I was a girl baby. I weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces. I grew up to have two brothers, six boy cousins, and four uncles, but no sisters or girl cousins. The different standards for physical activities considered appropriate for either a boy or a girl, but usually not both, were always abundantly clear to me. I always preferred “boy” things like climbing trees, walking the top of a fence, digging holes, and trying to learn bike tricks. My mom told me once to get down from a tree because I was wearing a dress. The concern was that people would see up my skirt. “All the boys are up here with me,” I called down.
Around that same age, I found a women’s magazine on the coffee table. It was the sort of magazine that orders you to LOSE TEN POUNDS BY SUMMER! right next to BEST CAKE RECIPES! I flipped through it, and something beautiful caught my eye. It was an article on yoga poses. I didn’t understand what that meant, although I could read, but I did really like the outfits and the lighting. The yoginis were dressed in pale pink leotards. They reminded me of ballerinas. Oh, so pretty! I promptly got down on the carpet and started trying to copy what I saw. One pose involved lying on your belly and reaching back for your feet. Then you would arch and pull your legs upward. I was at that age when you’re basically made of rubber, and I probably could have accomplished dozens of postures without even feeling the stretch. My mommy saw me, though, and it scared her. “Be careful! You’ll hurt your back!” I got a stern lecture on not attempting stuff like that unless I knew what I was doing, and that it was for grownups.
That was hardly the last time I was told to be careful. More of these lectures have come my way since adulthood than in childhood, from friends, family, colleagues, and complete strangers.
BE CAREFUL about walking in that neighborhood.
BE CAREFUL about traveling alone.
BE CAREFUL about leaving your house after dark.
BE CAREFUL about strength training or you’ll strain yourself or get too bulky.
BE CAREFUL about exercising at all or it will make you obsessive.
BE CAREFUL about weight loss because you’ll lose your mind and become an anorexic.
BE CAREFUL about being too competitive or you’ll lose friends.
BE CAREFUL BE CAREFUL BE CAREFUL BE CAREFUL BE CAREFUL
Shifting gears for a moment, let me talk a bit about the men in my life. My husband: swim team, football team, hockey team, armored combat, motorcyclist. Nobody told him to BE CAREFUL even after all the times he got knocked unconscious. Nobody told him to BE CAREFUL even when he sharpened his chainsaw while working as a logger. Nobody told him to BE CAREFUL even after dropping his bike in traffic. My brothers: fell out of a tree, fell down a flight of stairs, broke an arm before kindergarten (and promptly used the cast to hit another boy), umpteen car accidents, spinal fracture from a construction accident. Nobody tells them to BE CAREFUL. All three of them have made public decisions to lose weight, lost it, and kept it off, all without anyone telling them to BE CAREFUL or implying they would have some kind of emotional breakdown.
I do what I want. That’s important to me. My non-negotiable need in life is total freedom to come and go as I please and investigate anything that ignites my curiosity. I’ve always been that way. Fortunately, I met a man who likes this trait in me. It keeps me interesting and it tends to result in a firm, active body. I’ve traveled to nine countries on four continents so far; I’ve run a marathon; I’ve hiked over 30 miles in three days. Without a minimum quota of trail time, I’m tense, irritable, and bored. I have the demonstrated capacity to go places by myself, pack my own gear, pitch my own tent, light my own fires, and use my own first aid kit. I can tie my shoes and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, too!
I’m a rational being, like most other humans. It burns me up every time someone else infantilizes me and expresses a belief that I’m emotionally fragile, weak, or incompetent. I know my own mind. I know the limitations of my own body, too. I beat chronic pain and fatigue, thyroid disease, migraine, obesity, and a parasomnia disorder to get where I am. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m the last person to voluntarily endanger myself or cause myself unnecessary pain or suffering. My lifetime quota of illness was met in my early 20s. That’s part of my motivation: to make it up to myself. I’m making up for lost time and building a better body to take me into my golden years. Maybe people will be less likely to tell me to BE CAREFUL when I’m 80 if I have bigger muscles than they do.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.