Southern Ladies Don’t Sweat

At the gym the other day, as I wiped my sweaty brow for the twentieth time or so, I thought suddenly of my paternal grandmother. She used to say, “Southern ladies don’t sweat, they glisten.”

Yeah, right.

She said a lot of crap like that. I think she knew that we knew she was full of shit: I mean, she was a farmer’s wife in rural south Georgia who divided her time between the fields and a hot stove, of course she sweated. [Feminist Manda: farmer’s wife? Like he did all the work and took all the risks? You know what farmer’s wives should be called? FARMERS.]

But by the time I was around to listen to these platitudes, Mammy was old enough to be as full of shit as she wanted to be. Putting on absurd airs was one of the indulgences she’d earned over the years. If you knew her, you know she indulged. A lot.

Treadmill selfie: Here I am, glistening like a FREAKING CHAMP.
Treadmill selfie: Here I am, glistening like a FREAKING CHAMP.

It got me thinking, though, how sometimes we women hold ourselves back from being as strong and healthy as we could be, because of our ideas of femininity. Girls aren’t supposed to sweat, we aren’t supposed to smell bad, we aren’t supposed to get too strong.  We are sometimes afraid to venture outside the trusty cardio area, allowing ourselves to be intimidated by those huge guys who seem to take over the weight equipment and carry around big jugs of unidentifiable liquids. What is that stuff? I saw some the other day that looked like curdled milk.

We’re afraid to ask to work in, or ask for help, or try new things in front of people. (And by “we,” I mean “me,” obviously). “We’re” embarrassed that we have to adjust the seats up and the weight down — like anyone cares! — and, oh my goodness I cannot bend over that bench and do the hamstring curl if there is a dude within a mile radius. I just. Can’t.

What’s worse, we worry how we look at the gym (I’ve voiced before my concerns about jiggling), and compare ourselves to the other women we see there. I consider myself a nice, rational person in general. I don’t believe in shaming anyone because of their body type or size. [Feminist Manda: Yes! Now we’re getting somewhere.]

But when a twenty-something in a string bikini comes traipsing into the locker room from the pool–after I have lugged my cellulite ass across the treadmill for half an hour, my face bright pink, and I feel (and smell) like a cross between a rotting corpse and a pregnant hippopotamus–I have to admit I kind of want to punch her in the face. Just a little. [Feminist Manda: Sigh. Back to the drawing board.]

Alright, so I’m not making any great strides for womankind. But I am trying to conquer my own fear and shame, little by little. I am venturing a little farther across the floor now, away from the comfortable cardio section into that jungle of incomprehensible machines and testosterone. So far, none of the big dudes has bothered me. Actually, they don’t appear to notice me. But if I feel intimidated, I will give the Dude Nod (you know it – the single thrust outward of the chin, sometimes accompanied by “‘Sup?”) to let the natives know I speak their language. And if I still feel intimidated, I will throw my water bottle at the guy and run for the safety of the yoga studio.

[LoseIt! app says: Running –> 6 mph –> 1 minute = 13 calories, Yoga –> General –> 20 minutes = 44 Calories. They don’t have “shaking with fear” listed.]

While I’m in the cardio section, I am trying to push past more serious fears, too. I’ve had a chronic ankle injury for over two years, and fear of making it worse has held me back and sometimes been a convenient excuse to take it easy. Now (in addition to trying to build the surrounding muscles and continue having it treated) I am pushing myself to brace the ankle, stretch as best I can, and RUN ANYWAY. If it hurts, I can stop. But I’m tired of letting fear of injury hold me back. PS: I’ve discovered that while braces and sports injuries make you look cool and athletic and intense in high school, at my age they just make you look… kinda sad. Total aside.

Two years ago, I started having occasional heart palpitations, and they scared the living crap out of me. Once or twice they happened to occur while I was working out, along with a sharp pain in my chest (which I now believe is muscular) and that made me nervous for a looooong time about pushing myself too hard during exercise. After lots of cardiac testing with two different cardiologists and no official diagnosis (except the one I gave myself doing internet research – la la!), I feel 85% confident that the palpitations are harmless and 99% confident they aren’t brought on by exercise. Yes, I measure my feelings in percentages. Time to power through.

The thing is, I’m almost 40. My body is not going to become more accommodating or easy to work with in the coming years, even less so if I spend a good portion of those years on the couch complaining about my “bad ankle” and my “heart condition.” Exercise and weight loss are much harder now than when I was in my twenties (even though I was never string bikini ready, even then); but staying fit will never again be as easy as it is today. If I let fear and shame and vanity hold me back, the terrorists win. Wait, that’s something else. If I hold myself back today, tomorrow’s challenges will only be bigger.

So I am pushing myself to work through the fear, and balance it with grace.  And I’m overcoming my vanity by posting a very attractive gym selfie for you guys. My heart rate in that picture was about 172 bpm. Try to contain yourselves, okay?

Happy middle age workout,


Oh! PS – For those wondering how the weight loss challenge is going: Meh. I’m still losing, but slower than I’d like. I blame challah. And my total lack of will power. Separate post on that coming soon! xoxox

MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is a Distracted Writer and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Her books include quirky romantic comedies and playful women's fiction. Join her Distracted Readers newsletter list for updates, free content, giveaways and more.

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