I wore a tank top to the gym on Sunday—yesterday, I guess. I’ve only actually worn a tank top to the gym once before. And it was a huge deal then. And it’s still kind of a huge deal for me now.
The idea of a tank top at the gym seems so innocuous you’re probably wondering why this is even worth a blog post. And to that I say, “Um, is this your blog? Get off my back, Barbara.” And I mean it, Barbara. Stop intercepting my mail.
I know it seems like a small thing. I wear tank tops all the time. Almost to my detriment. But wearing a tank top to the gym is outside of my comfort zone. Not even stepping outside of my comfort zone. More like goddamn LEAPING out of my comfort zone. But I have a lot of body image problems. I started going to the gym for a boy. I kept going because I felt like if I stopped, I was this heaving beast. And I’ve come to a place—or I’m beginning to begin to broach a place—where I can be comfortable with my body.
Hence the tank top.
The guys at the gym who wear tank tops are brawny and golden and hot AF. I’m a slim—obviously gorgeous—pale, hipster-type. For a long time, I felt very uncomfortable at the gym. I wasn’t benching as much as the other guys. I wasn’t rocking a six-pack that a Laundromat would be jealous of—get it? Washboard abs. I’m making a laundry joke. GOD, BARBARA—I wasn’t a bronzed Greek god. If anyone ever called me a Greek god, it’d be because I’m Hades, lord of the Underworld. Which is sort of chic.
But I wore a tank top to the gym and it was one of the most empowering moments of my life. Is that too monumental?
It was monumental because I could see the muscles in my body moving and rippling. And I don’t mean to be all like, “Oh, look at my muscles, bro” and have a pissing contest. I don’t mean to imply that I am completely ripped. But I have been going to the gym for over a year now, and I have definition. And I think I forget that sometimes when I’m wearing t-shirts to the gym. But wearing a tank top forces you to see your body as it works out. And I felt proud of my body. Not in a way “I’m swole” way. But proud of what my body can do.
My body is strong and whole and it carries my air-catching lungs and blood-pumping heart and entirely strange brain. I think we forget that our bodies are crazily cool. I feel—and I’m sure I’m not alone—so constantly measured against impossible standards. And that wears me down; it makes me believe that this body is fallible and broken and something in needing of fixing.
I’m doing a body-positivity, body-art photo series for my journalism class where I have people write out messages—some sexual, some not—that they have received that objectified or dehumanized them. And then I photograph them. And because I have integrity, I included myself in the photoshoot. And that was so goddamn scary because I was only in boxers. And the photos will only be shown in my class. But when I was hunched over in my bathroom, as my friend—let’s call her Thea—photographed me with words like “Talk like a boy” and “Beg for it” scrawled over my body, I was self-conscious. How could I, with my white stomach and jiggles, show this to my class? What nerve did I have?
And that stayed with me for a few days until I presented the photos. No one jeered, no one freaked out that I didn’t have a six-pack. People were just impressed with the words and my honesty. And when I was photographing my models in various states of undress, I didn’t find them repellant for not being perfect. All I was thinking about was how brave and honest and powerful and wonderful and cool they were.
So let me say something. Our bodies are the vessels that carry our fractious, kaleidoscopic souls. They let us touch and feel and bleed and break and repair. They let us do all these things and they are imperfect, sure, and they might not measure up to an airbrushed magazine. But our bodies have experience. They have evolved over thousands of years. They are roadways of arteries, tapestries of skin, branches of limbs, that extend out and forward.
I was talking to my friend—let’s call her Lily—about body standards. She’s actually sitting next to me as I type this. She has no idea. How cray.
Anyway, we were talking and I mentioned that I heard something that goes something like this: “You wouldn’t talk to your best friend the way you talk to yourself.” We wouldn’t tell our friends that their fat rolls are horrible; that those freckles are unattractive; that their eyes should be bigger. We celebrate and we sing of their beauty.
So let me be your best friend if you can’t. Let me angle the blade away from your fractious soul and give you time to grow new skin. You are beautiful. That body that you are pinching and prodding is doing exactly what it needs to do: let you live. If you’re reading this, you are breathing with lungs that are contracting and flexing.
Sometimes I cannot take my own advice. But I think I will go to the gym in a tank top more often. To remind myself that my body is good enough. That my skin is pale but like porcelain. That my freckles are from a sun that warms the earth and lets plants grow. That my hair is unique and coppery. My body is strong and it’s because I decided to make it strong. I gave myself these muscles through hard work and sweat and—let’s face it—a lot of complaining on Twitter. But I did it. The gym stuff. Not the Twitter stuff. I mean, I did the Twitter stuff. REGARDLESS.
This post is written basically just for myself. Because writing things out—especially life-affirming, body-positive things—even if you don’t believe them, makes them more concrete. I might not be able to look at myself and be body-positive 100% of the time. Maybe not even 60% of the time. But I’m writing this because I want to say, “Yes, I stand behind this ideal. Yes. I believe in this even when I don’t believe it. Yes.”