Friday, May 25, 2012

On Bravery, Biking, and Being a Fat Girl

I got this tattoo one year ago on my birthday. It was partly to help me through the end of a relationship, but also because I just wanted a tattoo of something, anything. I was 32, it was time. The best tattoos I had seen on my friends had to do with their occupations; a chef's knife, a hair stylist's scissors, Myles's fucking awesome periodic table. So it had to be a word, or words. And I wanted it to be a tattoo that was a lesson to me, something I needed a reminder of, so that every time I looked at it, I thought "be that" or "do that". The body equivalent of a post-it note. I finally decided on "Brave" because when I thought about everything else I wanted to be in my life - confident, beautiful, smart, traveled, happy - bravery was like a primary color of those goals, it was a Basic Quality, like Empathy or Curiousity, a building block.

 I already thought of myself as brave by then. But I wanted to be braver. I was disappointed with myself at the end of that relationship, not only had I been weak and mean, but the root of all that pain had been fear. Fear of being by myself after a decade of being the other half of a couple for almost 12 years straight, fear of being over 30 and having a mediocre life, of being old and fat and ugly. Getting over being alone was easy. I have lots of people who love me because I love them, and so a few quick months of forcing myself to go out on my own fixed that. The mediocre life? Well, that's a benefit of writing, you learn that mediocrity is dependent on your internal interpretations of your life. This sounds cliche, but if the life of your mind is interesting, then your circumstances will be too. The most standard predictable weekend in the world can give you a good story if you're looking for it. I just had to remind myself of that, and it became true again.

 So that left the last part, those three super powerful words - Old, Fat, Ugly. I'm too vain to think I'm ugly, no matter my size, plain truth. I know I'm not beautiful, but I'm nice looking. I'm nice looking enough that it doesn't matter all that much. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to think of myself as Old. In my head, I've been the same age since 15. I don't want kids or marriage or a house, so my timeline is pretty much up to me to design, hence the going back to school at 32.

 But Fat. I've been fat my whole life, since 1st grade. This is my body, my shape, this is what I'm used to working with. It's actually done pretty well for me so far. But the thing I think most people don't realize about the Fat Experience is how much Fear comes naturally along with it. It's not fear of other people, per se. I've been incredibly lucky - nobody has ever fat-bashed me to my face except my mother, and she did it with love, as mothers do. If someone tried to insult me to my face calling me a fat girl, I would hardly even think of it as an insult, because yeah, DUH. It's other constant small fears though - being afraid if something is going to fit, being afraid you are just a bit too big for the roller coaster bar to get down over your chest, being afraid to start dragging all this furniture to the curb cause it'll be too hard, being afraid to work out because I'll hurt so much the next day and not be able to go out, being afraid that when you go out to eat you're going to spill something on your chest because it's just so fucking big something is always spilling, being afraid you're going to look stupid in that photo because you didn't hold your shoulders right or you laughed. Being fat, for me at least, has been a constant challenge to get over myself. No matter how ridiculous my vanity or pride tells me I'm going to look, I have to force myself to do it anyway. This applies to things like karaoke, hooking up with boys, dancing, going to the beach. All things I love very much, and I will never stop doing them, but there is always a moment of fear I have to overcome. Luckily, I'm pretty good at being brave, I just don't want to have to be all the time.

 Which brings us to my bike. If you missed it, my car died. I decided to not try buying a new one. Maybe after I move I'll need one, but I'm not even going to think about till I've moved successfully and found a job and started classes. Nope, I'm biking it, or rather I'm trying to. I have a lot of friends who are Bike Kids, they've been relying on it as their primary mode of transportation for years, they all seem super capable and they love it so much. So while it sucks to not be able to go on road trips and explorations this year, I think learning to bike a lot is really important to me right now.

 But holy shit is it an embarrassing humiliating humbling experience. First, there's the fact that my carefully crafted outfits, the fashion aesthetic I've spent years building up as a Fat Girl, can no longer apply. Carey tried to argue with me, "of course you can wear dresses and makeup!" she cried. No sweety, maybe you can. But the minute I start biking any kind of distance, my face just pours sweat, so anything but the simplest makeup is out. I have to wear sneakers or sneaker like shoes, because the first time I tried to go biking in Mary Janes I bruised the fuck out of the side of my foot and it still hurts. So half my dresses are out because I would never wear them with sneakers. And my hair, my god. Helmet hair? Covered in sweat helmet hair? All the sweat in my body comes from my face. Basically relying on biking for transportation means I'm going to look like I just got out of the gym all the time. Sequin dresses are not sweat friendly. So there goes half my confidence already.

 Then there's how bad I am at it. I am not a graceful biker. I am hunched over desperately trying to balance and not fall around corners. I have to pedal twice as much because I have twice as much weight to push forward, and two times less leg strength. I am crazy skittish in traffic, out of breath and panicked, I'm on a Scare High the whole time. The whole thing sucks, a lot. And it sucks in public. Sitting somewhere and being pretty is easy as a fat girl. Biking on a crowded street where every car already hates you and you are beet red and soaked whenever you arrive somewhere is something else.

 So...Bravery. It's needed more than ever. And the best way to gain bravery points is to just hold your breath and do it. I have a whole lifetime of being good at that to back me up, I guess. Tonight, I'm going on my first Critical Mass ride. It's a 6 mile ride with hundreds of people, a good percentage of whom I know. That's 6 miles AFTER I get downtown. I'm going to take the train down, but I have to get to the train station first, and last time I did that I was basically shaking by the time I got THERE, so honestly, I'm terrified. And THEN I have get back home to West Park, AFTER doing this. It will be my longest ride yet, I don't think I've gone more than a mile so far without having to stop. I woke up at like 7am this morning because I was so scared of this. I'm scared of looking like a fool, I'm scared of being the very slowest, and maybe not even being able to complete the ride, and of all the nice people I know who are going to try and be encouraging or ride slowly next to me, which is just even more embarrassing. BUT IT HAS TO BE DONE. It's like the first time I went to the beach with a group of people. Going to the beach in a bathing suit had to be done. Biking has to be done.

