I sat on the beach and looked around surreptitiously from under my twenty Euro shades. It was truly a phenomenon. Not one person here has my body type, I thought to myself.
I squinted, twisting my body to look at the twentysomethings rolling their cigarettes beside me; the mother playing with her toddler down by the waves; the group of students behind me.
Every woman’s legs go straight up-and-down, with no bulging at the tops of the thighs, I thought.
All of them have necks like swans, and they all accentuate them by wearing their beach hair piled, carelessly but faultlessly, on the tops of their pretty heads, I marvelled.
Nobody has belly fat; they all have 2-dimensional tummies that manage to be flat and soft at the exact same time, I gawped, head shaking.
Going to the beach in Italy is about as much fun as a frontal-lobotomy performed by Ozzy Osbourne on a good day, and enough to push a girl to three rounds of therapeutic gelato whilst resolving never to eat pasta again on a bad one.
I sat on the beach one afternoon and played my new favourite game of destructive self-loathing, wherein I compared my body to all the other thinner, darker, better ones on the beach. My esteem drifted out to sea. I was fat and pale and undeserving of love, or attention, or happiness, and probably I wasn’t as intelligent as I thought, and what about what I said to that girl at work today? I bet she’s talking about me right now, saying what an awful person I am. AND MY PARENTS! THEY MUST HATE ME TOO! I HAVE NO FRIENDS AND NO HOME AND MY EYEBROWS ARE WONKY AND, AND, AND!
AND IF ONLY I LOOKED LIKE THESE OTHER GIRLS I WOULD BE WORTHY! WORTHY, I TELL YOU! WOOOOOORRRRRTHHHHHHHY!
Finally, I saw a woman about my age and I thought to myself, oh. Okay. She has a body type like mine, and she’s kinda cute.
That woman stood up, and Internet? SHE WAS PREGNANT.
And so that tale of eroding confidence about how I look, to which every woman, no matter how much she declares otherwise, is prey to, is how I came to reading What We Talk About When We Talk About Running. It’s a tomb I idly picked up off of my friends bookshelf because the title is taken from my favourite ever short story collection and I wanted to see who would so brazenly plagiarise the God that is Raymond Carver.
The answer: Haruki Murakami, Japanese writer and ultra-marathon competitor.
And I’m glad he did, because it’s dead good.
I’ve run on and off for a couple of years now, and whenever I start again after a hiatus, I always admonish myself for ever having stopped. When I run I feel strong, and powerful- like wonderwoman. But then, that is often how I find myself: doing something intensely and powerfully and with all the best will in the world, and then not at all.
See: boys/money/blogging/learning to be a responsible adult.
I started running again because spending a summer by an Italian beach means by default extreme exposure to those Italian Supermodels, and there is no SPF high enough to block out the rays of their physical superiority.
But it took me three days of pushing my body to its limit before I remembered that I don’t actually care that I do not look like Giselle.
(Okay, if you had a magic wand and could make me look that way with zero effort, fine. Maybe I’d consider it. But putting down the buffalo mozzarella? Fat chance.)
I picked up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running as thinspiration. I’m not proud of it, but I did. Some part of me thought that I’d be happier if I was thinner, and if I ran, I’d somehow be better at life. Nothing to do with health, or well being, but instead, weight.
I’m embarrassed by myself, but for a moment there my imagination was telling me that thin = successful. Successful at what? Urm. My brain didn’t get that far.
I genuinely believe in the serendipitous nature of books- that they come to you when you most need them- and this just served as further proof because out off all the books in all the world, I got this one last week. I got inspiration, by the pageful, because Murakami writes that for him, as a writer who runs, being active everyday makes it easier to hear that inner voice, AND AIN’T THAT THE TRUTH MR MOTIVATOR.
My inner voice doesn’t think any of the things I let my indolent mind wonder that afternoon at the beach. Not one little bit. I’m not fat. I’m not repulsive. I’m a woman, with boobs and chins and rolls and bumps AND THE BEST ASS YOU’VE EVER SEEN.
Ironically, though, I had to remember to use my body in order to remember to be okay with my body. I run to feel strong and capable, not to be Lauren Conrad.
Murakami says, no matter how long you stand there examining yourself naked before a mirror; you’ll never see what’s reflected inside.
True enough, Murakami. But what I can guarantee is that whatever is inside of me? It’s about two and half times the size of what’s in an Italian woman on a Riviera beach.
And actually, that’s okay.