Thursday, August 17, 2006

The woman in the mirror

I did something two weeks ago I'd never done before and could never imagine myself doing — ever.

I joined a gym.

It was my husband's idea. He convinced me to check it out, just go have a look-see. No obligation. I was reluctant.

And scared. Gyms, I figured, were for muscle-heads and fit chicks with tight glutes sporting Spandex shorts and perfect tans. Just imagining the kind of people I'd be surrounded with at a gym intimidated me. Going there wearing shorts — I never wear shorts in public places — scared the daylights out of me. And the mirrors. There'd be mirrors everywhere — no escaping the sight of flabby old me huffing and puffing on a treadmill.

Nevertheless, I went with him to check it out. Holding his hand tight as we approached the entrance, I told him if we joined, he had to promise me he'd go there with me faithfully.

"I'd never, ever come here by myself," I warned.

Yet there I was the very next morning, sans spouse, using the elliptical machine, my new best friend.

What — me? Intimidated?

Sure, there are some serious bodybuilders at the gym, grunting their way through workouts, bench-pressing who-knows-how-much weight. And there are also some trim, taut, Spandex-clad lovelies working out on the equipment.

But most of the people there are a lot like me — middle-aged, overweight and eager to be reasonably physically fit before — well, before it's too late.

I imagine a mantra being chanted under the collective breath of the 40- and 50- and 60-somethings working out on the cardio machines: "I don't want to die. I don't want to die. I don't want to die."

Turn the clock back 20 years, and I might have had delusions about circuit-training myself into one of those Spandex-clad fit chicks. I might have been thinking about attaining some definition in my shoulders, triceps and biceps, about firming those buns. I might have been hoping I could avoid looking — gulp — 30.

The passage of time changes your perspective. As I'm staring down 50, I'm a whole lot less concerned about how I look than about how I feel. Having shed 40 pounds since starting the South Beach Diet in January, I feel great. I was reminded just how great this weekend, as I lugged a 40-pound bag of dog food into the house. I could feel my knees laboring under its weight, and the familiarity of that sensation reminded me that a year ago I'd been carrying around that much weight in body fat, stressing my joints and muscles with every step I took. No wonder I ached so much! (And felt so old.)

At the gym, there are far more people in my camp than the fit and trim "beautiful people" whose image nearly intimidated me out of setting foot in the joint. At the same time, I've had a wonderful revelation: The vast majority of people who look like that are young enough to be my children. No need to compare my flabby abs to their firm ones. There's no bikini in my future. And the good-looking young hunks intently working out over there? This silver-haired woman working her thighs on the hip adductor machine is invisible. Growing older can be so liberating.

On the flip side, mornings at the gym can be quite the social encounter for people of a certain age. It seems like the whole town is there. I've seen people I hadn't seen in years. There are pleasant little chats between sets of reps. (I'm getting the lingo down.) Discussion of possible golf dates. (Where did I put those clubs?) And a reminder that it's nice to talk with people outside the context of an interview. (Note to self: You work too much.)

And there's also inspiration everywhere you look. It takes the form of the physically fit young men and women, whose sculpted forms are truly things of beauty. But it also takes the form of people working out there who are — easily — old enough to be my parents, and then some. It's a joy to watch them and a real boost to my own drive to stick with the regimen. That's what I aspire to now instead of Spandex shorts and halter tops: being able to work out like that when I'm 70. A mere 20 years from now. (How did that happen?)

I've also found inspiration in a place I never would have imagined: the woman in the mirror. I usually avoid mirrors, but at the gym, there is no avoiding mirrors, unless you work out with your eyes closed. Sitting two feet away from a wall covered in mirror, there's no avoiding me. I've spent more time looking at myself in the past two weeks than I have in the past two years. And while I'm no fit chick — not even close — I don't look quite as bad as I'd imagined I'd look working my little-used muscles on the gym equipment.

But this isn't about looks, I remind the woman in the mirror, who wonders silently (I can read her mind) how much younger she would look if she let the hairdresser have her way with the hair dye. The woman in the mirror smiles knowingly at me. You're little secret's safe with me, she winks.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

What a wonderfully liberating experience! Thanks for sharing that. I bet thousands and thousands of people have the same fears, but never have the chance to learn their fears are needless.
To Love, Honor and Dismay