So I guess my point is, other skinnier people would be scared of this too. But since I'm used to having to be brave, I know copping out is not an option. I know it can be done if I just get over myself.

 I don't know, maybe I'll be in so much pain this summer I won't even care about getting laid.

well I made it to E. 61st and had to quit the pack, just had to go much slower and I didn't want to hold people back. So I had a nice leisurely bike down Cedar and when I passed the factories I smelled the cold musty dusty air and just wanted to crawl into one and fall asleep and turn into a ghost.

Update Update: Total tally of miles for the day, 8.6. The actual ride was more like ten miles, but I'm glad i turned around when I did, cause honestly, I barely made it home to my driveway, I was falling off my bike. And I just took the most amazing cold shower. And I rode for the first time in the dark and the pouring rain tonight. So, I'm not disappointed in myself at all.


  1. this was great bridget, and dammit, you can do this (tonight) and all of it.

    all of it.

  2. Dude, it's gonna be great. Even if you can't keep up with critical mass, you're new. No one will hold it against you (as long as you meet us for drinks after, even if you have to take the train.)

    As for biking, it will get easier, and you will have confidence. I imagine, you will probably lose some weight too. Soon, you will look back on your driving days with a shudder, I swear.

  3. You. Me. Biking before you leave foreva. I just need air in my tires and learn how to balance.

  4. You will be fine at CM! When I first started biking extensively three years ago, I was pathetic. It took me 45 minutes to go 8 miles to work, and I could never make it home up the hill in Cleveland Heights without walking it. Now, I've pounded out more than 500 miles in two months, and I go straight up that hill every single day. It just took me realizing that *nobody is timing or judging me*, and nobody gives a shit how long it takes to climb that hill.

  5. Brave is the single best word to describe you, love. Except maybe magic.

  6. you are the best. when i first started biking here, i'd jump off my bike and walk it up the detroit superior bridge because i didn't even have the lung capacity and leg strength to make it up a hill which most people on bikes breeze through. it's still hard for me. in fact, i'm not going home today after work because i don't want to go over the bridge twice! as for critical mass, there are people who really struggle with it as well. it's not a race, although some of the guys who like to ride in the front seem think of it! you have a really good bike, so that helps a lot. i've seen people your size and larger riding in CM with clunker bikes. having a decent bike is important. and if there is anything uncomfortable about the positioning, take it to JM today or get austin or whoever to adjust it. also wear baby powder all over. :) i can't wait to see you tonight! get it grrl

  7. Good for you on sticking with a bike. An ancient car I owned 12 years ago died and there was a period of close to a month when I did without, biking and taking the rapid. I was in the best shape I've probably ever been. It was rough at first, but I gained a lot of energy. Showing up to work covered is sweat was weird, but I got over it. I did end up buying a car, though, and went back to being out of shape again. The only way I can make myself exercise is if it feels like a necessity, and I still bike to the store and for other errands. There's no better motivator than if a bike is your only form of transportation, though. I grew up in Michigan with my family's not having a car until I was a teenager, and we biked through snowy winters.

  8. dude, you OWN brave. Obviously. There's plenty of bike rides I can't handle, so I hop off and walk until I feel like biking again, which is the same philosophy I apply at the gym, yoga classes, any instance in life - break when you need to. And embrace being balls out sweaty. Also, walking is way underrated - like 60-90 minute walks with headphones on - maybe an option for sequence/make up destinations - also, roller skates for such occasions? Have so much fun! Wish I was there for the ride tonight.

  9. You can do it!

    I got back on the bike a couple years ago, before the summer I broke my arm. The very first ride I figure I went about six miles. I thought, "Six miles? That's nothing on a bike." I was wrong. It was hard. My legs hadn't been used that way in a long time, my lungs weren't up to it. Six miles was about all I could manage.

    But I managed. You'll manage, too.

  10. Immaterial is how far you rode and at what speed. What matters is millions of people (on bikes or off) would not have the same courage to open a vein and transcribe it into HTML as you do. This writing rocks. You rock.

  11. Let me say, "Welcome to the CLE bike community". I was riding with you at the back of the pack after I corked on Central. Mad Props to you for riding. Fun wasn't it? Anytime you want to go for a ride, hit me up. think that you will find lots of peeps in this community that would love to take a ride with you.

  12. Love this post. Love, love, love it. I just started seriously exercising again, after too long away. At a gym. With so many mirrors.
    I don't actually mind the mirrors. I'm ok with how I look. But when did it get to be so hard to do simple things, like walk on a treadmill for half an hour? When did I become this person, who was out of breath after 5 minutes on an elliptical?
    Being fat is one thing. Being out of shape? Completely different. It means you can't trust your body to do what needs to be done. And you described that feeling perfectly. Good luck to you with the bike. I relate to the hatred of it. I try to convince myself that, yes, I'm going to look like a sweaty drudge every time I get off it. For about 3 months. And after that, I'll start being able to rock the biker chic look. A bad ass helmet might help...

  13. From another Fat Chick who loves to bike...amen to this post sister.

    You are brave and I love you for spirit.

    Well done bird! Well done!


Who wants to fuck the Editors?