I worked part time at a gym for several years. New Year’s was a big time for us and very busy. There were so many people busting through those doors resolved in their efforts to finally be what they had wanted to be for years before. I saw every body type hoping for their version of physical perfection, whether that was merely an interpretation of “healthy” or a flesh rendering of a Greek god usually reserved for marble.
And every year, my co-workers and I would smile knowingly at each other and say, “Well, we only have to deal with this for another six weeks.” But, the new members had signed their contracts, and whether they showed up or not, they continued to pay their dues, even when we failed to see them as frequently as they might have expected to attend once March rolled around. Sometimes, they wouldn’t show up for weeks and then would sheepishly walk in the door with ready excuses only to disappear in similar fashion repeatedly until we didn’t seem them much at all.
I didn’t hold any of them to any standards and only wished for them that they would reach whatever goals they had set for themselves. Upon the utterance of so many reasons for absence, I’d let them know, nicely, that I wasn’t judging them and that they didn’t owe me excuses. But they persisted, and I smiled, and told them to have fun, and I meant it. The ones that stayed were having fun, and the ones that didn’t stay obviously didn’t enjoy working out one bit and were, hopefully, doing something more fulfilling, instead.
However, my lack of judgment didn’t make much of a difference in deferring the shame felt by all of those people who had committed to going to the gym and found themselves coming up short. Many people seem to make these kinds of commitments in earnest only to find their determination flagging once the reality of their obligation really sinks in. The truth is, that whatever it is they had set out to do, probably wasn’t something they really wanted to do, barring limitations caused by health or major life changes.
Sometimes, society pressures us to feel one way or another about ourselves, and we try to conform, but it just never seems to work out that we manage to fit into the idea of what is “right and good”. The people around us and the narratives with which we surround ourselves tell us, “you need to change x, y, z about yourself,” and so we think, “Okay, okay. This year’s the year. I’m going to change x, y, z about myself, and then I’ll be good, happy, and can accept myself once and for all.” And we really do mean to change, and we start down that road only to reach a dead end.Some are able to achieve their desired change. They stand out as shining examples of what we could be, if we only tried hard enough. Triumphantly perched on a pedestal of sweat equity and determination, they remind us that we are the only ones standing in our way, and that, if we really wanted it, we could have it. If we really wanted it, I suppose we could. But, what if we don’t? What if we’ve just been going along because everyone and everything around us tells us what we should be wanting, and we assumed they were right?
Maybe they aren’t right. What if being more thoughtful is more important to me than being thinner? What if presenting as more masculine is less important to someone than just feeling comfortable being who they are? It could be that we have our routes to happiness all wrong and that we don’t actually need to be the gender, religion, sexuality, shape, personality type, or status that has been thrust upon us. It might be that we just need to be ourselves and that being happy means exactly that.
The way to self-acceptance is easier for some than for others. Many people are wracked with doubt over exploring their priorities. My own realization that thinness was most certainly not the way to being happy was hard-fought, and I had to repeatedly block the messages I received from others to the contrary. I struggled with my decision to shift “being happy” to the forefront because I wasn’t even sure what that meant.
Whatever your own personal battle may be, facing it is overwhelming. Accepting yourself and getting to know who you are is a struggle. Of all the things society says I should be as a woman, fat, opinionated, and atheist are none of them. But these things are important to who I am, and in discovering that these traits are valuable to me, in accepting them, I became happy. Getting to know myself better and accepting what I found there is a New Year’s resolution I wish I had made sooner.
Now, instead of tentatively promising myself to “fit in”, I can think about what I really want for myself in the coming year. I can commit myself more fully to kindness and creativity, because that is what I want to do. My search for the perfect yellow cake recipe, oh how it eludes me, will continue, as will my quest for a hidden well of maternal patience and empowerment. And at the end of this year, I am not in the least bit disappointed with my accomplishments.