Crying In Pole Class
[I want this to be my life so bad, it hurts.]
So I signed up for an introductory series at a small dance studio. And I rushed over after work, managing to be about 15 minutes late due to the impossibility of finding parking anywhere in Seattle. I came into the class already out of breath and forgetting my water bottle - an inauspicious start! I stepped out of my shoes and socks and was in a sports bra and athletic shorts, like most of the other people in the class. There were about six other students, and I immediately jumped into doing warm-ups on my yoga mat in sync with everybody else, keeping an eye on the incredibly ripped instructor. Literally five minutes into doing these warm-ups, I was faced with the extreme limitations of my body’s flexibility, stamina, and muscular strength. I was already breathing hard, and I was trying to cover it up out of embarrassment. My face felt hot. My throat was closing up. In shock, I realized that my body wanted to cry. Pure shame! I swallowed it down and looked around; tried to think about funny memes I had messaged to a friend earlier that day. The instructor showed us how to do a move that seemed way too advanced for a “Level 1” class. The move was actually kind of fun, but my core started screaming after about three attempts. I ran to the bathroom, took some deep breaths, found a glass, and drank some water. I came back and the instructor said that we were going to start climbing the pole. Excuse me?! Everyone else in the class wrapped their limbs around the cold steel and shot up to the ceiling. I thought we were all beginners here? I confirmed with the instructor that I was in the right class, my voice cracking. Now I was really not doing well. I was able to leap onto the pole, but couldn’t hang on for more than a second because of the excruciating pain it inflicted on my shins, and also because of my lifelong lack of upper body strength, often referred to as “noodle arms.” The tears were getting closer and closer to breaking free of my eyes. I was ashamed, caught off-guard, and full of self-hatred. Water wasn’t helping. I ran to the refuge of the bathroom for probably the fifth time, and broke down. The crying was completely unstoppable. There was no way I could continue this class without being a disruption. I ran out, gathered my things, and said an apology/explanation/thank-you combination to the instructor, which the other students unavoidably heard (it was a small room). Then I walked back to my car with my bag, hastily-rolled yoga mat, and keys in my hands, sobbing in broad daylight. Not my cutest moment.
[I still haven’t read this, but it’s on my list.]
Making my body undergo anything which it deems as “exercise” unearths buried trauma inside of me, because of experiences that I have had since the age of 7. I don’t have the energy or willingness to detail every single instance here, and it would probably be pretty boring for you to read. It will suffice to say that I have always been found wanting, whether in standardized testing or playground games or weird ranking systems that young girls spontaneously (and horrifyingly) invent to compare themselves to each other. Could never swing on the monkey bars in elementary school. Could never do a pull-up in middle school. Bummed around the track with the scene kids when we were supposed to be running a mile in high school. See? It’s all pretty derivative, and not very interesting, even if it is all true. I always prized my mind far above my body, as if they could ever be separated. My mind was something I developed, showed off, and was proud of. My body was something to hide, incompetent and unwanted. The two were at war - and now at the age of 27, they continue to battle. The most tattooed person in the pole dancing class, crying because her arms can’t support her own weight.
The shame I feel for being this way is endlessly heavy. It is deeply embarrassing to be at such a low baseline for physical fitness, and to have such little experience with making exercise a part of my life. This is compounded by the fact that most people just see an “average” body type when they look at me, and I often get the “you’re so tiny!” comments because I’m short and know how to dress in order to look smaller or to deflect eyes to different parts of my body. I can get away with it. People don’t berate me on the street if I want to enjoy some greasy fries - they assume I’ve “earned” them or am “allowed” to have them, as if it was anyone’s fucking business what others choose to feed themselves with. As if we aren’t all just eating microplastics in every meal anyways. I’m sick of hiding the truth: that I love living a sedentary lifestyle because it feels safe and familiar, and I hate exercising because of everything it forces me to confront. Predictably, I also don’t want to get sick, injured, or die young. And lack of exercise makes all three of those a much higher possibility, so here I am. Looking off a precipice. Holding truths which appear to be conflicting. Contemplating a lifestyle decision which seems so dramatic to me, while most other people call it routine or even enjoyable. Actually, I’m genuinely grateful for the experience of taking the class, because it reminded me that the suffering I experienced has stayed with me and continues to affect me. I’m always happy to learn more about myself; that’s a learning which is never-ending and always rewarding, even if it is extremely difficult or painful. I wish that there was more widespread conversation around exercise-related trauma, especially how it affects women. If you have any resources, I’d love to hear about them.
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