I have never been into fitness. I used to cry the night before PE lessons, and sometimes during them. The first time I stepped foot inside a gym, I was 20 years old, and I fell off the end of the treadmill. While many people find a long run relaxing, or get a buzz from doing weights, I do not. I get that same kind of thrill and enjoyment from getting tucked up in freshly laundered sheets with a packet of white chocolate-coated popcorn. I’m at my happiest when horizontal.
Neglecting fitness would make me perfectly content, but the problem is I don’t feel great about myself when I look in the mirror. I’m not saying I’m overweight and I’m grateful for that, but, like every woman I know, I have insecurities. My thighs and hips are disproportionately bigger than the rest of my body, and they’re covered in stretch marks and cellulite. I don’t really care about that stuff when I know I can wear a flattering pair of black skinny jeans, or I’m lounging around in my Exeter Uni joggers. But then suddenly the threat of the summer holidays looms; I want to be that girl on Instagram with the perfectly toned legs, sipping a cocktail from a coconut (they have coconuts in Ibiza right?) Instead, I picture myself stomping around the pool with my muffin-tops wobbling for all to see. And just like that, I decide fitness is the answer.
Gyms – or metal-filled-rooms-of-hell as I like to call them – terrify me (see falling off treadmill). So at first, I decided I would do home workouts. I can whack on a Charlotte Crosby fitness DVD or ‘8 minute abs’ on YouTube and wham-bam, I’ll be all over the Daily Mail in no time, explaining how I got my ‘perfectly pert bottom in just THREE WEEKS’. So I bought a yoga mat from Amazon (because I can’t do lunges on my wooden floor, duh) and it’s remained rolled up in its packet propped up next to the TV ever since. I look at it every time I watch TOWIE, and I liked to believe that its very presence would somehow turn my behind into an Insta-bum. But alas, no such luck.
Then a week ago, after discovering my rear wasn’t going to tone itself (much to my dismay), I caved and joined the gym. My local is very small and very cheap, meaning it’s absolutely heaving if you go after work. I had no choice, then, but to haul myself out of bed at the god forsaken hour of 6.15am. I had a brief flirtation with the gym last year, so knew the basics about how to use the equipment but I thought, as it’s my first time in a while, I’ll take it slow. A few weighted squats, a little bit of floor work (waving my legs around while lying on the mat) and 10 minutes on the cross-trainer later, I was sweating like a pig but feeling INCREDIBLY smug. This is why people do this, I thought, for that super-duper feeling that you’ve got your shit together, and that anyone still in bed is an absolute loser. No wonder these fitness folk are always so chipper.
After feeling like a boss-lady the whole way to work (I’ve just been to the gym, ya stupid commuters. What did you do this morning, huh?), I stopped off at Tesco to buy some snacks. Instead of my usual Cadbury treats, I bought a punnet of strawberries. They cost two whole pounds so I really pushed the boat out, but that’s just the sacrifice you make when you’re trying to be healthy, kids. I thought I’d buy a salad for lunch, but after discovering every option in the shop contained avocado, feta, olives, boiled eggs or tuna (hate, hate, hate), I opted for my usual macaroni cheese. It’s the thought that counts though, right? You’ve got to start with good intentions, and the rest will follow.
It was all going really well that day, until the journey home, where it dawned on me that I was completely out of my fucking depth. As I stepped onto the escalator at Canning Town station, I think my thighs actually screamed. I was in agony. And I’m not just talking muscle pain like your-body-is-telling-you-the-workout-was-good pain, like actual legit agony. I thought I might topple over.
For the next few days, I was muttering ‘ow’ under my breath with each step. Stairs were a particular challenge, and I thought I might die every time I sat on the loo, a la Elvis. But that time of intense muscle pain allowed me to have a good, hard think about my attitude towards fitness. For starters, the very fact I was in so much pain was because my muscles barely ever move – and that’s a bit of a worrying sign, showing perhaps my body doesn’t like being in a foetal position as much as I previously thought.
But also, I thought about my reasons for wanting to go so hard at the gym anyway. What was I hoping for? Trying to look like Instagram stars, who all have great cameras, lighting and angles, is pretty stupid. Not to mention the fact fitness is often their entire livelihood. They work out seven days a week and live off diets of kale and grilled chicken. While that’s great for some people, and they enjoy that lifestyle, it’s just not for me. I don’t have the time, nor the wherewithal, to have my whole life taken up that much just for the sake of a few holiday snaps.
I also think, as a feminist, it’s almost my duty not to try to look like a barbie doll. How can that possibly help the cause? I’m not sure I’m ready to grow out my armpit hair just yet, but I think striving to become a Victoria’s Secret model would contradict everything I believe about women embracing and loving themselves, and being empowered by their brains, not their bottoms. I’m sure I can be hypocritical sometimes (who isn’t) but I swear to gawd I’m doing my best not to be.
I know that might sound like an excuse to get out of exercising, to carry on being a lazy slob whose hobbies include adding extra cheese to pasta once it’s all melted in. It’s not. I’m actually really trying to stay committed to the gym. But now, I’m going because I want to be strong. I want to sleep better. I don’t want movement to feel like such a shock to my system ever again. I want to prove to myself that I have some amount of willpower.
But what I am not going to do is beat myself up if I fall off the wagon. I’m sure there will be some weeks where work and life will get in the way, and I won’t go as much as I’d intended. But that’s okay – I won’t let it deter me from jumping straight back in when everything calms down. I’m going to try to eat more healthily, but god damn it, burgers make me so happy. I’m not willing to remove that joy from my life. I’ve put Nakd bars on my online food shop but realistically I will buy a bag of Cadbury buttons when they’re on offer for £1, because the taste of chocolate really is better than skinny feels. By my holiday, I probably won’t look much different. But when I’m on the beach in my bikini – my body looking however it looks, and nothing I can do at that point to change it – I am going to be happy as can be, because I will be laughing with friends and drinking Pina Coladas. And my holiday snaps will be great because I’ll be radiating happiness (and a little giddiness caused by the alcohol), not because I have a thigh gap.
Ultimately, health is all about feeling good. It’s not about looking like other people. It’s not about being skinny. It’s not about eating a big bowl of spinach for dinner. It’s not about punishing yourself. So people, forget those fitness bloggers and fad diets, forget the pressure society puts on you to look perfect. Do what makes you feel fabulous – whether it’s dairy free or full fat; whether it gets your heart racing or helps your mind relax; whether you find it in the mirror or inside your own head. Only you really know how you feel and what it is that makes you feel good. The only #fitspiration you need is yourself.