LGN 28: The Tipping Point

Earthquakes.  Hurricanes.  Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats 1.5s.  Some week.  Let’s start here…

This is where race, gender and fitness intersect for me.  Partially because of what I see in my own family and community.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  There’s nothing more attractive than women who work out.  I see all shapes and sizes — toned, skinny, petite, tall, athletic, curvy, heavyset, younger, older — putting in the work and they are killin’ it.

Sea Change

The other day I tried to go to the MLK Memorial.  Unfortunately for me, they had put up those fence barriers all over the place where I normally park and explore.  Near the baseball fields adjacent to the FDR Memorial and the running trail on Ohio Dr. SW.  And it looked like there was a line and all that business so I just kept driving.  I go there in the evenings after work sometimes to take photos around the memorials in the dusk light, the evening “golden hour”.

You can keep going on that road to East Potomac Park.  Make a left on Buckeye, pass the tennis courts, make another left on the other part of Ohio Dr. SW.  As I drove under the Francis Case Memorial Bridge, I noticed a group of women.  Standing next to each other on the sidewalk under the bridge.  Each of them was jumping rope.  I was thinking, “What is going on here?”

They were all black women, about eight of them.  They were all overweight to some degree.  Some looked a little more athletic, some were more curvy, some were big women.  On further inspection, there was one buff black dude — the trainer with a stopwatch around his neck.  I looked at him, he looked at me as I was driving by.  I saw some of the women drop their jump ropes, run about 20 yards, turn and run back.  I thought, “Hey!  They’re kind of doing what I do!”

By the time I took all of that in, I was already past them and on my way to 395.  I wanted desperately to pull over, get out my camera and take photos.  But people would have thought I was crazy, it would have been invasive, and those women probably would have thought I was some kind of creep.

Thing is, I was so proud of those women.  I don’t know how this will sound to you, but it was amazing to see and it made me … happy.  In my car, I was like, “Yes!  Yeeesss!!  You go!!”

Is it really this way?

See, I work in Arlington.  Arlington and the Tidal Basin — that’s like hottie central.  Young professional and college women are always out jogging or walking to a gym.  There’s a jogging culture in and around Arlington.  It’s crazy.  In a good way, I mean.  And let me tell you.  They look goooood.  Toned and tanned this time of year.  Healthy and fit.  A good percentage of them remind you of the women that they feature in fitness infomercials.

I can walk to a window of the office at just about any time of day and watch attractive women stroll or jog by.  Thing is, they’re, like, 99% white.  I don’t know if it’s a cultural or generational thing, but whatever it is, other cultures and demographics need to get with it.

Point is, it’s easy to get out and jog around when you’re smokin’ hot.  When you know you look good and anyone who looks at you is going to admire your physique.  You can put on skin tight lycra and sports bra-type top, as some of them do, and jog around like a fitness model.

However, to paraphrase a quote from Junot Díaz’s “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”:

“If you think people can be mean to fat people, it’s nothing compared to how cruel they can be to a fat person trying to exercise.”

It takes courage to be overweight and just do what you need to do out in the world.  And the kind of workout they were doing is tough.  You have to deal with discomfort, pain, your own physical and mental limits, and all the ups and downs of trying to get into shape or lose weight.  Starting the process can be the hardest part, because it’s when you feel the most hopeless.  It’s when you realize that despite your intent and desires, it’s going to take months, maybe years to get the body you want.  To achieve your self-image.

The women in the yoga class I take at PIES Fitness and who run the studio are amazing.  They’re beautiful.  Strong and flexible.  It’s awesome.

But functional strength training takes it to another level.  It’s often considered something men do so a lot of women miss out on the benefits of being physically strong.  Not buff or ripped, but strong and fit muscularly and aerobically.  Like, deadlift 200 lbs. and sprint between rounds of push ups and pull ups strong and fit.

Scrutiny

And these women were out there doing it.  Some of you may not get it.  You may think, was it even necessary to mention black and white?  Or you may just be sick of people talking about women’s bodies.  I read an editorial about that recently.  The gist of it was, “Stop talking about us black women and our ‘issues’, please, and mind your own business.”

