Last summer, I started listening to the Harry Potter books on Audible. Jim Dale narrates the series, and they’re a simply fantastic escape. They’re also long – over 20 hours a book. One night, I pressed play on the third book, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and turned on a bath. As most of us do, I started staring at myself in the mirror, critiquing every piece of myself.
The red stretch marks that spanned all over were hideous to me, as was my stomach’s tendency to stick out in a way my friends’ flatter ones didn’t. For the first time in my life, I distinctly remember thinking that I hated the way I looked. Suddenly, I didn’t care about all the meaningful relationships I held. I couldn’t recall the joy I felt at seeing a sunset, or nailing the perfect quip.
I didn’t even notice when the Audible recording abruptly stopped. I’d been so deep into my self-critique that I completely missed the last three chapters of a book that had brought me so much joy. I wasted an hour of my life staring at my body, which I genuinely thought was disgusting.
I wish I could say that, after that day, I resolutely adopted a new mindset about myself. That I immediately embraced the stretch marks and the little pocket of fat on my thigh. I wish I could say that I became a self-confidence guru after that day and began traveling around the world giving inspirational talks on body image and self-love.
But I didn’t.
However, I did embark on a lifestyle change not long after that. I’m not sure when the idea finally clicked (I had tried and failed to live healthier many times), but eventually, one day, I decided I was tired of walking around in a body that didn’t feel like my own. I bounced around several boutique fitness studios in Dallas, ultimately falling in love with cycling and beginning to get into shape. I shed 25 pounds and, while I certainly wasn’t looking at myself with heart eyes in the mirror, I felt better.
But I wanted something else, although I wasn’t sure exactly what. I had begun following Grit Fitness on Instagram a couple of months earlier, and found myself drawn to the positivity, the girl power aesthetic, and the founder, Brit Rettig. I dragged my sister to come with me for a kickboxing class the day after Christmas, because there was no way in hell I was going to a new fitness studio by myself. Though I was an absolute nightmare at Turbo Kick, something about that studio peeking over SMU Boulevard sparked joy in me. I signed up for a trial month later that week.
When I parked for my first solo class, I sat in my car for 10 minutes before I got the strength to walk up the stairs to the studio. Within seconds of finally making it inside, I met three new people. We were instructed to say hello to two new people before class even started. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t embarrassed when I could barely balance in tree pose, because the girl next to me couldn’t, either. It wasn’t about the balancing, it was about the process. There was no curated perfection, aesthetically primed for Instagram. The class was just sweat, commiseration, and sun salutations set to Drake.
Throughout my trial month, I threw myself into every class I could get into. From Power Tower to Body Sculpt, I picked up weights for the first time since eighth grade gym class and liked it. I found instructors that I genuinely loved taking classes from and my ideal spot on the left side of the studio—I committed to a membership when my month was up. The girl doing bicep curls in the mirror seemed a lot different from the girl criticizing every aspect of herself as her bath water ran out onto the floor.
As the weeks have gone by, I’ve started gravitating towards the front row, picking up the heavier weights, and pushing myself to do burpees. (Considering I once shed actual tears running the mile in junior high, this is a big accomplishment.) I’ve forced myself to pick up the heavier dumbbells for shoulders, and I’ve talked to myself long enough to hold my toes six inches above the ground for thirty seconds longer than I think I can. I’m often moved to tears when the lights go out during the “free ride” portion of spin class. After a lifetime of being terrified of working out in front of people and refusing to push myself physically, I’ve found a place that can calm me down better than a glass of red wine (on some nights, anyway). Grit Fitness’ girl power vibes are clearly more than just an aesthetic.
Recently, I found myself back in front of my mirror, looking rather than critiquing. Those red stretch marks are still there, but they’re less angry and are starting to turn white. That stomach still isn’t flat (and probably never will be), but it’s nourished and it’s a lot more capable of doing planks than it used to be. I didn’t look at myself and hate what I saw. Instead, I saw shoulders and biceps that press dumbbells into the air. I saw legs that climb long hills with heavy resistance. I saw eyes that didn’t look so sad. I saw a girl that is much more in tune with her needs than she used to be.
For the first time in a long time I saw a girl who, after many visits to Grit and several to the massage parlor, had started to fall in love with herself again.