Everyone, please welcome our newest columnist Aisling Keenan! Love Yourself (Or No-one Else Will) is a humorous nod to bullshit health and wellness columns that use ‘You’re not good enough to be loved, so eat some green juice’ rhetoric to push products and regimes. Ah, the fun culture of shame. We hope you enjoy.
Everybody’s Free (to wear crop tops)
Little story for you.
I was faffing around on Facebook the other day, as you do when you’re professionally procrastinating. I scrolled way, way down to a photo album from late 2008/early 2009 – otherwise known, in my group of pals, as 21st Season.
Clicking through the pictures, I was mourning the complete lack of eyebrows on us all – pencilling clearly hadn’t reached North County Dublin at that stage and our faces were all the worse for it. We also were all still bleaching the living shit out of our hair… something the twenty-something versions of us know is just not a goer in the long term, amirite?
And as for what we were wearing. Well. Time has been good to us where fashion sense is concerned, although at the time we thought we were hot bitches.
So anyway, I landed on this one particular picture of our group at one of our 21st parties, and I couldn’t find myself in it. I scanned it a few times… I was sure I was there? And then I realised. I was in it. But I was so slim, healthy, tanned and what have you, that I didn’t recognise myself.
DE. PRESS. ING.
I was the same height I am now, but I looked so much taller because I was slim (never skinny, I still had disproportionately big boobs and slightly broad shoulders. An eternally unsexy combination). I never exercised, I never worried about what I ate. I could go out five nights a week and stay up ’til all hours and never feel tired. I could sit at a dinner table and eat a full plate of food, then sit chatting for two hours… I mean, I still do that now, course I do. But I have to open the button and zip of my jeans, and then I have to get up and walk around to aid my digestion. Heartburn and indigestion weren’t things, back then. Oh, to have ‘back then’ back for a few days.
It made me realise a few things…
1. My uncle James always threatened that the family arse would catch up on me – it did.
2. Everyone told me I’d have to watch what I ate in my twenties – I do.
3. I was also told I’d have to exercise a lot to stay slim – another truth.
4. And finally, I wish, beyond all reason, that I’d worn crop tops EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY DAY while I had the figure. Serious missed opportunity there.
So what did I do, for the four years after those pics were taken? Absolutely feck all, apparently. By the looks of my 25 year old body (two years ago now), I must have just just sat down a lot. And ate rings around myself. And hoped nothing would happen. I always thought of myself as someone with a healthy dose of cop on – CLEARLY not.
Bottom line, I was getting complacent and I TOTALLY ACCIDENTALLY let myself go.
So around two years ago, I started with a personal trainer, with no hopes, dreams or ambitions apart from to get slim again. I didn’t care to be particularly strong, I didn’t think about my current or future health, I just wanted to not have to suck in my stomach as I walked, or buy floaty clothes to hide bumpy bits. I presumed that would involve lots of plodding along on a treadmill and having no bread for ages.
How wrong I was! (Not about the bread, unforch. Complex carbs are still the devil’s work. The delicious, joy-inducing work of the devil.)
Two years ago was when I discovered weight lifting, and when I figured out that those disproportionately big shoulders were actually REALLY strong. More things I found out:
1. Lifting weights is better for making me lose weight than anything else I’d tried.
2. Hauling kettle bells and trap bars around the place is HELLA good for relieving stress.
3. Anxiety and weight lifting don’t gel. The more you lift, the quicker anxiety fecks off.
4. Being strong feels WAY better than being skinny (and being skinny, I’m sure, must feel great – skinny people, please feel free to confirm this).
Resistance training changed my body and my life, truth be told, from that moment on. I hadn’t a blue clue how to lift anything when I started. But with great guidance from my trainer, I progressed and watched my previously meagre upper body develop into something that I was weirdly proud of.
I was by absolutely no means a bodybuilder or anything even remotely close, but I could change the water-cooler giant bottle in work with ease, I could do a respectable amount of push-ups, and I could see actual muscles on my body. I was slimmer (a similar weight, because muscle weighs more than fat) and my clothes felt great on me.
Body wise, I wasn’t perfect. Far from it. But mentally? I’d never felt stronger.
What’s that now? Lifting weights made my MIND stronger as well as my muscles? It appears so. It’s well documented that exercise has a super positive effect on mental health.
Sure, don’t something like 85% of doctors surveyed say that they prescribe exercise in the treatment of depression? There’s something to that.
And while I wasn’t depressed, I did need to deal with some substantial anxiety and panic attacks. And weight lifting did that for me.
Harking back to the 21 year old skinny me, I didn’t need mental strength at that age. Life was easy, I was in college, I was responsibility-less and there was little to no pressure on me to get a mortgage/procreate/marry. While I didn’t take the opportunities I should have to wear bikinis to SuperValu, I was happy out.
As I got older and adulthood got increasingly scary, I piled on weight. And in some weird corner of my brain, I rationalise that my body did that to me so that I’d discover exercise and all the mental benefits it brings with it. I wish I didn’t have to load on four stone to arrive at that conclusion, but here we are.
Right now, I’ve got a healthy, pretty strong size 12 figure, with stretch marks and cellulite and lumpy bits. I’ve also got dopamine coursing through my veins regularly and the knowledge that I’m doing something really, really positive for my health. If you’re struggling with the perils of being a grown-up, may I just say. Go exercise. Lift, jump, dance, swim, walk. Your mind will thank you for it.
“Mental health is a most important, maybe THE most important, public health issue, which even the poorest society must afford to promote, to protect and to invest in,” says the World Health Organisation. And I’d trust them lads. They appear to be some kind of authority on the subject.