I've always been a tall, athletic girl. As a shy teenager, there were aspects of my physique that I would have changed in a heartbeat. I hated that my head stuck up above the crowd when my greatest desire was to blend in. I hated that my basketball and volleyball workouts led to a muscular body when TV and magazines were telling me to be skinny. The truth is that I couldn't wait to be finished with high school sports so that I could gain a bit more control over my workouts, my diet, and my appearance. Visions of Sarah-as-ballerina motivated me to give up team sports in college and to focus instead on long-distance running. I began training for half-marathons and entered my first race during my freshman year, with many more to follow.
I actually enjoyed running to some degree. The sunshine, the rhythm, and the endorphins were certainly valuable contributors to my sanity at a tough academic school. But I didn't love to run. For a girl who truly loves physical activity, it became clear that I was choosing to dedicate a lot of time to a sport that ignited very little passion in me. And what's more, over time I had to admit to myself that my body was not changing. I remained tall and muscular, far from my ballerina ideal. Slowly I had to come to terms with the reality that there was not a menu of Sarahs on the table to choose from. I didn't have the luxury of toggling back and forth between sporty Sarah and ballerina Sarah. I was and would remain Sarah. Just me. And for longer than I care to admit, this realization was a bit of a disappointment.
It was a happy accident that began to slowly move me out of that disappointed place. Two and a half years ago, a friend invited me to join her at the gym for a beginner climbing course. We spent the day learning about equipment and knot-tying. And then we took a stab at the walls... and I was hooked. Immediately. Climbing engaged my body and mind in a way that running never had. I discovered that each route was a puzzle to be solved both intellectually and physically. And it required strength. My athletic body that would not - could not - become a ballerina, was surprisingly well-suited to scale a wall. Now, I cannot pretend that I am some sort of expert climber. In fact, I am still too timid to venture outside. But I will say that I genuinely celebrate my body with every climb. And that opportunity to celebrate is something I would wish for every woman out there (even you ballerinas).
Regina Spektor has a song called "Folding Chair", in which she sings about herself sitting on a beach, toes in the sand, admiring the ocean. And there is a line included in her description that says "I've got a perfect body, though sometimes I forget. I've got a perfect body 'cause my eyelashes catch my sweat." In singing about lounging in her bathing suit (a situation for us women that is complicated at best, horrible at worst), Ms. Spektor shares a tiny celebration about her perfect body. Not her perfect, media-conforming sexiness, but her eyelashes that keep the sweat from bothering her so that she can more fully enjoy the beauty of the beach. I love that such a tiny observation would move her to describe her body as "perfect". It is, perhaps, a gift that, in all our fearful, wonderful humanness, we don't get to choose from a menu of selves. Instead, we get a lifetime to explore and discover the beauty of the bodies we were given and learn how to celebrate them. Here's hoping we are up to the challenge.