Zumba and Feminism

My route to feminism was a bit odd. I’ve always considered myself a feminist, before I even knew the word for it, but as with nearly everything kids do, I had a somewhat perverted view of what it meant.

I HATED pink. Pink was a girly colour, and I was a feminist, so I loved blue. Girls were dumb, so I strove to be the smartest in my class. Girls were meek, so I tried to be the biggest badass.

It took me quite a long time to understand that feminism is quite explicitly against this nonsense. That you can be a modern woman and like pink, or be shy, or anything else. I like to think I’ve grown past the views my 10-year-old self held, but there is nothing like a new experience to prove you wrong.

Enter, my first ever Zumba class.

When I exercise, I tend to over do it. I like lifting heavy weights, rowing, boxing, etc. When I do exercise classes, I insist that they’re HARD CORE !!11!1one!!1! and normally attribute it to the fact that I like to be pushed past my limit and can’t do it myself.

Suffice it to say I’ve never attend a Zumba class, which I imagined as full of a bunch of middle-aged women on juice cleanses afraid of any form of exercise that will cause them to sweat or look unattractive, so they fling their arms around gently for 55 minutes between trips to the Jamba Juice and gossiping about celebrities.

But I figured, try anything once, right? In any case, it was the only class that fit my schedule and my shoulders were recovering from a 6k row.

When I stepped into the class, my first thought was – fantastic. The instructor is fat. Not “normal” sized, not the hyper fit bodies I’m accustomed to seeing urge me to fight through the burn, but the kind of woman that likely has to shop in special stores.

“Hey,” I thought to myself, “you’re being an asshole. Remember that big girl in your grade 9 class that ran the fastest mile out of everyone, all while holding her boobs in place because she didn’t have a supportive enough bra. Also look in the mirror before you get judgy.” My inner voice is very hard on me, but generally fair. “Sorry, inner voice. I’ll shut up and do the class.”

I looked around and saw that where as in most of the classes I take, I am in the worst shape, here, I fit right now. My body did not stand out, and honestly, I didn’t like it. I somehow felt in worse shape in the company of other perfectly normal women (there were, of course, no men in the class).

The music swells and she begins to dance, which we were presumably expected to ape with no instruction. “I’m just saying,” I said to myself, “you’d think she’d at least be a better instructor.”

As I threw my limbs around, awkwardly trying to follow along to an unfamiliar routine set to an unfamiliar beat with only the occasional “ready? Let’s go!” to guide me, my eyes drifted upwards.  The class was held in a room where the ceiling opened up to a running track on the next floor. Strong, focused, sweaty bodies passed by over and over. “Don’t look down!” I thought. “I’m not usually here! I’m not this kind of woman. I’m not one of those women.”

Anyone who knows me will attest that I give zero fucks what people think about me. But I realize now that this is true only when I control the narrative. When I am doing something I enjoy, wearing something comfortable, and living life my own way. Zumba felt foreign, wrong, and embarrassing. I don’t remember the last time I felt that.

I did actually manage to break a sweat. There’s nothing like having no idea what you’re doing to force your muscles into overdrive, even if the activity is light, but I came out with a lot more than a workout.

It was a necessary reminder.

In the BLM community I’ve seen articles refer to the term “woke” (aware of systemic racism) as a verb rather than a noun. That you must work at it each day. It is not a switch, but rather a process in which you must be an active participant and ever vigilant of your own biases.

This is true of so much, and it seems adult me hadn’t been pulling her weight, so an angry, lonely, frustrated 10 year-old that I thought didn’t exist anymore had to step in. I think we are all constantly fighting off our previous selves, fighting to hold on to the progress we’ve made, and forcing ourselves to try new things, to get out of our comfort zone is the only real way to keep testing yourself to see how far you’ve come.

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