My Incredibly Wide Derriere
I know I’m not fat. I know this because my husband told me so, and my husband is an unusually honest man when it comes to stupid questions of the ‘Do I look fat in this?’ variety. When I came home from the hairdresser one day looking like an exploded poodle, he hardly needed to say I looked like sh*t, though he did, in a nice way. Equally, I need little more than to see the special way his eyes crinkle to know what I’m wearing or the way I had my hair cut, is a winner.
Yet in spite of knowing this, in spite of him having assured me that I’m in good shape, I still struggle to convince myself I’m not too wide.
This fat thing wasn’t much of a problem for me until a few weeks ago when I joined a gym. Not that I haven’t been active: I’ve been cycling for two years now, and though 2009 saw a dip in my activities, I still went for quite a few spins. Exercise is no punishment for me, I like it. Love it, to be honest with you. Holidays for me mean a multi-day bicycle trip across some gruelling route. My parents famously never forced me to attend any religious institution, but I was required to go to gym twice a week. I don’t feel right if I haven’t been active.
No, joining the gym was for no other reason than a desire to step it up. I wanted to give triathlons a shot, and that meant I’d have to get some swimming done. That meant an indoor pool, and those are only found in a few gyms in Dundalk. This is not South Africa, where a pool in the back garden is a common suburban accessory. Another motivator was that I wanted to do weight training for core strength, and I quite like doing that on a machine circuit. Having been bribed and cajoled to work through my worst teenage crises by resorting to the bizarrely comforting, controlled resistance of exercise machines, I now find them to be welcoming friends who can ground the most chaotic days.
Going into the gym, I thought I was in pretty good shape. Then, one day, I saw they had this awesome electronic scale in the ladies’ changing room.
I was utterly horrified when I saw what I weigh. It’s a full 10kg more than I weighed when we left South Africa five years ago. “Calm down,” I told myself. “You’ve cycled over five thousand kilometres since you came to Ireland, you’re more muscular. And muscles weigh more.” It took a bit of effort, but eventually I believed myself and stopped worrying about the size of my butt.
The next setback came when I went into a clothes shop and decided to try on a dress. Now, when we moved to Ireland I found that I had to buy my clothes a size bigger. I don’t think in the short time between moving here and buying a pair of trousers I could possibly have put on that much weight. I do think the sizes are more generous in South Africa. Still, it rankles to have to reach for that one size bigger than you’d worn throughout your adult life. A little voice keeps nagging in the back of my mind: “Are you sure it’s a size difference between the two countries, or are you maybe just fatter than before?”
I still fit into the size I’d worn in South Africa, but the clothes are then too tight for my tastes. So when I saw a gorgeous red dress on sale, and they only had my former size available, I was pretty sure it would be fine. A bit tight, maybe, but fine.
I couldn’t get the zip up.
Now I was upset. Was Micky telling me I’m in great shape because he likes me to be a bit on the padded side? Was my excessive weight maybe more fat than I’d realised? As I took the dress off, the notorious dressing room mirrors mocked me with glimpses of bits and blobs I’d not normally see. Again I worked hard to get my mind in the right place. If I had someone to help me, I’d have been able to get that zip up. I just couldn’t reach well enough to pull it up with the dress being a bit tight. And the bits and blobs? Dressing room mirrors always make you look your worst.
A week later, I watched a video of my first duathlon (run/bike/run). It wasn’t nice to see myself shuffling along right at the back while the rest of the athletes disappeared in the distance. I’d known before I did the race that I was just starting out, I’d made peace with the fact that I’d probably come in at last place (as it was, I came in second to last). It was a different matter altogether to see it from someone else’s perspective like that. However, all other impressions and feelings faded to nothing compared to the horror of seeing how broad I looked. It was awful. No amount of positive thinking could erase the image of my fat bum from my mind.
What could I do? I already did as much exercise as I could fit into my schedule. I already ate reasonably healthy food. Except... I really did eat too many sweets. I could cut those out. And you know what else I could do? I could try and do something about the horrible cellulite on my broad bottom. It looked awful. How would I go about doing that, though? When I returned from my Sunday leisure cycle, I sat down at the computer and Googled: ‘how to get rid of cellulite’. I chose one of the first articles that came up, and something wonderful happened.
The emphasis of the article was not on treatments and techniques. It was on the fact that having a bum and thighs to rival those airbrushed fantasies we see in magazines is simply unrealistic. We are human beings.
I am a human being.
I am a real woman, who loves life, loves exercise and is enjoying her life to the full. Why should I allow a perceived imperfection to spoil that? Why should I let self-consciousness mar the sheer wonder of my existence? We have a finite time here on earth. My days are numbered: why should I allow something as stupid as a butt fatter than I’d like it to be, to cast a shadow on even one of them? If I was morbidly obese, then yes, I should be concerned, because my body would not be in the best shape to maximise my enjoyment of life. It would hamper my effectiveness at living it to the full and letting my joy overflow to enrich others’ lives as well.
The truth is I’m fine. So I’m not Kate Moss, who cares? My husband certainly doesn’t. And anyone else I might meet will be much more put off by a preoccupation with my looks than by a broad bottom.
So you know what, butt, I love you. We’re just grand, you and I. With all the energy I expended worrying about you, I could have planned that cycling trip to Norway I’ve been dreaming about for a year.
I think I’ll do that right now.