A confession: When I was in elementary school, I read every single Sweet Valley High book I could get my hands on. I’m not entirely sure what the appeal was; even then I understood that the two main characters– lovely blond twins named Jessica and Elizabeth, if you weren’t on the SV bandwagon–weren’t particularly complex or dynamic or realistic. But their beauty (and, of course, author Francine Pascal’s imagination) afforded them opportunities and adventures that an awkward and overly enthusiastic 10 year-old me found irresistable. So when I came across this article http://www.npr.org/2011/04/10/135235985/twin-drama-returns-in-sweet-valley-confidential yesterday morning–after first wondering, of course, if Elizabeth and Todd were still sweethearts– I had to check in with myself. Have things changed? Am I satisfied now? Or am I still hoping to magically become some girl– tall, blond, blue-eyed, thin–that I read about in a book more than fifteen years ago?
Let me backtrack. I suppose this internal conversation really began a little earlier this month, when I attended my very first group fitness class– an hour long Sculpt n’ Tone session– in over two years. When we lived in Colorado, I was a TurboKickBox/Spinning junkie, and I yoga-ed and stepped with the best of them in Florida (until an unfortunate and embarassing dog-poop-on-my-shoe incident ended all of that). And while I’ve maintained a solo exercise regimen in order to keep up with Lily (and, of course, remain as emotionally balanced as possible), I was really afraid to work out– and, especially, to lift weights–with a group of fit, toned, and attractive people, because the gym has a way of magically intensifying the urge to measure my shortcomings against the assetts I see everywhere. But as I was putting away my dumbells, another woman in the class approached me.
You’re very strong, she said. Good job today.
And I was taken aback, because no stranger has ever complimented me in the gym before– and also because there was a time in my life when this wouldn’t have felt like a compliment; I certainly would have preferred to be seen as effortlessly thin and delicate and fragile. But on this particular day–a day that already included multiple trips up several flights of stairs while carrying a twenty-pound almost-toddler after a looong night that required rocking said insomniac toddler (plus a five minute brainstorming session in which I tried to determine when I’d last taken a shower. Note: if you have to think this hard, it’s been too long)– her words felt like the sweetest, most generous gift I’d ever received in my life.
Because strong takes work, and dedication, and patience. And, with some unexpected help from a kind workout acquaintance, the reappearance of two fictional blonde beauties, and an ever-growing little girl, I am finally discovering that real strength– the kind I recognize in my mom, and aunts, and grandmother, and cousins, and all of the other (dark haired! :)) women who came before us–is humbling, and beautiful, and definitely worth the effort.