Mirrors line the front of the room in which I exercise. A reflecting wall faces the multiplicity of machines and the bodies pushing, pumping, running, walking, pedaling. At first, the compulsion to stare at myself as I worked out was too great. I suspect the mirrors are there as a teaching tool--a visual reminder to move with correct posture, to watch your form so that you do not hurt yourself. But for me, and I suspect for many of the other people in the room, they were a wall of self-loathing.
Moving my body in time to whatever music I plugged myself into, I'd look up and catch a glimpse of my protruding stomach, hanging flaccidly over my pants. Even with no baby there, it looked like it housed something. As my arms pushed the bars forward, sweating beading onto my forehead, I would see from the corner of my eye, the reflection of sagging arm flesh waving merrily in the motion of my body in action. I did not think to myself at those times to keep my back straight, my head over my shoulders, a straight line. Instead, I hated that body. I hated the doughy flesh that jiggled and rolled in time with my steps. I despised what I thought that body meant: the excess, the over indulgence, the visible sign of no control. I was gross, undisciplined, unlovable, and hideous.
And then the day came when I held a baby who many people in the world label as so different she could not possibly be beautiful. A baby that I had feared would be hideous because of her difference. I was not proud of those feelings because they were ugly. When I looked into her face, she was beauty itself just as all my children had been to my mother's eyes. Her tiny perfection, oh those eyes, the little snub of a nose, the mouth pursued and sweet. There was nothing ugly about this baby. Nothing ugly about her condition or the others who had her syndrome.
And then came another day when my other children hugged me and told me "You're a beautiful mama." Or looking into their faces and seeing reflections of me. How could I call this body ugly when I could see it's traces in the bodies of my own children?
The other day, I stepped off my machine, feeling good about moving. The freedom of moving. The joy in pushing those muscles, those joints into flight. I looked over and saw myself stepping down. And yes the fat was still there but I didn't see the ugly this time. When I felt myself starting to wander into those dark moments, I stopped myself, and reined my mind back to the world where I am a worthy human being not in spite of my body but because of my body.