Shaping Up

Here’s another expression to add to the banned list: “get in shape.”  Let’s just throw it out, along with “cankles,” “fat days,” “bikini body,” and all those other insidious phrases that really only serve to highlight all the ways in which we find ourselves inadequate.

I will readily admit that lately the idea of getting into shape has been sneaking into my thoughts a bit too often.  I woke up recently from the yoga I’d done the day before.  My first thought: ugh, I’m so out of shape.  My running has been a bit inconsistent lately, and I find myself wondering if I need to get into better shape.  Every now and then, I’ll catch myself thinking this way and feel the urge to grab myself by the shoulders and give a good shake.  “Wake up!” I want to yell to myself. “Get in shape?  What does that even mean?!”

Obviously I know what the meaning of the word “shape” is, and I also understand what’s meant when people use the term “get into shape.”  However, the phrase’s implications extend beyond its literal meaning: when I tell myself I need to get into shape, what I’m really saying is that the body I have is wrong, and I need to change it physically in order to make it right.  After all, what “shape” are we talking about if not the shape of the ideal “healthy” body?

Although I’ve said it a million times, it always bears repeating that health and fitness do not come in one size.  They don’t come in one shape, either, and when we use expressions that even benignly suggest that they do, we do ourselves a big disservice.  I may be sore from yoga, but what that means is that I should probably start practicing more consistently again; the quality of my runs may be uneven, but that could be the result of a number of things, like the intense heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing lately.  Neither of these things has anything to do with my body, and there’s no guarantee that they would be any less a problem if I were to trim my problem areas, flatten my tummy, and firm up my glutes in order to fit into the “shape” that we tend to associate with being fit and healthy.

And so: a ban on getting in shape.  We can replace it with descriptions of what we actually need, and do away with this idea that being thin and perfect will solve our problems once and for all.  Maybe we can even come up with some new, more positive phrases.  Any suggestions?

[Republished from my personal blog.]

By Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at

2 replies on “Shaping Up”

These code words make my head (and heart) hurt.

Rather than say what we mean, we use these code words and phrases to say-without-saying. My current least favorite is “fit”. If you are single, you may have encountered this code word in online singles’ ads, in something along the lines of, “I’m fit, and so are you.” What does this mean?! Fit for what!? Fit to finish an Ironman competition? Fit for skiing the Alps? The Poconos? Fit for mending fences? Herding three children, all under 5 years old? “Fitness” can’t stand on it’s own, but needs a referent: “I’m fit for ____________, and you should be, too.”

But, no. “Fit” is a code word for “I have the currently preferred body type, which I’ve carefully cultivated through hard work and self-denial, proving me to be a virtuous person,…and you should, too.” Its such a Puritan mind-set! And, like the Puritans, the people who ascribe to it often can’t seem to sleep at night, knowing that there are others out there who are living the degraded life of the unfit, eating what they like and engaging in hobbies that don’t necessarily involve sweat.

Or else its just code for, “I’m pretty average, but you should have a hot body, and be prepared to keep it for life, or I’ll dump your ass at the next 7-11.”

Either way, its lazy, ambiguous, and cowardly.

Like the first commentor, I tend to read “out of shape” as relating to abilities rather than form, but that just illustrates my point about these code words being mealy-mouthed attempts to get around saying what we mean. Yeah, “I’m out of shape” is fewer words than “I’ve lost the ability to do x without suffering for it, the next day,” or “I’m not physically capable of running x distance, anymore, and I want to be able to do that,” but are we really being charged by the word for your thoughts? No, we aren’t. So why not be kind to ourselves, and to others, and saw what we really mean, honestly, and without code words?

“I enjoy long-distance running and weight training, and want to meet someone who shares my practices and level of commitment to the results.”

“I really enjoy yoga, and hate waking up sore in the morning, so maybe I should go for more frequency, but less strenuously, so I can enjoy the benefits without the drawbacks.”

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