May 20, 2018
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It can be painful to look at yourself naked

By Erin Donovan

I walked in on my husband changing the baby’s diaper on my yoga mat. As my eyes adjusted to the sight of my sage-colored rubber mat supporting a pile of feces-coated wipes and our kid in a child’s pose that never was intended by any yogi, I gasped and asked, “How am I supposed to downward dog on that now?”

Greg rolled his eyes, “Would that be a hypothetical downward dog?”

He was pointing out a truth. I hadn’t used that mat for anything more athletic than some combination stretching/snacking in front of the television. It hadn’t felt the press of my palms or been unfurled within the quiet sanctum of a yoga studio in years.

Raised in a house filled with athletes, I grew up exercising. I was placed on tennis courts, installed on basketball teams and sent careening around tracks. When I moved to New York City, I stopped working out in any disciplined way. Calories were burned by forgoing the subway in favor of walking to where you needed to go. If you did belong to a gym, it was just a place you went to escape the confines of your office or because you already had slept with everyone at the bars near your apartment.

I stopped exercising altogether when I became pregnant with my first child. Because two more pregnancies followed in rapid succession, my break from cardio became more like early retirement. I think about it warmly and relay fond stories to my children of the time I could run the length of the yard without needing cardiac paddles applied to my chest. I marvel at photos of myself participating in 5Ks and on intramural sports teams while I peruse catalogues for my very own golf cart and consider the sodium content of soups.

Because I have one of those thin frames that deceives people into believing that my heap of gristle and bone powder is contained by some sort of musculature, they assume I dabble in some kind of aerobic activity. The people who have seen me naked — my OB/GYN and my unlucky neighbor across the street — know otherwise.

I take pains to prevent my own eyes from seeing myself naked, too, a plan that was working well enough until the other day. I had one of those unintended encounters with a floor-length mirror that took my breath away and made me question why I ever thought my heart valves were more precious than the benefits of fen-phen. What I saw made me realize that I wasn’t satisfied with my physique anymore.

As I grimaced at the constellation of dimples floating across my pale skin, all I could think was, “If I were holding a carrot, I’d look exactly like a tub of hummus.”

It wasn’t a vivid epiphany, but it was the catalyst I needed to set my alarm clock to an unholy hour and retire to bed donning clothes appropriate for the gym.

A friend had been trying in vain to compel me to join her at a 5:45 a.m. class at the YMCA for a lethal routine of weights and cardio. As my body moved toward sleep, the elastic squeeze of my sports bra — an early prototype — summoned misgivings. I reminded myself of Greg’s frenetic travel schedule, which would leave me unable to go to the gym for another week, ample time for a new herd of cellulite to begin stampeding across the plains of my ass.

I fished blindly in the dark for my shoes, noting just how leaden my legs felt so early in the morning. I crept down the stairs, partly hoping to startle the dog so that a spasm of barking would awaken the kids and render it impossible for me to leave. I looked at myself in the light of the kitchen and cringed at the realization my layered workout apparel left me resembling Virginia Woolf with a Bally’s membership. The doubting voice hissed, “Don’t go. Only people who wear coordinating spandex suits actually burn calories.”

I searched the usual places for my car keys as the voice growled louder. I couldn’t find my keys and my commitment was fading. I contemplated breakfast croissants for a moment before forcing myself out the door.

I was walking to the gym. In the dark. Like an addict who had just awoken naked at a place of worship with no memory of how they got there and no car to take them home, jolted to make a lifestyle change.

I trotted slowly as the cold, damp air settled around me.

I am walking to the gym at 5:30 in the morning. This is when murderers strike. This is when shark attacks happen. This is when movies like “How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days” play on loop. I don’t even have my car keys to use as a self-defense weapon. If there was ever an occasion for Richard Simmons to smack a person on the rump and gallop beside them in a tank top, this is it.

The events that followed my harrowing walk are hazy in my mind’s eye. Suffice it to say that I did engage in 60 minutes of cardiovascular activity and not because I was escaping a morning rapist. I remember very little from the class itself as the burn from my thighs overtook both hemispheres of my brain shortly after the warm-up.

I have clear recollection of the conclusion of class and of crawling into the passenger seat of my friend’s car and feeling as though I may live out the rest of my days from that minivan.

She looked at me pityingly and said, “Hard work, huh?”

“I didn’t see that coming,” I panted. “Half of those broads had osteoporosis, too.”

Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast area where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures on and on Twitter at @gonnakillhim.

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