Friday, August 28, 2009
I started running several years ago to distract myself from a broken heart and to quit smoking. I hated it. I did about eight 5K races with my Father, who has been a three-miles-once-a-week runner for decades. Then I quit. I was happy once again.
In the past few years I married my own Personal Prince Charming and have given birth to our precious first child. Our lives have never been the same. My body is not the same either...so I decided to try running again. In about a month I was able to get up to a slow plodding run interspersed with lots of walking, as usual. I found regular weekly running partners: our baby Portia in a jogging stroller, my Hot Mama friend Tracy on Wednesdays, and of course dear old Dad on Monday or Friday.
I have been running longer and better than four years and thirty pounds ago, thanks to the maturing process of parenthood, good running partners, and my iPod. The iPod helps by distracting me from my agony and energizing me with wild happy songs just when I’m ready to give up and eat more french fries. I also have the cool Nike Plus attachment that tracks all my runs in pretty graphs with stats that keep me motivated to go out one more time. I sometimes miss a run with my Dad or Tracy, but the iPod is my constant running partner. I won’t go out without it. Really.
I was out with my Dad and my iPod for a longer run and breathlessly mouthing the words to a favorite song in a quiet moment. My Dad said, “WHAT?” and I realized what I had sung: “I’m a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie world, I’m plastic, it’s fantastic.” Funny, happy words from a random song on my playlist. I like happy sexy songs to keep my tired sweaty body on task. I am running to be healthier, sure, but above all to be thinner, sexier, and to feel good about how I look. It may not be the highest goal in my life, but it is authentic! Later on I was singing about “bringing sexy back,” and once again Dad stares at me and comments on the words. This is the man who takes me to Chicago operas, who likes classical music, NPR, and old style country. Pop music is an alien world to him, and as I usually listen to NPR and Christian music, he is surprised at my play list.
I try to explain to him how the music gets me going and how I know the lyrics are vapid and hardly worth listening to, let alone picking up as a daily mantra, but he doesn’t understand. He asks, “Do you want your daughter to listen to this junk?” I do have to think about that one. I have already begun reframing my language, both foul and self-flagellating, so that when she actually understands words I am giving her the best role model I can summon up. I want her to know she is beautiful, captivating, and valuable just as she is, whoever she is. I want her to be confident, kind and love others well.
I know the world may send her a different message. The struggle we women have with body image is an old dragon that never seems to be vanquished. We can know the truth of our beauty in our hearts and then turn on the TV or open a magazine and question our value all over again. We can have thin thighs in college but think they are enormous, not realizing the truth until our thirties when we learn the meaning of...well, never mind.
Body image can be a real challenge for women and I certainly do not mean to perpetuate it by my running playlist. How do I appreciate the lyrics for what they are without letting them affect me in the negative? How do I protect and shape my daughter’s view of herself in a healthy way as she grows into a young woman? Honestly, I don’t know. I think that is a process that will take a long time. But I do know that “I’m a Barbie Girl” and Brittany Spears’ “Womanizer” help me run faster. They help me run longer. They bring me joy for what they are; silly upbeat dance songs that do not act as a moral guide for my life but keep my feet moving and my sweat pouring and my healthy beautiful mama’s body running. I am happy once again.