Photo: The Nutty Professor
First, let’s be clear: I don’t like to sweat.
I don’t like to squat. Run. Crunch. Lunge. Or jump for extended periods of time.
So when I decided in late 2015 to get back in the gym after an extended hiatus, I braced myself for the inevitable. I figured history would repeat itself and after making a measurable amount of progress, I’d get discouraged, stop and slump back into my own self-imposed body-shaming.
That’s not what happened.
This time, I hired a personal trainer. And, for the first time ever, I felt good about my body. I felt confident in my skin. I even started to like the deadlifts, power squats, calf raises and other excruciating exercises that caused me to scream in ways I didn’t know were possible.
But another powerful force in the universe reared its head and hijacked my life (again). Money.
And recently, money compelled me to walk away from an experience that, for the first time, added a positive perspective to my self-image.
Let’s pause for the backstory.
I was a chubby kid. I wasn’t athletic and had laughable eye-hand coordination.
By middle school, I developed a piss-poor opinion of my physical self, coupled with low self-esteem and an irrational fear of uncovering any part of my body for public spectacle. Even as the fat fell off in high school, the deeper issue remained and I despised what I saw in the mirror.
My aversion to exercise and dieting didn’t help, either.
I took solace in a single thought, “Surely, by the time I’m an adult, I won’t care about what I look like. I’ll know who I am and will feel good about myself.”
Adulthood came and my lowly opinion of self didn’t dissipate with my first trip to the voting booth.
There were some bright spots. Through college, and some years after, I experienced intermittent spurts of success. I’d go to the gym, lift some weights and feel my biceps bulge and my chest tighten. I’d feel good about myself.
But life would get in the way. I’d get really busy at work and church, or discouraged because I didn’t progress as quickly as I thought I should. Worse, I’d commit the sin of self-sabotage; I started comparing myself to others.
I didn’t feel strong. I felt like a runt with really thin man wrists.
The ironic part is that these feelings were contrary to the person I was in other settings. At work, I was driven. Determined. Passionate. At church, I was bold. Active. Devoted. I would spit out encouragement like it was my full-time job. I could speak in front of crowds with minimal hand shaking. In other aspects of life, I could – as Scripture tells us — build myself up on my most holy faith and trust God to see me through.
But when it came to how I perceived my own body, I felt vulnerable and exposed and ashamed.
Then came November 2015.
Behold the change
A week after my 25th birthday, I decided to pay a personal trainer to mold me. At most, I wanted to feel good about myself. At the very least, I wanted some dang definition on my skinny arms and chest.
It worked, and so did I.
I left every session sore and exhausted but also accomplished. I lifted more weights each week and grew stronger. I saw my body shape change and had to start buying new clothes. People offered flattering comments and, for the first time, I actually believed they were sincere.
I put in the work and felt like I was reaping the rewards.
I found my confidence by paying a trained professional to invest in my progress. I stopped comparing myself to others. I started to enjoy the burn of blood rushing to my muscles and the challenge of balancing weights on my shoulders while squatting.
I no longer felt like a runt. I felt Herculean.
The money clutch
But feeling like Hercules comes with a price. A hefty price. The cost for training went up in 2017.
And while I was meeting my #fitnessgoals, my #financialgoals were worse for wear.
Training was expensive, and I’m a professional writer (i.e., I’m not balling). I contribute to a 401(k) and enjoy saving money. I pay student loans, a car payment, car insurance, rent, utilities and a cell phone. Oh, and there’s food and gas – gotta pay for those, too.
In my world, those are necessities I can’t drop to the wayside. Training? Not so much. That’s a luxury that cost me more per month than most of the aforementioned bills.
I had to make a decision. A painful one.
In March, I told my trainer we’d have to part ways, for now. Given my financial rock and a hard place, he understood.
Now, I’m back to fully owning my fitness journey. But there’s a difference. There’s a new me.
I’m still confident and believe I can make a difference in myself. My journey now is less about overcoming low self-esteem and more about creating a healthier me. With help from my gym rat of a roommate, I feel I can maintain and build on my current progress, without breaking my bank.
I don’t regret hiring a trainer. It was a worthy investment that changed the way I saw myself. When you’re in a bind financially and need emotional support, there’s always free help available.
It forced me to confront the self-depreciating aspects of childhood and deal with them head-on. It helped me understand that body image issues don’t just afflict women. Men deal with them, too — and we need to talk about it more.
I’m a Christian who firmly believes that my treasures are stored in Heaven, not on earth; that my spiritual self-trumps my physical condition. I also firmly believe that God wants me actually like the body He’s given me. After all, if I can’t love me, how can I love anyone else?