I had just locked my locker and was reaching for my iPod when she said it. She must have caught a glimmer off my left hand because I’m not sure my post-workday, pre-workout glow radiated ‘engaged and in love.’ But she looked at me and smiled knowingly and asked, “So, are you sweating for the wedding?”
It took a great deal of personal restraint not to offer a snide retort. (“I don’t know. Are you sweating through a bitter divorce” came to mind.) Instead I smiled and laughed noncommittally, and she smiled and laughed like she’d uncovered this deep, personal secret, and then we set off to the free weights and cardio equipment to sweat for whatever it was that motivated us.
But I thought about what she said during my entire workout, not because she had revealed something about my motives that I wished to remain hidden, but because she made an unfair assumption about my motives that so epitomizes the problem with woman’s body image and self esteem in America today.
In a world where a size 6 or 8 is considered a plus size model, and a new ‘super food’ comes on the market once a month, and we spend more time worried about how quickly celebrities have melted away their baby fat than how happy and healthy the new baby is, it’s easy to see where an idea like “sweating for the wedding” comes from.
A person’s wedding day is supposed to be glamorous (or so we’re told). The bride is supposed to feel beautiful, like a princess, and if you look at the pantheon of princesses, few are sporting anything above a size 2. So when it comes to weddings, it’s not enough that everyone “ooh and aah” over the dress, the flowers, the cake, the dinner, the DJ, the decorations, the first dance… They should also be oohing and aahing over the amazing physical transformation that hundreds of dollars worth of hair, makeup and personal training sessions can buy.
With so much societal pressure to look a certain way, it wouldn’t make sense that a woman goes to the gym and works out simply because: A.) She wants to; or B.) Personal health and fitness matter to her; or C.) The same wedding that she’s supposed to look gorgeous for is also a pretty big point of stress, and exercise is a proven reliever of stress and tension.
It wouldn’t make sense that, as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol continue to plague Americans, a woman would choose a healthy, active lifestyle not because of the ring on her finger, but ‘just because.’ Without a wedding on the horizon, what other purpose could women possibly have for dedicating an hour of their lives to sweating in the presence of complete strangers?
By staying silent, I made myself part of a culture that I don’t believe in or belong to. The truth is that I ran a marathon, eight half marathons, and five triathlons before I even met my fiancé. The truth is that in the time I’ve known him, my time at the gym has actually decreased as I’ve tried to balance spending less time alone on a treadmill and more time with him.
The truth is I do not get on the scale to see how many pounds I’ve lost, but rather to make sure I’m maintaining (or gaining) muscle mass. The truth is I started working on this body long before there was ever a man in the picture, and though he certainly appreciates it, he also knows that I don’t continue to maintain it solely for his pleasure and benefit.
I haven’t lost a single pound for my wedding, and I don’t intend to, and that probably makes me the girl that other girls love to hate. That said, I will continue showing up to the gym, and running my miles, and planking, and lifting, and sweating…but not for the wedding. No, my real reason is much bigger than any one day.
See, on my wedding day, I’ll promise my whole life to someone…in sickness and in health. And more than looking gorgeous in a dress, or taking his breath away when I walk down the aisle, or soliciting the oohs and aahs from the pews, on that day, when I make that promise, I want to know that I’m doing everything I can to ensure that long, happy, healthy future together.
I’m not “sweating for the wedding.” I’m sweating for everyday that comes after it.