Growing up, some of my greatest memories took place on Sundays at my grandmother’s house. My dad’s mom, known to us as Mom Mom and known to countless others as “Aunt Helen”, was quite possibly the kindest most generous spirit I have ever known in my whole life. She was exactly what you would picture when thinking about what an Italian grandmother was….large, loving, and almost always cooking. She always wore dresses; in fact I don’t really remember her ever wearing slacks until the last few years of her life. She opened up her home to so many people over the years whether it was to stay during a tough time, or for dinner on Sunday. Her food was ridiculously incredible. What that woman could do with lettuce, onions and oil and vinegar was insane (I think the trick is extra salt, but what do I know?) I remember the first time I asked her for her lasagne recipe and she just laughed at me.
One Sunday, I was about 9 years old, and my grandmother was making pasta with one of her sisters and some other family members (all female of course). I remember the bed sheets laid out in the dining room to put the pasta on while it dried. I remember that I was wearing a dress that day. I was walking through the kitchen and Mom Mom stopped me and said “Lauren you have such nice legs!” I was so proud! My Aunt Margaret immediately said “Oh Helen, don’t tell her that. She’ll get a big head and she won’t be able to stop staring at her legs!” I wanted to yell “Listen Aunt Margaret, put your teeth back in and shut your pie hole.” But I didn’t….I went in to the living room to watch TV. And kept staring at my legs. But every time I looked and thought my legs didn’t look so bad, Aunt Margaret’s voice was in the back of my head shaming me just a little bit.
Last week at the gym, we were having a conversation about this whole training experience and how jumping on the scale and looking in the mirror are very different experiences now than they have been in the past. I’ve never been super excited about jumping on the scale for any reason. For about 15 years I even refused to get on the scale at the Ob/Gyn’s office….a friend of mine who is a physician told me once that if you’re not pregnant they don’t really need to weigh you so that was my reasoning. (How dumb.) For the last few years I also was not super excited about seeing my naked white body from every possible angle in my bathroom when I got out of the shower. The last few months have been very different. I’m getting on the scale at the gym IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE to measure my progress. I’m even wearing clothes while doing it which is also a new phenomenon for me. I’ve always stripped down naked to do this at home because I’m certain my pajamas weigh about 9 lbs. And now when I get dressed and undressed, I am looking at myself in the mirror from every possible angle. But both of those things are happening with a different mindset. I’m objectively looking at results, positive or negative, almost like a scientist. If I don’t know where I am, my coaches won’t know how to guide me. For the first few months, it was particularly painful because the reality of how I had mistreated my body was crystal clear. I felt like I had to warn my trainer before I sent pictures of myself half naked to her….nobody should just have that shit just show up on their phone with no warning.
The other part of our conversation was about how excited everyone gets when someone else gets results. Women are high-fiving each other as our hard work starts to show. There’s no holding back from yelling “Damn girl! You look GOOD!” from across the gym when you see a woman who was struggling in the beginning start to walk a little taller and show up proud of the work that she’s done. And the support is authentic. It’s a wonderful feeling, and we were lamenting about why that’s not standard operating procedure for us to do with each other all of the time. We don’t lose or become less than by complimenting someone. Doling it out to who we deem worthy only dulls our own shine.
We’re even saying kind things about ourselves! When someone compliments me, my knee jerk reaction is to point out a flaw so I don’t seem too vain. (Thanks Aunt Margaret and every mean girl in grade school.) But I’m consciously avoiding doing that and just replying with “Thank you, I’m working hard.” I’m also trying to compliment someone whenever the thought comes in to my head. I don’t want to hold back, I want to give freely the way others have been giving to me. Young girls can be mean and without paying attention to that they can grow up into mean women. Let’s stop shaming ourselves and our sisters, and start encouraging each other. Strong, healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes. This isn’t about your worth coming from an arbitrary number on the scale or the size of your pants. It’s about loving yourself and letting others love themselves without fear that it will make you less than.
I’m sure that this is something that I will have to pay attention to for the rest of my life. There will be days that I feel fat even when I’m not. And I’m sure there will be days when I feel like a million bucks but by someone else’s standards I might be looking more like a bag of nickles. But for now, I’m so glad that I’m noticing things….myself and others…..differently. I’ll be getting on stage in 20 days and I will be far from the perfect specimen. People will probably look and me and judge but you know what? I really don’t care. I am proud of the changes I’ve made so far, and the habits that will now be part of my life moving forward, and so proud of the women that will be up there who I may have judged in the past.
So take that Aunt Margaret….I’ll never hold back a compliment from someone I love, especially a 9 year old girl.
Mom Mom (top left), her mother and a few of her sisters.
Me looking in the previously dreaded bathroom mirrors. March, 2016 on the left and May, 2016 on the right. 8 weeks apart.