If you’ve ever interacted with another human being, I’m sure you’ve played this game. It’s called, “Obnoxiously Stare at Someone Until They Become Visibly Uncomfortable, Perhaps Squirming or Perspiring in Protest.” I’ve played this game and I lose every time, because I hate people staring at me. At the end of my high school career, I abstained from walking in my graduation because I was convinced I would trip or otherwise humiliate myself. (This was a worthy speculation: during my college graduation I had an arm spasm that resulted in “raising the roof” while walking across the stage to receive my diploma. My parents still haven’t forgiven me.)
I just become overly conscious of what I look like when people stare at me. Am I moving my arms enough? Is my eye all lazy-like? My posture is terrible (I don’t need to question that, it just is). The occasions on which I become hyperaware of my appearance are totally arbitrary, too. Are we having an intimate moment? It’s cool if you look at me. Am I walking in heels? Avert your eyes, but only if it looks like I’m having trouble. If I don’t look like I’m on the verge of breaking both ankles, feast your eyes on this jam. Am I sleeping? Not crazy about you glaring at me, but I can’t stop you so stare on, silver girl.
But the one time it is never, ever okay to look at me is when I’m working out. I get more of a workout attempting to stay out of sight at a gym (or in my own living room, where I tend to torture myself these days) than I do from actual exercise. I even avoid staring at myself during these fragile episodes. One accidental glimpse in the mirror and I experience pangs of first, second, and third-hand embarrassment for days. Mirrors merely exist to amplify the shame.
Exercise is something most people manage without incident, it’s true. What’s also true is that we all have our own asinine hang-ups that make no logical sense to other people. It could be that our hair never looks just right or that one boob is bigger than the other or that we can’t pronounce certain words the way we know they should be pronounced — whatever it is, no one quite gets why you can’t face your complex like a normal person and not a paranoid, neurotic freak. Hell, I don’t understand why I can’t face exercise like a normal person and not like a paranoid, neurotic freak.
It’s just that… I feel dumb. Gangly. Sweaty. Uncoordinated. Confused. Lost. Flushed. Clinically insane. I know people who are actually working out aren’t going to stop running around the track mid-lap to point at me and yell, “Look at that inept loser! You gonna stop and drink water every half mile? You gonna pretend you have to tie your shoe another six times like we don’t all know you’re just catching your breath? We know what you’re doing, amateur.” I know that, most likely, that’s not going to happen. Is it shallow, immature, and slightly insane to care so much? Totally. But that’s the nature of insecurity. Neuroses run deep, and my athletic abilities (or lack thereof) have long been a source of anxiety for me.
As a child, calling my name during Red Rover was the equivalent of pantsing me in front of every guy I liked, ever. Calling my number during Steal the Bacon induced panic attacks. I spent seven years forgetting my gym uniform at home. I did not get to wear a letter jacket or a soccer number on my back. I played clarinet, for chrissake. I entered poetry contests. The only way someone could mistake me for a confident athlete is if handwriting were a sport. (It’s not.) I know I make exercising harder — and more demeaning — for myself by avoiding it, but my performance anxiety usually outweighs my desire to get in shape.
Thing is, summer’s approaching and the seasonal call to get my ass in gear must not go unheard. I’m a firm believer in keeping it firm — if only for a season — so I’m going to suck it up and sweat it out. I just need you to promise not to look at me first.