Stranger Danger and Unsolicited "Help"
One Saturday afternoon a few years back, after experiencing the exhilaration of finishing my third dance class in four days, I decided to take a moment to sit outside before heading to my car, just to reflect on how good it felt to move. I’d been down with a cold – twice – shortly before and had so missed the endorphin rush and sheer joy I get from dance.
I’m a proud Rubenesque woman – well, much prouder today than I ever was in the past.
Petite only applies to my vertical challenges, as well as my small feet and hands.
Everything else from my neck to my ankles screams "Amazon!" "Curves Ahead (and behind)!" "Hips don’t lie!"
You get the picture.
Anyway, I’ve written in this space about how marathoning helped me make my way back to feeling. I was numb for a long, long time, having suffered so much physical and emotional pain that I once told a friend I just didn’t “feel” any more. Sure, I “felt” that took up physical space. And I certainly "felt" it when I touched a too hot pot handle, or when I dropped something heavy on my foot.
But really feeling? Like having feels?
Not so much. It was just easier not to, thank you.
Genetics definitely plays a part: I am a mirror image of the females on both the maternal and paternal sides of my family. Feminine amplitude, as my ex once called it, is definitely in my DNA. Along with a pretty healthy amount of West African ancestry.
I used to buy into the stereotype that, dancers – and marathoners (and now, yoga teachers) – had to fit a certain image: tallish and slender, not short and roundish like me.
But as life would have it, I happen to love these activities, and at one time or another I’ve been good enough to teach dance and choreography in my 20s and 30s, and now a marathon coach and yoga teacher in my 50s.
Who woulda thunk it?
There are plenty folks who have watched the manifestation of my transformation, mostly from the inside out, and they let me know on a regular basis that they think what I do is kinda awesome.
But then there are "The Strangers."
Which brings me back to my moment of reflection after that dance class. A woman I’d never met, but who I noticed in the back of the class during the hour we danced, approached me as I sat basking in my hard-earned sweat. In her hand was a business card of some kind.
She approached me and said, “Do you always come to this class on Saturdays?”
“Um, no. I usually come on Thursdays because I coach on Saturdays. But I’m on a break, so I come both days now. How about you?”
“Well,” she says, ignoring my question and handing me the card, “I like this product and I thought you might be interested in it. It can help you.”
I already knew before looking at the card that it was some kind of diet, nutrition or weight loss thing.
I smiled politely, unable to think of a witty – or better yet, truthful – comeback. And she walked away without so much as a mention of her name, though I guess it was on the card.
Nor did she ask for mine.
I am often approached by people who think they’re being helpful by offering me some weight loss, boot camp, miracle drug solution to a problem they’ve decided I have. And while we're baring it all, let me say that I have knowingly sought this kind of help in the past as well.
But it was always my choice to initiate, and also my decision to walk away if something wasn't working for me, or, as is usually the case, I've found another activity I enjoy better.
But these strangers? They don’t think that my blood pressure, cholesterol, and other vitals could possibly be in the range of healthy.
It's also true that maybe some of these people are just "doing their jobs" - as when the local gym has sales people posted up in the parking lot at the market, or the mall, trying to make a quota and maybe a commission.
But when an individual I've never met randomly approaches me to pitch the latest weight loss miracle, without at least having the decency to try to figure out if I have a problem with my body, it's offensive.
Even when I talk about marathoning with any amount of subject matter authority, I am often asked, “But you’ve never actually done a marathon, right? You just teach other people how to do it.”
At least, I think that’s a question.
Really, if we’re being honest here, assumptions like this are often made by those who cannot make peace with bodies like mine - bodies that don’t look like what the media, and even some of our Western health standards, have declared as “normal,” or I daresay, “attractive.”
But maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s an attempt to place a label on an anomaly we don’t understand – that a curvaceous, Rubenesque woman can hold her own on the dance floor, the marathon course, and a yoga mat, and actually be healthy. And happy.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s their problem – with their own (poor) self-image, limitations and perceptions - and not mine.
And the moral of the story?
Be well – whatever that looks like for you and on you. Find the beauty in movement, and dance – or run – or flow with it, however you wish.
Because absolutely no one gets healthy by standing in judgment of others.