Like a lot of women, my relationship with my body has been marked by lots of confusion, a consuming self-loathing that swarmed in just before puberty and baby steps towards self-acceptance that have picked up speed as my thirties progress. Not a sporty person, I have exercised all of my adult life motivated by a desire to lose weight and fear (of gaining weight). Somewhere along the way, as I aged and my feminism sharpened, I stopped trying to lose weight all the time and began feeling better and better about my body. I’ve done loads of yoga in the last three years for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it’s given me the experience of being in my body rather than observing my body from the outside.
But in the last few months I’ve been feeling a little complacent with yoga. Maybe I was swayed by the friends in my newsfeed (usually the lawyers or the gorgeous housewives with perfect houses and perfect children) posting sweaty, triumphant photos of themselves after running marathons or finishing triathalons, but I leapt at the opportunity to walk a marathon with a friend. Yes, you read that right, in 11 days I’m WALKING a marathon. Usually we hear of people running them, but I promise that walking them is a thing — a thing that people do in their bras for charity, but there are also people who walk them really, really fast for charity. I’m trying to be one of those really fast people (the bra one might come next year, who knows now that I’ve purchased trainers). When I started training seven weeks ago, I was just as unimpressed by the idea of walking a marathon as most people are when I tell them I’m doing it. Not all of us run, but we all walk. It’s not that big of a deal, is it? Yeah. I thought that too, but now that I’ve walked 20 miles in 5 hours (5 hours! It takes so long!) and my blisters have blisters, I have a new appreciation for how long and painful a mile can be.
Anyhow, five hours is a long time to spend by yourself. When I did the 20-miler, I filled the first three hours with my epic Marathon Mix, a 50-song playlist I made. The music kept me going as did my pleasure with putting Queens of the Stone Age’s “No One Knows” next to “Raspberry Beret” followed by the Pixies “Gigantic” and timing it so that “Bombs Over Bagdad” comes when my energy is flagging — I am a mix making genius, I think. I walk 13 miles in 3 hours with no problem.
After the three hour mark, my interest in my mix making genius starts to wane and my mind wanders. I start making calculations – how long will it take me to finish these miles? How many miles would it be if I went down this path? I’m going to run this next year, I tell myself. I begin calculating how I will train, how I’ll need to run the mile about 3 minutes faster than I’m walking it. My imagination goes wild with delusions of grandeur. Once I’ve exhausted all the configurations of miles, minutes and distances I can think of, my mind wanders again. I go to one of my favourite pastimes for getting through long queues or boring meetings – making up ideas for outfits (my other favourites are making mix tapes, library reading lists and thinking about what I want to eat). This is a little like those ladymag features when they try to tell you that a £1,000 jacket is a “steal” or an “investment” because you can “shop your closet.” Morally and financially, I can only afford to shop my closet.
As I pass the 17 mile mark, things begin hurting. My hips are aching and I’m starting to suspect that the blister bandages I’ve plastered all over my feet are shifting like the tectonic plates and angry volcanic blisters are erupting everywhere. I try not to think about the pain and shift back to the diversion of clothes. Unbidden, various fantasies come to me where I’m wearing something amazing and then walk into various rooms or parties and various acquaintances are filled with desire for me or an appreciation for my outfit making genius.
And since I am a proud feminist and a grown woman who’s been practicing mindfulness meditation for the last few years, it only takes me about 45 minutes to stop and ask what the hell is going on in my head. It goes something like this:
Heidi: So, umm, what’s up with you?
Me: You mean the outfits and people seeing them? It’s so embarrassing, can’t we just leave it alone?
Heidi: I don’t think so, it seems kind of messed up.
Me: I’m too old or feministy for makeover fantasies?
Heidi: Maybe, but I don’t think it was really about makeovers, was it? The weird thing is that in real life you find most attention and compliments really embarrassing.
Me: I know!
Heidi: Those dudes that shouted at you from the car a little while ago made you both angry and so embarrassed that you wanted the earth to open up and swallow you.
Me: What is wrong with men?! I do not have a “hot” body, I have no makeup on, and I’m sweaty and gross – what’s up with all the leering and honking?
Heidi: You’re a woman walking around alone? That totally sucks, but stop trying to change the subject.
Me: Right. O.K. I’m struggling to make it through this walk, everything hurts — I can’t believe I was making glorious running plans an hour ago, that was insane. I don’t think my fantasies are about desire or wanting people to desire me, I think it’s about – being powerful. I’ve got millions of images in my head of women being powerful because of how beautiful they are. Not a lot of tapes running of women who are powerful because they have power.
When I started training for the marathon, it was a new revelation about being in my body. I was training to see what my body could do, not how it looked, and it was liberating. It was liberating to feel my legs get stronger as I went for longer and longer distances. It was liberating to wear joggers around and make people squirm with my mangled feet. Maybe it’s to be expected that I’ve wobbled under the duress of my longest walk or when people have mentioned weight loss. Advertising, politics, films, music, church – I get hundreds of messages a day about how my worth as a woman is tied up in how my body affects others. I’m doing pretty well with my conscious mind, but there is a lot of shit to wade through for the unconscious mind; I’m still working through what it means to be in a woman’s body and how to let go of the soft power of being sexy, fertile or beautiful whilst still enjoying what beauty or fertility I do have.
I want new images running through my head. When I’m feeling unsure or under stress, I want my mind to leap to Hilary Clinton in a meeting or Amy Poehler telling Jimmy Fallon that she doesn’t “Fu*#king care if you like it.” I want Kathleen Hanna and Gloria Steinem. I want Cheryl Strayed walking in her duct tape boots along the Pacific Crest Trail. I want women on the stand giving the long talk at the end of sacrament meeting and officiating ordinances. I want fierce women in all walks of life, in all their relationships, having power that comes from being in their bodies, at the center of their lives, and not just for the power that their bodies have on others.
Where does your head go when you want to channel some power? What do you see?