Self esteem is a funny thing, especially when it comes to body image. At 36, I’ve realized that no matter what I eat, how much I exercise, whether I’m going paleo or strictly vegan or eating nothing but cookies, it’s primarily my internal state that determines whether I smile or frown when I look in that full length mirror. I refuse to weigh or measure myself (I turn dangerously obsessed when I have actual data to track) because those numbers fluctuate without any input from me and it’s all just a recipe for crazy-making.
So how does a woman not just give completely into despair on those days when the mirror-glance is not so kind, especially in this world that values our looks over accomplishments and intelligence and wit and ability to make dozens of homemade pierogi? (By the way, thanks for that, patriarchy!)
Here’s where cycling comes in. Biking does two things: one, it adds to your list of accomplishments, and two, it helps you think of your body as something that does things rather than something just for looking at.
Accomplishments, I has them!
Since I’ve started cycling, I have:
- Ridden my bike to work, which is almost 20 miles round trip, on a very regular basis, in all kinds of weather.
- Completed several metric centuries (100km rides).
- Completed three centuries (100mi rides): two DIY bike rides from Chicago to Milwaukee and one back-and forth from the Bristol Ren Faire.
- Raced in 5 (6?) cyclocross races in the Chicago Cross Cup 2011 season.
- Learned how to ride fixed gear.
- Learned how to perform most of your basic bike maintenance.
- Helped start a motherfucking bike gang and done lots of amazing things through it.
Each one of these items bumps that “how my body looks” down the priority ladder a rung. I have so many things to be proud of, ain’t no reason to get down on myself when I feel like I look schlubby. Get on your bike, set some goals, reach them (or not!), and feel awesome.
My body does things!
The thing about being active is that you start to see your body for what it really is — a machine, one that helps you move around in this world and do things like cook and eat food, get drunk, move from place to place, love, comfort, cry, laugh, jump, fuck… In classic feminist terms, it helps you transform your inner perception of your body from object to subject. An object is something that is merely acted upon. A subject is something that is doing the acting. This is big deal stuff, for me anyway. I can look at my generous thighs and see them for what they are — PISTONS that make my bike go zoom — and care less about what they look like compared to some unrealistic, airbrushed and photoshopped ideal put forward by a patriarchal society. My legs and ass are Power. They make me Awesome.
I am a woman; this is what women do; and how we look while doing things does not (should not) matter.