Untangling body image

“I need to get in shape,” I say, for 10 years straight. And I work and I sweat and I ache, and then life intervenes and I stop.

“I was in better shape then than I realized. I am so out of shape now.”

“I was in the best shape of my life.”

I’ve been saying these things for years, and I think I know what I mean when I say them, and others think they know what I mean when they hear them. But what the hell are we talking about here? What do I mean by “in shape”? It almost certainly is not what they mean.

I’m talking measurable criteria here. What would make me feel “fit”? A flat tummy? Firm thighs? A number on a scale? Fitting into a particular pair of pants? Or physical accomplishments — doing certain yoga poses correctly? Managing a predetermined number of reps? Being able to jog two laps at the park? Which park?

And what if none of those things ever come to pass? What if they can’t?

I can do things now I couldn’t before. I can no longer do other things I previously could. So am I in shape now, or out? Which shape, exactly? Rhombus? Hexagon?

I need to figure out my motivation for working out, so I can figure out how I can tell if it is working or not. Because right now I am just setting arbitrary goals and feeling good or bad about my ability to meet them, with no real idea why. I need a big-picture goal.

I am trying to ___________ .

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