“What you want it to”


“Surely, as long as your body does what you want it to, then that’s okay?”  my friend Emma suggests.

I just stare at her.

Actually, I’ve been staring at her since she walked into the hut. We are on Skye for a holiday and Emma, since I last saw her, has rediscovered competetive rowing. She is now as lean and toned as – well, as anyone who gets up early to row boats five mornings a week can expect to be.

But right now, I am staring in disbelief: can anybody really be that balanced?  I strongly suspect that when Emma says ‘….what you want it to’ she is not referring to impressing people or turning heads.  No: what Emma ‘wants her body to do…’  is to help to row a women’s eight for nine hundred metres down the Avon or climb a few Munroes on the Isle of Skye.  Ironically, strong hard-core rowing muscles are apparently prone to getting badly strained when thrown at Scottish scree and Emma seems to give far more thought to this. Her new incredible sillhoette is merely a bi-product of her new passion.

It makes me think about the women’s final of Wimbledon, when John Inverdale had a lot to say about the appearance of Marion Bartoli:   “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘you’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight?….. She is an incredible role model for people who aren’t born with all the attributes of natural athletes.”

As a rampant feminist I was shouting at the television with the best of them.  But surely I wasn’t the only one to think to myself at the beginning of the match:  ‘Oh look one of the girls is absolutely stunning and could be a model, where as the other looks normal?’

OK I confess it.  Despite myself, what I actually thought was: ‘Bartoli’s not nearly as fit-looking as Lisicki.’

Of course I did. A LOT of women – even feminists – secretly look at other women like that. I don’t think we can help ourselves. It doesn’t make Inverdale any less wrong, or what he said any less unfair. But it’s something that we do. We do it to ourselves as well.

Anyway, I found Emma’s remarks very encouraging. Hopefully Bartoli is one of those women who can dismiss remarks about her appearance and concentrate on her body doing ‘what she wants it to do’ – in her case completely thrashing Lisicki in the Wimbledon final! – even John Inverdale couldn’t argue that she didn’t look fabulous celebrating her victory .

Meanwhile, I still haven’t a clue what it is that I want my body to do but I suspect that it may involve other people’s perceptions and I do know that it’s not doing it. I have intended to exercise this holiday but on the first day it takes me two and a half hours to coax my toddler to walk one mile to the beach (via every interesting puddle, stream, flower, car, stone and cloud) and when we arrive there I still can’t exercise much. The  baby is asleep in the sling and the toddler is lemming-it towards the sea. The rest of the gang are hillwalking – but since my hubby needs to practise Mountain Guiding for his British Rock Test in two months time, this isn’t the time to insist that we swap places.

The following day I resort to yoga at nap-time, on the rug in front of the fire in the hut. It isn’t very restful, partiularly as I am wishing that I had bigger shorts: I feel myself bulging against the material every time a muscle contracts. It’s essential to have one eye on the window so that when groups of hill-walkers go past (every five minutes or so) I can stop and pretend to be reading a book.

But it does give my muscles a pleasant, slightly tight feeling of having done some work and I discover that the rumour about your body becoming more flexible during pregnancy is true: I can ‘do’  a bridge!  It also feels a little bit self-indulgent because nap-time is usually tidying-time or washing-up time. So I keep doing it and have soon graduated to making big, confident movements outside, without looking to see who’s coming.  But I’m not sure that it’s going to significantly change my life.

Luckily, the others get tired and declare a rest day.  I ask my hubby about the corrie I can see from the hut, leave the toddler pestering him to read Spot, strap the baby to my chest and begin to climb. It is fantastic. The feel of Earth beneath feet; the rhythm of one boot in front of the other; the sun on my shoulders; the sweat. What starts as a rocky path gradually becomes a steeper one; every time I pull my body up by a step, my spirits lift up too. The corrie meanwhile, starts to look increasingly further away: every time I convince myself that it’s just over the next lip, another ‘lip’ appears. With each new lip comes a curiosity to walk up and see over it. I want to reach the corrie. I push on.

Eventually I become aware of a group of walkers a few hundred metres ahead of me, little ants on my horizon. I am closing on them. The adrenaline of actually overtaking someone (I told you, women with shih-tzus were overtaking me last month) drives me faster. I eat a couple of wine-gums (if I do this whenever I’m hungry while walking, my sugar mostly sorts itself out) and push, sweating, panting, onwards. The baby shifts position in the carrier and falls to sleep on my boobs.

I catch them just over the lip of the corrie. They’ve stopped for a break, surveying the huge rock ampitheatre into which they’ve arrived. I am using my hands now: they watch me scramble up the rock.

I pause when I reach them, ‘Hard work these babies,’ I say. I am probably fishing for a ‘well done,’ or at least a ‘you shouldnae be bringing babies up here’ so that I can dislike them.

The Guide just says, ‘He’s small and light yet. You going right up to the ridge?’

‘Have I got time?  I said I’d be back for lunch.’

‘Ach, ye’ll do it’ he says…..

I don’t do it. I was only psyched for the corrie. I find a mountain pool and have a paddle and one of the most glorious breast-feeding spots in Britain instead.

But I spend all the distance back down trying to ponder how to trasnfer that wonderful, heady feeling of freedom to my daily life in Sheffield.  That’s at least part of what I want my body to do. By the time I get back, I think that I’ve found it.

“I might take up fell-running,” I say to my husband.


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