In 2009, the year that I became fit and lost 75lbs, my fitness buddy and the other half of #teamhardcore, DeNeige said that I had become “Awesome Ashley”. She declared: “all versions of Ashley are awesome but Awesome Ashley is the awesomest”. “Awesome Ashley” became something of an inside joke between us. Over the years, every time I've gotten into a hard core fitness zone, DeNeige says, “Ya! Awesome Ashley is back!” And when I’m in that zone, as I am now, I’m hard pressed to disagree.
As I mentioned in my previous post, back at the beginning of October, I decided that it was about time I got back on track with my health. A stressful summer and a year with a great deal of change and upheaval had led to me eating and drinking my emotions, and I was wearing that stress, anxiety and sadness on my body. But, finally, I decided enough was enough, and I was tired of feeling so tired all the time. My body was aching in ways it hadn’t before and I was worried about my long term ability to do the sports I love because of the impact extra weight was having on my joints.
As readers of this blog know, I've done a lot of work to embrace my body and recognize it for it’s gifts at any size. I've immersed myself in blog posts and articles about body positivity and found a lot of resonance in their messages. My value is intrinsic, and not tied to my weight, fat people are worthy of being seen, of having our stories told, and of living a life rich in experience. These messages are important and I believe and feel them with everything I am.
Yet, despite believing these messages, and becoming a part of the body positivity movement, I knew that I wanted to lose weight. This isn’t because weight loss is virtuous; it can be tied to disordered eating, illness, or other factors. I was motivated by how I felt, and by a desire to continue to live an active life. What I didn’t expect was to also feel a sense of pride when people commented on my weight loss, and this felt problematic.
As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to comment on people’s bodies. I have a lot of great friends that say things like “well I always think you’re beautiful but I’m happy to see you so healthy and well”, and it is wonderful to hear. In my specific case my friends all know that I’m working hard at this through a lot of activity and healthy eating, so compliments are safer when they know the context. But, one day after feeling that rush of pride from a well intentioned compliment I thought to myself “Oh my God, is this internalized fat-phobia? Have I really not actually embraced the philosophy of body positivity at all? Are these systems of oppression so entrenched in my brain that I can never really escape them? Am I part of the problem?”
I reached out to DeNeige with my concerns. I was bothered by the idea that by changing my body I was rejecting the tenants of body positivity, and perpetuating the notion that thinner bodies are more valuable that fat bodies. I didn’t want to do that, but I also really wanted to keep improving my health, especially as I approach 40. DeNeige told me about an interview she'd seen with the creator of the body positivity movement, who said that if losing weight is part of your purpose, then it can be absolutely body positive. DeNeige said that being “Awesome Ashley” is part of my purpose and that fitness, and as a bi-product, weight loss, are a part of that.
DeNeige told me that Awesome Ashley inspires people; It is this version of myself that led me to start this blog and share my story. And when I feel pride in my success and my gains (or losses as the case may be) it isn’t because I am more valuable now, it’s because I have worked hard to arrive at this place again, and because exercise gives you endorphins and because it’s super empowering to do things you never could before.
Sharing my journey with you, through all of its ups and downs, has become part of my purpose. The best version of me is the one who lives life at the edge of my comfort zone, who keeps setting goals, and who pushes through them. Yes, I have lost weight, but more important is what I’ve gained. I’ve gained the ability to run 10km. I’ve gained the stamina to swim 1500m without stopping, I’ve gained a ton of amazing new tricks in the kitchen, and I’ve gained the confidence to know that I’m Awesome Ashley, and she kicks ass.