My list comprising ‘I-wish-this-had-been-sold-to-me-differently’ continues to expand. Each time something gets added, I mourn the time that has elapsed that could have been lived differently, if I had been counselled better. For instance, for years I had an unhealthy relationship with exercise; a manifestation of my conflicted feelings towards my self, thanks to unhealthy conditioning.
As women, we were meant to exercise in order to be slim, and thus not occupy space, and be more attractive to society in general. It bothered me, this pressure to perform a standardised notion of beauty. Each time I did fall into a routine, I confess, I motivated myself by imagining my transformation, fitting into a more desirable body, with a flat belly and the right curves. Inevitably I’d fail to follow through on the routine. In retrospect, I think it’s because my reasoning was totally flawed.
It’s been almost eight months since I first asked my partner to teach me his exercise routine. I’ve written before how I broke down the first day and wept like a baby because I felt so betrayed by how little my body was capable of. Today, as I was doing the same routine, I noticed how elegantly I was able to move, how gracefully I could perform the mountain-climber move, how I’m gradually evolving my arm-strength to be able to do a proper push-up (So far I had been training by using my knees, and lifting myself up and returning to the floor).
Intriguingly, I have no memory of what my waistline was before I began, nor my weight. I haven’t at all been monitoring any of it. My partner suggested from the very beginning that if I was doing this with the only aim of weight-loss then the battle was already lost.
Instead, I continued with the routine because I felt terrific at the end of it. I felt stronger, like my body was rewiring itself. Over the five months that I have been in Tramin, I have noticed how, gradually, my stamina has increased. I can walk the same uphill slope from the parking lot up to the town square with more ease than before. I don’t huff and puff as I did before. I feel a lightness that is not connected to having shed kilos, but rather, having built muscle.
I don’t shame myself by trying to fit into a size that I wasn’t able to fit into before I began exercising. I think merely in terms of what looks better on my body. It’s a total mental shift, a dislodging of priorities.
I am so sure that if I had been talked into exercising from the beginning with this logic of collaborating with the body, I would have felt differently about incorporating it into my lifestyle. It’s great that people go for walks, for example, but it really is something quite different to train your core muscles. And all it took was 15 minutes every day for about three months to build a habit.
Because the whole discourse on education was built around scoring the highest marks or getting the best grades, I have been wondering if I missed out entirely on the experience of learning things for the sake of learning itself; for the thrill of being able to witness my daily progress. Since March I’ve spent so many hours of every day just learning new things — from recipes, to the German language, to crochet — and all these months later, in another continent, I am able to see exactly how far I’ve come.
Yet, I’m conscious that if I had been conditioned to embrace the glory of mistake-making, my trajectory would have been very different. The mode of education I grew up having to wrestle with penalised you for your mistakes. I’d see the cross mark on my answer sheet during the open house and shudder in shame. I didn’t approach it as something positive with the potential to learn. I saw it through the prism of regret, mostly I felt stupid.
Two days ago, I was in Bozen, the biggest town in the province, running several errands after a brief meeting with a curator. I needed to buy a moisturiser, wool, an ink pen, and grab lunch. I managed each chore using whatever German I knew thanks to my partner’s lessons. It wasn’t easy, but I found people to be incredibly patient.
Someone had told me some months ago that the only way to learn a language was to make mistakes. I’ve really had to embrace this, and in doing so, learn how not to internalise the humiliation of making a mistake, to be forgiving of it, to laugh at my errors, to catalogue them even.
I’m talking about it because I wanted to share with you how learning can be an empowering activity, in case you’ve been hesitating to plunge into uncharted waters for fear of failure. If you teach yourself how to love yourself through the process of failing, you suddenly discover the limitlessness of your stamina.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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