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Posts Tagged ‘body image’

Owie.

Shifu was out of town on Monday night, so some of the high-ranked students led us in a review of Nan Chuan. It’s a form from the Southern Fist style of Wu Shu, and is easily the most difficult form that we learn as a part of our regular curriculum. Shifu went to China several times to learn and refine this form, and we begin learning it, at least in small pieces, as early as white belt. For my red belt test this summer, I had to know the first third or so; for brown belt, you’re supposed to know the whole thing (SUPPOSED to).

We worked on the section between :54 and 1:11 (but watch the whole thing; this is Chen LiHong and she’s AMAZING.)  The net result of that body drop followed by jumping back up, repeated ad nauseum, is that my left hamstring has been aching for the last two days. Today I was finally able to stretch some of the cramp out, but making my way up and down the stairs at work is a project.

It’s that awesome kind of hurt that tells you you’ve really done something with yourself. If you’d shown me this video ten years ago and said to me “You can do this,” I’d have looked at you and laughed. Discovering that I was strong enough to carry a light up a ladder or nimble enough to walk through the rafters when I was in college did the work of getting me out of my head and really into  my body for the first time in my life, but learning martial arts made me love being there.

Women in western culture are bombarded with ideals of beauty, blah blah blah. Being good feminists, we’ve all heard this argument before. We see, hear, and feel all this crap around us; even when we’re raised in loving families by women with positive body images, we know we’re supposed to be white, thin, and blonde by the time we’re six. Some of us get away lightly; we just have days (or weeks or months) where we think we’re ugly, or fat, or we hate our hair or skin or the dimples on our thighs. Some women succumb to the more sinister aspects of this early conditioning and develop eating disorders or various forms of OCD. Some just get really, really depressed at the thought of looking themselves in the mirror every morning. I’ve had bad days myself, and I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t had these thoughts at one time or another.

For me, the magic bullet has been making my body into a tool I can use to do amazing things. I know that there are stories of dancers and gymnasts who starve themselves nearly to death, and anorexics who exercise themselves into nothing. But for me, it was like opening my eyes for the first time. How can I hate something that can kick over my head? What’s not to love about the arms that can do one more push-up today than they did yesterday? When I learn a new move, or execute a perfect throw, or hoist 80 pounds of socapex cable on my shoulder and carry it up three flights of stairs, I am proud of my body. I love the bones and muscles that make it go, the fine work that my hands can do, and the things that I know make me beautiful. Sure, I’d love for my skin to be clearer or my abs to be more defined, but at the end of the day I’m ok with how I turned out.

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