Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell: It’s time to love our bodies for function over form

Updated: 2014-02-12T03:39:10Z

By EMILY PARNELL

Special to The Star

My list of self-praise: I’m so proud of my body! My legs are amazing. My abs are totally rocking the house. Don’t even get me started on how flipping awesome my arms are. And my moves? Oh, my heavens, my moves are simply divine. I should post a selfie.

So went my thoughts as I left Jazzercise this week. Do you feel the same way?

You may have already judged me for sharing my egotistical little thoughts. Would it be more couth to not brag? I did not, in fact, take a photo of myself and post it to Facebook in what is known as a selfie. I opted, instead, for writing this column. A verbal selfie of sorts.

See, I’m not sure you’d share my appreciation if you just looked at a photo. You would spy some imperfections — items off my mental list of complaints about my body’s short-comings and inadequacies.

Things I nitpick when I look at a photo of myself: excess chin, bumpy saddlebags, back rolls, off-white, horse-sized teeth, wacky eyebrows, muffin top, arm flab, saggy knees…

Can I tell you how easy it was to come up with self-criticisms and how deflated I feel now?

Oh, sure, there were reasons I had fallen off the exercise wagon into an out-of-shape state. Perfectly legitimate reasons that revolved around paychecks and required doctors.

My list of excuses: time, arthritic knee, Achilles tendon injury, time, plantar fasciitis, general love of eating, work schedule, appreciation for convenience foods, time, time and more time….

A few months ago, I set the rather unoriginal goal of getting in shape. I began chiseling a chunk out of my mornings, and sometimes evenings, and occasionally afternoons, to return to my old favorite, Jazzercise. It had been a while since I’d attended regularly because of (fill in the blank with any item from the list of excuses above).

The first few times, it was hellish, humiliating and heartbreaking. My limbs felt like lead and I wished for an oxygen mask. I babied my knees and feet for fear that I’d aggravate old injuries. My calves and ankles burned as I struggled to keep up. I stayed to the back of the class, hoping nobody would notice me huffing and puffing, struggling to follow the routines and not faint. But it got better as I pushed myself. I opted for high-impact options, moved to heavier hand weights, held my planks longer, dipped deeper on lunges, until finally, a month or so later, I felt great!

Things my body did on the day I gave myself a big “ ’Atta girl!”: felt energetic through the whole workout, my saddlebag-clad legs propelled me through the room with determination, my limbs kept up with the routines (it’s always nice to not put out another exerciser’s eye), my core allowed me to move without causing my knees to snap and pop, my feet (oh, my glorious, rehabilitated feet) jumped and landed and supported and carried me with nary a complaint. My body was, gasp, in good working order.

I sometimes find it hard to give myself a compliment. It’s easy to see the skinny girl in the front row, compare and fall short. Even if I starve myself and work out twice a day, I will never, again, be string-bikini material. But really, expectations for our own bodies are disproportionate to their use. My affection for friends and family has virtually nothing to do with their appearance. I love a friend who makes me smile — in sweatpants and T-shirt, regardless of physique. Kindness trumps beauty every single time. I teach my kids to not be shallow — to appreciate ability and actions over appearances. Why do I struggle to apply similar values to myself? Society and pride team up to beat down good intentions, but it’s time to kick that rubbish out the window. It’s time to love our bodies for function over form.

Things to celebrate about my body: It hugs my children, walks the dogs, lifts big bags of groceries, hikes with my family, dances with my husband, jumps for joy, scrubs the floor — and still has energy to go exercise.

Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell writes for Diversions each week.

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