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On Being a MsFit

I suppose I can trace my misfit origins back to Kindergarten, where I first got nicknames like “chatterbox” and “motormouth.” Later, someone just shortened it to “mouth” although I remember a brief period as “Mickey Mouth” but that one didn’t stick. Talking a lot did, and it’s still a part of who I am that can make me feel as vulnerable and ashamed as the extra weight I used to carry, and the six pounds I put on this Christmas.

Of course there were also the fat comments. “Beached whale!” some chuckler hollered one day around second grade as a group of my classmates entered the auditorium to find me alone in a sea of empty chairs. That same year the boys in my sixth grade class took to singing the Hefty bag commercials at me, claiming I was “tough enough to overstuff.”  Kids seem particularly adept at distancing themselves from the “other,” and being a chunky kid made me an easy target.” You might be pretty if you weren’t so fat,” came from a girl in sixth grade. We were outside on the soccer field, right next to the goal posts. I remember her name to this day, and the bizarre feeling of pride I felt at that backhanded complement. Pretty? Me? Really?

I don’t share these things to try to set myself aside from other women. I share them because I think we all have these moments, feelings, memories, attributes, that make us feel we are somehow less than “other women.” Ironically, it’s hard to really find those other women, because when you really listen to women—when you really hear them without judging and comparing yourself—you realize we all have stories about being somehow less than we think other women are.

I worry about how we judge each other, as women. I worry that the line between admiring another woman for her figure, or her weight loss story, or her strength, can be crossed and suddenly turn into self-loathing for not becoming that which we desire. I wonder at the tug of war between our desire for change and betterment, and how it can sometimes be at odds with accepting ourselves. It seems like women spend a lot of time imagining ourselves from other’s points of view, and worrying about whether we live up to some ideal. And then, when we are in our bodies, we have trouble being satisfied with what is good and right and well because it doesn’t feel like the “strong and healthy woman” that we know from the media, from film, from news, from the fashion industry, from men, and from our own myths.

I’ve spent years looking at women’s fitness magazines and I’d have to say my overall feeling reading them is less inspiration and more exhaustion. It seems like the overall message is that you are not okay the way you are, so get crackin’! Lose seven pounds in a week, banish wrinkles, tighten your skin, thrill him in bed (never any consideration for female readers who are not heterosexual), fix your diet, fix your fitness routine, fix, fix fix, because clearly you are broken, girlfriend. And oh, here’s some girl on the cover that you will never look like. And she usually looks like the girl on last month’s cover, and the cover before that.  And she is rarely “big boned” or short, or representative of women of color. And perhaps most horrifying, when you can find that flaw in that cookie cutter girl, how easy it is to point the finger and snicker? If aliens picked up all the copies of women’s fitness magazines put out in the last twenty years, what conclusions would they draw?  

The fact is physical health and fitness is work for many of us, and yet we buy into this myth that it’s supposed to be easy, so clearly something is wrong with us. We—those who have to work at it, those who fail sometimes, those who don’t look like the cover girls—we are misfits. For me there are times when nutrition and physical activity and mental health come together in some glorious Health Bermuda Triangle complete with white sand beach and blue skies and everything feels easy and natural and coconut scented. And then there are times (ahem, the Holidays!) when it’s work just to keep a reasonable distance behind the wagon I fell off of. And I wonder even now, as the holidays have ended, if I need to stop looking at it as “falling” off that wagon every December when it’s pretty clear I chose to jump. Can I do a better job accepting that is a compromise I make, stop berating myself, and simply do a better job dismounting and remounting? How in the world are we to learn moderation, when everything we are exposed to screams extremes? How do I learn where the line is between accepting who I am and wanting to be something “better”? I wonder if I’ve reached that line now, but can’t see it yet.

Last summer my friend and colleague Kathie Bergquist approached me about joining the editorial staff of a magazine that celebrated “real world feminist fitness.” It was a no-brainer; I was in.

Tonight, I celebrate being a misfit, officially, with the launch of Ms.Fit Magazine. Kathie is the brains behind the operation, and my fellow editors Jessica Young, Marian Haas, and Nikki Rinkus bring a variety of experiences and kick-ass skills. I hope you read it and feel inspired to celebrate the women you know, and the woman you are.