Image manipulation

For some years now people have been telling me I “must be soooo fit“, simply because my default mode of local transport has been a bike. Not for every trip, but as often as I can I will take the cargo bike out to do the shopping, or ride to school to pick up my kids.

Back when the youngest was still in childcare I would pick up the older one in our Christiania bike (a big trike with a box on the front for the kids or the shopping), and then ride across to childcare to pick up the youngest. As a round trip it was only around 5km, but I was doing it twice a day, 3 days a week. They were very short distances, so I didn’t think of myself as fit.

Then I took up riding to work more regularly, and got to the point where  I could take the kids to school on their bikes and then ride to work and back myself.  I figured I was a little fitter than before, but they were still only short distances. My work ride is around 11km round trip, and while that would be a fair old walk, cycling is a vastly more efficient means of transport – there’s a lot of rolling involved.

Compared with my husband who rides to work every day and regularly does 60-100km rides on the weekend, I still didn’t think much of my fitness – I was still very aware of my tubby belly, and of how red faced and puffy I got on the hills.

Self image tends to get locked in during childhood, and I grew up pretty much a bed potato – getting as far as the couch would have been too much effort, especially when there were all those lovely books to read. I would periodically take the dogs for long walks, but I never did anything much to work up a sweat.

PE classes at school confirmed that I was hideously slothful and unfit, as they set us running around the oval as fast as we could as a “warm up”, by the end of which I would be collapsed in a wheezing heap turning a fetching shade of blueish purple. Then the real work would begin. No. Physical activity and I were not friends.

Oh, I can’t help myself
when I feel this way
I want to be someone else
When I get this feeling
it gets in my system
I can’t put the brakes on
Icehouse, Can’t help myself


Then I took up running, and although my running style and speed owe more to Cliff Young than to Cathy Freeman, I quickly found my fitness and strength took a sharp upwards bound. Still, I was painfully aware of how much shorter and slower my runs were compared to my sister’s.

Today I was idly flicking through the paper and noticed an article that said most people exercise less than 3 times a week. So I did a quick mental total:

Saturday: 2 hours of yoga.

Sunday: personal best run distance of 4.55 km, with hills.

Monday: 4.17km run with some serious hills – some kind of torture!

Tuesday: nothing.

Wednesday: 11km cycle commute, plus a little over 3km of walking across campus during the day.

Thursday: 6.4km ride up and down Wheelers Hill to the fruit & veg shop and back UP the hill with a 20kg load of shopping (on a 40kg cargo bike). (For those who don’t know, Wheelers Hill is STEEP.)

Tomorrow there should be a run of around 4.5km, time and weather permitting, then Saturday will be another two hours of yoga.

Somewhere, somehow I think I left the couch behind. I think the trick was building the exercise into my life, rather than making it something I take time out to do. Because I do a fair bit of riding – even though they are short distances – my base fitness has been creeping up. While I wasn’t looking I became a fit person. But what do I see in the mirror? The tubby belly and the tired eyes.

You know what? My belly is allowed to be a little tubby. After 4 pregnancies resulting 2 babies and a fair amount of trauma, my curves are a badge of honour, not a mark of shame. And my eyes? They have reason to be tired. Things are tough right now. But none of that defines me.

It’s not easy to change your self image – especially the negative parts that have been fired on the coals of adolescent insecurity. I am hoping that my self image will morph gradually, the way my fitness has.  Meanwhile when I am cruising to work on my bike, or concentrating on the slap of my sneakers on the pavement while I watch the galahs wheeling overhead, I am rebuilding myself, inside and out. Wish me luck!

2 thoughts on “Image manipulation

  1. Joe

    Hmph. My self image rebuild is kind of going in the other direction lately, since I’m 8% heavier than I was a few months ago and currently stubbornly (ie my subconscious is stubborn) staying that way. Once upon a time I had catskin all over… now I’ve got a few fairly hefty handholds.

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