pool, if your body doesn’t work as well on land. Or doing yoga in a chair, if your body doesn’t bend like it used to.

      My friend says that even the most athletically gifted of us is only temporarily able bodied. And she’s right. I used to be very, very able bodied. I used to be able to make my body do just about anything I wanted it to do. Now I’m older and much fatter, ear infections have shot my balance all to hell, and my legs hurt when I try to even walk fast, much less run. I’m still able bodied, just differently than I was 20 years ago.

      Defiant athletes are not only triathletes, marathoners, joggers, ballplayers, etc. They are also walk-around-the-blockers. Or reach-for-the-high-shelfers.

      Thank you for this, Patsy. It meant a lot to me. XOXOX

  3. Patsy Nevins

    I have, as I said, always exercised & moved a lot & will continue to do so as long & as much as I can, in any way I can. In fact, as part of my personality & part of the CP, I cannot NOT move…I wiggle, flail my arms around a lot, tap my feet, swing my legs, & all my life I have rocked in a straight chair. I have broken more than a few kitchen chairs after years of sitting in them for meals or making up budgets/grocery lists & being unable to sit still. I have had people sitting behind me in restaurant booths ask me to please sit still because I am slopping their coffee (usually I am not consciously aware that I am rocking unless someone reminds me, but I am almost unable to stop). And, as I said, I walk every day, sometimes twice a day, walk in the house a lot if it is icy & I cannot get outside. I have many times over the years pushed myself to exercise hard 3-4 hours daily, riding an exercise bike, lifting weights, walking miles, doing 1500 crunches daily, trying to ‘prove’ that I was as good as an able-bodied person &, given the culture in which we live, trying to make my body into something it is not meant to be. However, because of the way I was always ostracized & ridiculed, never included in the other kids’s social activities, because I could NOT perform at sports, because of years of the other kids’ groaning if the teacher said they HAD to let me be on their time, in spite of all that activity, I never saw myself as an athlete…just as a very active person who didn’t move very well & who looked ‘funny’ when I moved.

    I suspect that is why the blogger whom I emailed believes that fat people should not run…ever…because he was told he looked funny if he ran, laughed at, called names, so that he internalized the message that fat=ugly/clumsy/a source of laughter if a fat person tries to do things thin people do. It just is not true; fat people are not automatically ugly, clumsy, or funny-looking. I am clumsy & uncoordinated, I do not move gracefully, I inspire ridicule & laughter or disapproval “Why doesn’t she stay inside where I don’t have to look at her?” when I move, but I move anyway, & I have every bit as much right to be out there moving as any thin or able-bodied person. I also am 61 years old, no raving beauty by the culture’s standards, fatter than I have ever been in my life, & live in jeans & t-shirts, t-shirts with Halloween scenes or dragons or Goofy or Mickey Mouse on them, & some version of running/walking sneakers, do not wear makeup or color my hair, & I am sure that I get lots of disapproval for not dressing in an ‘appropriate’ way for my age, though I have to admit that I have no grey hair or wrinkles & most people think I am around 40…but I still do not dress the way they think a proper grown-up lady should. However, I am out there, I am myself, & I march to the beat of my own drummer.

    Thanks to you, I will now also try to remember to see myself as an athlete. Regardless of what the culture says, you do not have to be Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant in order to be an athlete (though I confess to many moments of wishing that I could know for just one hour what it is like to live in MJ’s body & be able to do all the things he could do.)

    So…fat athletes, disabled athletes, fat disabled athletes (&, no, contrary to popular opinion, fat is not automatically a disability), ROCK ON! We all have a right to be visible, to live our lives our own way, & move our bodies however we want to & are able to move them.

  4. Y’know, this made me think about social-justice activism – not just FA but other axes of oppression as well – and the way that many social-justice bloggers ponder, “Is blogging enough? Can I really count as an activist if that’s the main way I do it?”

    And the answer is right here: yes. Just as being an athlete doesn’t require that you be Michael Jordan, being an activist doesn’t require being Martin Luther King or Gloria Steinem; all it requires is to be active. No one changes the world single-handedly (not even MLK – he may have been a leader, but he couldn’t have had the effect he did without all the many people who marched beside him, in body or in spirit); every little bit counts.

    Sunflower

  5. This post is so beautiful and so true. Thank you for writing it 🙂

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