Well … that’s kind of too bad.  Why?

1.  Because a high percentage of black women are overweight or obese.  This isn’t just a cosmetic or superficial issue.  This is about health, longevity, generational habits.   I read an article recently, by the way, that stated that some researchers think that our physiology and eating proclivities change our genes.  Our babies may inherit proclivities to being obese, insulin efficiency and so on.

2.  In the Black community, give or take, exercise and healthy eating are considered a luxury.  Like, that’s something white people do.  Or, those wacky Californians sure do exercise a lot.  I see it and hear it all the time.  Too many black people when they get older or sick, they just pack it in.  That just means that you should take every opportunity to enjoy what little time you probably have left.  Eat what you want and enjoy your personal addictions and vices.

One more thing about the Old Ways.   My yoga class is now taught by a woman who is pregnant.  And puts everyone else to shame, by the way.  From what I overhear she’s concerned about “getting fat”.  She is white.  Some of the other women in the class were like, “Shoot.  You’re supposed to gain weight when you’re pregnant.  You’re eating for two.  Now’s the time to enjoy yourself.”  They were black.

I have a friend who was pregnant and I said the same thing to her.  I was hanging out with her and her husband and she was making dinner.  Everything healthy, low sodium, lean.  Vegetables.  So I said something about gettin’ some grub and throwin’ down.  Y’know?

She told me that her doctor said that she should only be gaining about 20 lbs. over the course of her pregnancy.  Give or take.  That blew my mind.  I had no idea.  It was the first time I had ever heard that.

In recent years it’s been good to see black women embracing their … selves.  Their curves and physiques.  I think it’s fascinating how so many famous black women are overweight.  That’s great and yet ….

And now they’re slimming down, one way or another.  Jennifer Hudson and Jill Scott are very pretty, right.  And talented, of course.  Now they’ve both lost considerable weight and they are gorgeous.  You see them on a magazine cover and think, “Wow!”

They’ve probably improved their health and chances to live significantly longer.  They’ve taken control of some very powerful aspects of the human condition.  And whether they like it or not, they’ve set the tone for millions of women, not to mention their own families.

Please note.  I’m not necessarily talking about being skinny or Hollywood waif thin or even ripped.  Beautiful, fit and attractive people come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and proportions.

It gives me hope to see what I think are the beginnings of a cultural shift.  The epidemiology of minorities and/or those in the lower economic rungs of society has very real consequences.  Life/death consequences.  Quality of life consequences.

To those of you who are taking charge of your health — taking control of what goes into your body and intentionally being more physically active, you are heroes to me.  You’re the vanguard.

I am so with you.

Apocalyptic

If you haven’t or if it’s too much to even think about (if it triggers bouts of shame or self-loathing), well … whenever you’re ready.  You’re among friends and comrades.  You’re in a safe place.  We can do this.

Besides, we need to be ready for these hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, alien invasions, sentient robots, flash mobs, land sharks and so on.  You never know when you’ll need to jump off a second floor balcony, fireman’s carry a loved one, hold on to a rope ladder for dear life, lift a car off of an unsuspecting pedestrian, pick an elderly relative up off the floor, protect a toddler from a pack of abused pitbulls, or anything else you can think of that may require strength, speed and stamina.  Y’know?

Click here to see all of my LGN (I want to Look Good Naked) posts.

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2 comments

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  1. Heather Heath Roth

    I’ve been involved with a running program since Feb 2010. Many of the participants are middle aged, overweight women of ALL shapes and colors and I love it. Watching them run their first 5k is always amazing. We have our graduation race tomorrow and I am excited for everyone.

    I am going from Mentor back to participant for the next session. I look forward to getting a little faster and stronger and enjoying the company.

    Interesting side note – we had a participant in this session who is an overweight, black woman. She had a stroke a few weeks ago, but is on the path to recovery. They credit her participation in the program and recent weight loss for her quick recovery.

    • garyarthuryoung

      I saw some of the photos on your Facebook wall. That’s excellent. Go, Heather!

      How’d the participants make out?

      I hope her recovery continues and quickly. It’s amazing that doing “the work” of exercising has paid off. Good luck to her.

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