Getting swimsuit ready

I finally went to the gym today after spending the summer preparing for a long, cold winter by packing on more than just a couple pounds. I finally realized that I am a human and not a creature that hibernates and decided to do something about it. I have a membership at the YMCA, why not put it to good use? It will be fun, I'll get out of the house, watch a little TV, read a magazine ... this is what a stay-cation is all about. I walked to the gym feeling pretty proud of myself.

After exactly two minutes and 45 seconds on something called an "elliptical" I remembered why my Y membership had gone unused for so long. I hate it. I hate working out. I hate everything about it. I hate how long it takes to see results, I hate sweating, I hate using machines that other sweaty people have used, I hate the muscle pain that occurs during the workout and how sore I feel afterwards.

I spent the next 27 minutes and 15 seconds comparing working out to self-flagellation. What exactly was I practicing this penance for? I considered all the wrongs I had committed for which I needed to punish myself. There was the blue-cheese hamburger I had for lunch, the French fries I had snagged off my sons plate, the fact that I occasionally drive to the grocery store instead of walk when it's only a block from my house.

Exercise as a modern penance makes sense to me; it also solves many gym mysteries, like, "Why do skinny people work out?" And, "Why would I ever put my body into one of those scary looking machines?" Everyone is simply punishing themselves for some perceived wrong. I am going to the gym to make up for my lousy snacking and excessive television watching. I can't begin to guess what other people are there for. Although the gym is a scarily public place where it seems like everyone in town can see all the places on me that jiggle and wiggle, it's also a private place, where people go for their own private reasons.

While I would love to buy myself a teeny tiny bikini next summer, it's probably not going to happen. I mostly decided to work out again for my health. I don't want to get diabetes or heart problems. Oh, who am I kidding. I want a teeny tiny bikini and Michelle Obama arms.

There's some fine-tuning that I would love to solve with a little reality TV-style plastic surgery. But when I start getting discouraged, or spend too long looking at style magazines, I remember a water aerobics class that I took a couple years ago. That class was better for my self-image than any exercise class I've ever taken. It wasn't the level of physical exertion that made me feel so good, it was the gossip session in the showers afterward. I was the youngest woman in the class by at least 20 years, certainly the most self-conscious, and I quickly realized that there are as many types of bodies as there are people on earth. My body is simply my own body, regardless of how it looks.

I'll keep going back to the gym. Maybe if I start at the end of this summer, I'll actually be swimsuit ready, as the magazines call it, by next summer. I'll run in place and lift weights and punish myself for the cheeseburgers and beer and pizza and hotdogs. I'll try to squeeze myself into one of those crazy looking machines and start figuring out how it works. I'll wake up sore and go to the gym grumpy, all in the name of penance.

The truth is, though, that no matter what my body looks like come next summer, I'll still be putting on a swimsuit. This is me, and I'm always swimsuit ready — it'll just be a one-piece.

You can find Zoë Abel at the gym. Don't try to talk to her; she'll be in a horrible mood. Contact her instead at

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