Can we talk about the Bally Total Fitness 30 Day Makeover ads?
I hate them.
I hate them a lot.
(Please note: I have nothing against the program itself, having never tried it. If you're currently doing it or something like it and enjoying it, grand. It's the friggin' commercials that are getting right up my nose at the moment.)
If you haven't seen them, you aren't missing much. People stand in front of a camera prattling on about how they were busy with babies and children and life and stuff and before they knew it they'd gotten FAT! and now they've just gotta get in shape. Time for thirty days of hell. We're treated to shots of them working out and grunting and sweating and pumping and being hectored by tiny muscular drill sergeants and generally suffering. Then we see the "after" scenes in which they talk about how incredibly wonderful life is now that they're thinner, and how the top modeling agencies are all calling and Brad Pitt's just told them that he's dumping Angelina for them and all that. Feh.
I hate the perfectly nice-looking women carrying on about how fat and unsightly they are in their "before" states. Can't speak for anyone else, but I know I'd certainly love to look like one of those "befores". Yesyesyes, I know it's all relative -- someone who's weighed 125 pounds her whole life would probably be horrorstruck to find herself weighing 145, whereas the day my scale flashes a "145" at me I will do great stag leaps of joy all over the house, traumatizing my cats for weeks in the process.
I hate the hideous bridesmaid dress one woman wears in her "after" shot. If that's really what she was getting in shape for, she wasted her time.
I hate the one with the husband grabbing his wife and saying "Huh-huh, you're so hot now that I just hadda cop a feel!" Oh, retch.
More than any of that, I hate the whole idea behind these ads.
This is what I take away from them: Fitness is something that should be rushed into headfirst. No time to waste, lardass! Your wellbeing and strength shouldn't enter into this at all -- it's all about you being fat. FAT! Your workouts should be painful and brutal and miserable. Hey, it's only what you deserve for doing unthinkable things like daring to get pregnant and put on weight in the first place, right? It should all be gotten overwith as soon as possible. And once you hit whatever goal you set for yourself? Yay! It's over!
(I could be wrong about that last bit, but if any of the makeover folks in the commercials have said anything about keeping up with their exercise, I didn't hear it. Maybe I was grinding my teeth too loudly. It happens.)
This pisses me off because it reminds me too much of me and how I used to approach exercise. I used to believe that of course, I could jump right into a workout schedule that would probably kill an Olympic athlete even though I'd been sedentary for years. I used to believe that if I didn't feel like I was going to die after my workout, I hadn't done anything worthwhile. And when I'd get tired of feeling sore and dizzy and winded and wretched and I'd give up on whatever crazy-ass exercise plan I'd concocted for myself this time, I believed it was because I was lazy and weak-willed and undisciplined and because exercise basically sucked anyhow. I know I've mentioned that in the past, my diet and exercise efforts rarely made it past the three-month mark, and I wonder now if that was an offshoot of the same flawed thinking. If I'd kept up a rigorous diet and a killer exercise schedule for three months and didn't see really dramatic results, I was obviously wasting my time.
I was so wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong about every last bit of it. And in going about everything in such a cockamamie, totally wrongheaded fashion, I feel like I cheated myself out of so much. And I don't even mean the potential weight loss. That's part of it, yes, but even if the Ghost of Weight Loss Future came to me tonight and told me that I'm never going to lose another ounce, I'd still ride my bike, go for long trail walks, do yoga, and lift weights.
I know how gooey and New Agey this sounds, but I've learned a lot about myself in the past year. I'm tougher, both mentally and physically, than I ever knew. I am not lazy (though some days, I still do a damn good impression of it). I am not weak. I may not be the fastest walker or the strongest weightlifter or the world's most efficient cyclist, but I'm tenacious and once I've started the task, I will get it done. And nothing feels quite like the sense of accomplishment I get when I manage to ride my bike all the way up a hill that defeated me before, or when I can do a new yoga pose that I couldn't manage in the past.
I realize that everyone's different; some people are unquestionably more motivated by the kamikaze all-or-nothing approach. But I feel that the breakneck approach is the one that gets the lion's share of the attention, and that my side is seriously underrepresented.
So if you're like I used to be and you're feeling sore and weary and frustrated because you've forced yourself through a workout you hated and you're thinking of giving up on this exercise thing and maybe tossing the healthful eating to boot, I want you to know something: It's okay to start slowly, so slowly that you can't believe you could possibly be doing yourself any good. The time to ratchet up the intensity and start kicking your own ass will come later, after you've formed a daily exercise habit.
And there is no reason on earth to do something that you find too strenuous or too painful or that you've tried a few times and just plain don't like. It's okay to take the time to find an activity you enjoy. You deserve nothing less. And you never know what might end up floating your boat. Up until last autumn I'd have never dreamed that I'd actually look forward to spending Saturdays on a bike.
I still have the fortune cookie message that I mentioned in my first entry, the one that reads "Haste does not bring success." And I still believe that.