So, alas, this post isn’t about the absolutely marvelous 1995 movie, Now and Then.
No, sadly (though we can get into all the various ways in which that movie changed my life when I was 7 another time) this post is simply about, well, me. And I would apologize for that, only I’m pretty sure that if you didn’t like to read about me talking about myself, you probably wouldn’t be on a blog that literally has my name in the title. I mean, just scroll back up to the header if you need a reminder, haha. There’s a picture of me, too. Just saying.
Anyway, one of the things I like best about this blog is how it enables me to have open (and thoughtful and intelligent and generally awesome) conversations with you guys about topics that are really near and dear to my heart. These also tend to be topics that not everybody really likes to talk about. So when I was able to submit myself for an opportunity to sample ON’s new line of Activewear and discuss how my workout wardrobe has changed over time, I jumped. Like, seriously, jumped right out of my desk chair. Not just because I was so excited to get a $50 gift card to go pick up some new Activewear items (don’t get me wrong, I was totally excited for that — $50 goes REALLY far at Old Navy! I got FIVE things and only went like $8 over!) but because I was also immediately inspired to re-open and re-discuss one of those hard topics. But one of those really necessary ones: body acceptance, body image, and body confidence.
Let me paint you a word picture. I went to James Madison University for college. JMU is a beautiful little (well, not really so little) school down in Harrisonburg, VA–the furthest south I have ever lived. It’s a really gorgeous place, with the old (er, historic) campus on one side of highway 81 and the newer part of the campus on the other side, bridged by… uh… a bridge. And when I first enrolled, as a wee young Freshman, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and totally naive to the concept of skipping 8 AM classes (oh, how quickly that changed) one of the shining gems of the newer part of campus was–and I’m assuming, still is–UREC. The University Recreation Center.
Actually, I just realized I don’t need to paint you a word picture. I can show you a real picture. Heh.
Pretty nice, right? And it was–er, is. It’s got tons of machines, an indoor track, raquetball and basketball and whateverball courts, group fitness classes… and a ROCK WALL. Sweet, right? Only, I never got a chance to test out the rock wall. Not once in my four years there. In fact, I could probably count the number of times I actually ventured into UREC on both hands. (Well, okay, maaaaybe it would take three hands.) ‘Cause here’s another thing you should know about JMU. We have a widespread reputation throughout the state of Virginia (perhaps further than that?) for having really hot girls. I know. I’m so proud.
So anyway, here I am, just one of thousands of faces, enrolled in a school that is literally known for the hotness level of its female students. Talk about pressure. And, of course, we all know I had my eating issues, and my body issues, and those led to my weight issues… and by the time I started realizing that my weight was getting out of control, by the time I actually wanted to DO something about it, well… things didn’t go very well.
See, at first I thought, Okay, here we go. I’m going to go to the gym every day and eat super well and things will work out, you’ll see! Except I was already ashamed of my body, ashamed that I had gained so much weight, and comparing myself to every Jessica and Lindsay I passed certainly didn’t help (seriously, there were, like, six Lindsays living in my Freshman dorm). Because you know what those girls spent their spare time doing? Working out. Doing yoga. Going running. At UREC. In spandex capris and tight tank tops, and sometimes just in their sports bras. To say it was intimidating is like calling a jaguar a cat. UNDERSTATEMENT.
So each admittedly infrequent time I would actually get up the nerve to go to the gym, I was so afraid. So afraid that someone would see me, that they would judge me, that they would know I don’t belong. So I’d put on my baggy t-shirts and my loose-fitting sweatpants thinking that they hid my bulges, and I would pull my hair back and stuff headphone in my ears and pretend like I wasn’t watching the taut-bodied, long-legged girl reading Glamour on the elliptical. I’d huff and puff for maybe 10 minutes and then would get too discouraged to keep going, because I was so certain that SOMEBODY was going to look at me and think, “Ew, why is she even here? It’s not like it’s going to help…” and then I’d make sure I grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich from D-Hall on my way home.
Yeah, I know. It was messed up.
But the point of this story isn’t to dwell on the sad-sack Gretchen. Eventually she found in-office gyms and home workout videos and a diet that finally worked, and she ended up pretty okay. The point is to focus on the things that made her feel like she needed to cover up, to hide, to feel ashamed. Because even though, yes, I was overweight, it’s like there was a rule that said I wasn’t allowed to like the way I looked, or wasn’t allowed to associate with the skinnies, or wasn’t allowed to look cute at the gym. It was all self-imposed. A symptom of my complete lack of body confidence. And the ironic part is that before my senior year, I wasn’t even “that bad.” I didn’t reach my highest weight until 2009, the year that I graduated. I’m sure that I think I’m still heavier now than I was when I started college. (I graduated from high school around 185.) But, man, 197 pounds feels really different on this side of the void, that’s for sure.
I wish I had some photos of myself in “gym clothes” from back then. (But of course I don’t. I would never have let anyone take that photo, haha.) I wish I had something to really show you how low I thought of myself back then, how I thought I needed to hide, that how I looked was somehow offensive. How I hid my curves and rolls and completely HUMAN imperfections under unflattering giant t-shirts and old pairs of stretched out Soffe shorts.
So I don’t have photos of exactly that, but I do have a couple of photos that might help show what I mean:
These photos are unrelated to gym apparel, obviously, but they make a point. Here I am, in giant, oversized sweatshirts–which I wore A LOT in the hopes that that they would fool the world into thinking I was smaller. Silly, right? Because in reality, all that wearing big, baggy, oversized stuff does is make you look oversized. Which makes you feel oversized, which makes you not want to show off the goods that God gave you. And the cycle continues.
So. We thank our lucky stars that those days are done, and we revel in the fact that the same girl who used to think like that and hide her body, well, now she wears stuff like this:
And like this:
I got a camera remote for Christmas and I am SO EXCITED but still figuring it out, haha. Can you tell?
And she doesn’t just wear them, she feels legitimately awesome in them. Confident. Unashamed. And yes, it helps that she’s lost a lot of the weight she put on during college and beyond. But her stomach still bunches up when she does crunches and things still jiggle when she’s on the treadmill and–gasp!–her thighs will always (ALWAYS) touch. But who cares? She doesn’t. And neither should you. What she does care about is the fact that the sweat-wicking technology in her tops helps keep her cool, and the spandex in her bottoms help her stretch and bend and reach without showing the world her buttcrack.
Old Navy has always been awesome about providing clothing that fits almost every shape and size of woman. It’s why it was one of my favorite places to shop THEN, and it’s still one of my favorites NOW. Because I appreciate the fact that they make it so that you can look good, no matter what number is stitched on the inside label of your jeans. I’ll go into detail about the actual utility of the pieces I’m wearing in a later post (for your reference though, I’m rocking the Active GoDRY Mesh Tanks and Active Fold-over Yoga Pants in both pics, with the Active GoDRY running top added in the second). The point is, workout apparel like this — clothing that clings and is fitted and has technology that helps make us better and faster and stronger… that is what’s important. And the fact that it all comes in awesome colors and flattering shapes and helps us look cute even when we don’t have that perfect body yet? That’s just gravy, man.
This post is sponsored by Old Navy. Check out Old Navy’s Active wear in stores or at oldnavy.com. Active by Old Navy is 40% off until January 16th! I received a gift card and stipend for my participation but my words and opinions are 100% my own. #GetYourActiveON