I have a HealthSPORT membership as a KSLG benefit. Chelsea, my oldest daughter, enjoys working out there – and hanging in the hot tub – so I made sure to get her a membership as soon as mine was active. But two months later, I hadn’t used mine. I thought I’d swim – perfect for these no-surf days – but the thought of wearing a swimsuit in public at the moment is… well, there are just some things that I will never get past and the weight/body issue is one of them. And despite my years of gym membership in SoCal, since moving here, I never saw the point. Why join a gym when I can hike, surf, walk, do yoga in the comfort of my own home?

One class and I remembered why: 1.) the whole-body focus means stronger muscles and greater flexibility with which to do all that cool stuff; and more importantly, 2.) because no way will I ever push myself as hard as I get pushed in a room full of people following an instructor’s commands.

And I love this stuff. I love the ache in my muscles, the promise of being strong, the pleasure of a capable body. We have this weird dichotomy in our culture – well, we have lots of weird dichotomies, but I’m thinking of the way in which women are warned against the sort of image obsession that can lead to low self-esteem.

For example, if I, especially as a someone who regularly skipped meals, occasionally purged, habitually took speedy drugs as a teenager, all in order to be thin (because at 5’6″ and 125 lbs., I certainly wasn’t thin enough), look in the mirror and say, “I’m fat,” the statement could be taken as another manifestation of societally induced low self-esteem and therefore surrendering to the subverted notions of a patriarchal culture. I’m supposed to love my body no matter what shape it’s in. Every body is beautiful and all that.

But by always using concern about weight as a gauge for self-esteem, the motivation behind striving to burn fat, build muscle, get healthy becomes suspect. Am I really trying to be healthy? Or am I insecure? Do I care about my heart? Or do I just care about my butt? I feel guilt for worrying about worrying.

I think about all this – given my history, I cannot help it – and then go to the HealthSPORT where no one else seems to be hung up on any of this. They do whatever it is they do to work out, they move on. I see all sorts of people there, not just hard-bodied young SoCal student transplants. I take a strength/conditioning class with equipment I’ve never used, waking muscles I haven’t used in far too long and damn does it hurt. But underneath the pain and the theorizing is one plain fact: it hurts good.

I remember what I’ve been missing: that feeling of strength. I don’t care any more about shallow or not shallow, about insecurity or ambition; I want to shed the extra pounds, get lean and strong again. I have an epiphany about my back pain and backsliding with surfing: I have let myself get soft, too soft, too lazy. This is the problem, I think, as I rub Tiger Balm into my quads again, not the old mattress or the erratic sessions, but this soft center that cannot support what I want to do. I feel the deep ache in my obliques and come to understand the “core” in “core strength.” That from that core, that strength, comes power and a physical confidence that buoys me into a better place emotionally than I’ll ever be when I’m physically weak.

Is it dangerous to place so much importance on one’s body? Sure. We are fragile creatures in many ways. I’d hate to neglect my mind in favor of fitting into a size smaller jeans – always a risk. But ultimately, none of this is about weight equaling worthiness after all. I’m good, whatever I weigh. But if I want to kick ass – and I do – then this is the path I need to return to.