This post is a chronicle, mostly for myself, of one small step toward self-acceptance. Unlike my recent posts, my goal in this isn’t to entertain, but rather to share a small struggle.

Starting out

These birds want me deadThis time last year I’d decided that rather than work through my lunch, I’d go for a walk at the local park. In the middle of sweat-inducing June. I got a little sun, a little exercise, a lot of damp underwear (seriously, someone please make moisture wicking everything in plus-size, RIGHT NOW). While I tottered around huffing and puffing, buzzards floated above, waiting for me to keel over. Okay, not buzzards but some sort of medium-sized bird. Falcon? Comment if you recognize these judgy, feather-headed assholes. *takes a breath*

Sorry, I’ll get back on track.

The park has some lovely views and several times I whipped out my phone to get shots. Several times I posted those shots. A few times I put myself in the shots. Those pictures never made it to the Internet. Why?

I was sweaty. I wore no makeup. My hair looked like crap. But worst of all, there were no sleeves on my tank top.

How bad it was

You see, many people had seen my crappy hair and no-makeup look over the years. I’d long ago accepted that my love of sleeping later meant I had to look like one of those “People of Walmart” tragedies. Fewer had seen me sweaty—mostly the ones unfortunate enough to cross my path when I did active things. But only a handful had ever seen my flabby, stretch-marked upper arms. I’d kept my limbs under three-quarter/full sleeves and ankle-length pants or thick hosiery. Even in the height of summer. As you may have guessed, I rarely ventured outside in June/July/August for long because I’d immediately begin melting into my semi-stretchy jeans (because spoiler alert: there’s always spandex in plus-size jeans).

no tanktopsSo I’d go to the park at odd times of the day. Times I thought no one else would be there. That had to be after the lunch crowd but before the extracurricular sports teams descended. This magical time was about 2pm. I brought my tank top and shorts with me to the welcome center and changed in the bathroom there (note: NOT a locker room situation). I’d then stash a bag with my normal clothes behind a table where I hoped no one would find it. This little ritual made me feel like a criminal, hiding my ill-gotten goods in a place I wasn’t welcome. Forty minutes later I’d returning soaked and panting. I’d change into my work clothes and drive back to the office. These were necessary steps to minimize the number of people I knew spotting me. And the few I did see while out on the trail? Little slices of mortification dug at me that they’d seen my pale, unsightly flab.

Are you getting a picture of how messed up I was?

Worse, I was judgy when people with flabby arms wore short sleeves or no sleeves. I’d think to myself, “How can they wear that? And let everyone see that? Gross.” But as time went on, and the summers grew hotter, I started thinking to myself, “How are they brave enough to wear that? And let everyone see that? I wish I was that brave.”

Baby steps

Since last summer, I continued walking at the park. I added Zumba, Aikido, gym time, and hiking to the mix. My goal was at least three days a week I did something active. During the work week, I’d change in my office and walk over to the gym. That meant passing people I worked with daily. In yoga pants and short sleeves. Initially, I was ridiculously self-conscious about being seen wearing anything less than a full-body covering. But months of doing this desensitized me to wearing short sleeves. I’ve since been brave enough to wear a tank top to Zumba where people I knew would see me.

Gym selfieAnother step that has helped is selfies. I know people decry selfies as being self-absorbed and narcissistic, but for me, they’re not that at all. Each time I post one takes courage. Even when my makeup is fresh and hair newly flat ironed within an inch of its life. In my quest for doing the courageous thing, I began posting selfies on Facebook after workouts. I credited this trend to Jillian Jacobs whose fierce post-boxing selfies inspired me. I had a few reasons for doing this. The first was to hold myself accountable—if I didn’t post a picture every few days, my already high level of guilt over being sedentary would skyrocket. Another was that I wanted to stop caring about what other people thought of me. But the biggest reason was I wanted to change my perception of myself.

You know what? It’s working.

Between the baby steps at work and the continuous sweaty-beast selfies, I no longer care if people I don’t know see my arms. And I’m almost to where I can wear a sleeveless dress at work without something long-sleeve to put over it.

So thank you to everyone who gave me encouragement on my post-workout selfies. I bet you didn’t realize you were encouraging more than being active. You’ve helped more than you know.

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