I used to hate exercise. It was just a principle, you know? (These days, I only have two absolute principles: I don’t use Facebook, and I don’t drink blue drinks. Anything else; never say never). I was the girl at school who always trailed at the back for cross-country, dragging my heavy legs through the mud and swearing under her breath, finishing twenty minutes after the athletic, whippet-like blonde girls. Occasionally, I skipped, in an ironic way, to piss off my teachers. I didn’t play hockey, cause the bitches all played hockey, and they were bad enough when not armed with long wooden sticks. I didn’t play netball, cause everyone took it so seriously. I would’ve played football, if they’d given me a chance, but they didn’t.
And I think the problem with school sports is just that – it’s all sports. Team sports. Competition. Pressure. If you look down on the less athletic, bookish girls, then guess what! team sports vindicate all of that! Because what this class is really teaching you is that if you aren’t picked for teams, you are useless. You don’t have teams in Art. There is no school glory in essay-writing. We’ve already been judged before we’ve even begun, so we step back; we don’t try. As far as I’m concerned, at thirteen years old, my body is just a package, something I am entirely unconscious of until everyone else becomes conscious of it all at once, and which I will then spend the rest of my teenage years silently criticizing. I’m not gonna run unless there’s something physically chasing me, you know? I just don’t get exercise.
And nobody is ever able to explain to me, satisfactorily, what there is to get. Health? It feels so… theoretical. Fitness just doesn’t seem very relevant to what I want in life. How many times have you seen a bored-looking, long-limbed model draped over a magazine page? There’s no muscle tone there, there’s no spirit. We’re being told, a hundred times a day, that our job is to sit around and be thin. Thin and wasted and useless. And so many of us think that this is what we want.
So perhaps this is why it took me so long to realize that, though I may not like sports, I do like exercise. I love exercise. I love spending a morning with my dog, striding across the middle of nowhere, hands pushed deep into pockets and cheeks pink with cold, feeling that strange, indescribable connection to this land, the earth and sky, my home. I love strength-training at the gym, seeing my muscles firm and change, feeling the comforting ache that tells me I worked hard. I love yoga, and the peacefulness that comes with being so, so present in your own body; and the swoop of triumph when you can finally fucking do crow pose hell yeah.
It was this - all of these - that taught me that I do not want to be thin. I want to be strong.
Yesterday, I went on the most incredible 15 mile bike ride along the coast of Kyushu, and I thought, this is why. This is what’s important. I want to feel my heart beating and every negative thought and toxic feeling being flushed out of me; I want to feel the sun on my face and the strength in my arms and the muscles of my thighs carrying me along, working, doing something.
What I didn’t realise, all those years I was criticizing my body, is that I do not want to sit around and look pretty. I want to move. I want to be alive in every sense of the word.
And I am, I am, I am.