Recently, I went to an event where there were a bunch of people I haven’t seen since my late 30’s. It was, truly, nice to see everyone. People seemed happy. Most marriages seemed intact. Their children appeared to be well mannered. Everyone looked great.
But then, I got (roughly) this from one woman: “So, last I heard you’ve gotten in amazing shape, just as the rest of us are so busy that we go downhill.”
That’s a pretty backhanded compliment.
I also think it’s a pretty classic response to any woman over 40 who pursues fitness as a hobby. Notice: I didn’t say “profession,” although one could argue that fitness is my profession as well. I did have a Pilates studio at one time. I do try to monetize my site, although it’s tricky. No, for the most part, working out is my main hobby. I do it because I like it. I do it because it’s good for my mental health (actually, it’s essential for my mental health). Vanity? It falls way, way down the line of reasons for busting my ass every day.
Still, any woman over 40 who’s in very good shape deals with these sort of comments. It’s as if her very interest in fitness, and the inevitable results, are an affront to “normal” and “busy” men and women, people who just don’t have the time to muck about with such indulgences. Men over 40 who become marathon runners, triathletes, or avid tennis players, on the other hand, are usually complimented for practicing such self care (if it’s commented on at all).
Honestly, I don’t think my acquaintance really meant to insult me. I don’t think she was thinking about me much when that popped out of her mouth. She was thinking about herself. That’s the mistake so many people make: thinking that what other people do has anything to do with them. My being in good shape at age 48 has nothing to do with her fitness level.
I see this sort of projection in the way true female athletes are discussed by the media. They’re treated as sex objects if they’re considered conventionally attractive and vilified as beasts if they’re not (look at the way Mexican Olympic gymnast Alexa Moreno was cruelly torn apart for not fitting whatever absurd physical standard gymnasts are supposed to embody). They are viewed as female first and athletes second, which is a silly way to view athletes and Olympians; they’re obviously athletes first, whether they’re looking “pretty” during rhythmic gymnastics or like a warrior during weight lifting. Plus, the media is constantly trying to place these women into contexts that have nothing to do with their physical performance, delving into their personal lives, bringing up their romantic partners, scrutinizing their behavior and whether it’s ladylike or not.
And that’s if you’re young and at the top of your sport. If you’re over 40 and still exploring, hitting goals, or even having fun, it’s somehow a reproach to the rest of women who “don’t have the time.” It’s just one more way that women undercut one another instead of offering support and encouragement. Because each of us has our own hard road to travel, and some of us prefer to sprint along it instead of walking.
Here’s a thought: after age 40, I think that a woman should do what she pleases. That means if she wants to work out every day, or start taking trapeze lessons, she should. Hell, if she decides she hates exercise and wants to never do it again and eat chocolate every day, she should do that. Life is short and unpredictable, and if you’re lucky enough to find something that brings you joy (and doesn’t hurt anyone), you should embrace it.