This is a picture of me not exercising.

Over the weekend I took an exercise class. In 2006 or 2009 this would have been no big deal, but I haven’t been to an exercise class in a long time. This was a big deal. A very big deal. As I pushed myself to move my body, I began telling myself a narrative that started with the girl in front of me. We’ll call her Black Spandex Girl.

She put her bag right next to my water. This must be her spot. I am taking her spot. She is annoyed. I wonder if she is a mean girl.

Then that evolved into,

I am the biggest girl in the room. I wonder if everyone is judging me or cheering me on.

Which took a turn into,

But I can dance. Check out these moves, everybody.

 

Because I have a sense of humor about myself and I like to show off.

Anyway, after the class I was walking to the locker room when Black Spandex Girl said something to me:

“That trainer is like the energizer bunny. I don’t know how she does it!”

(Uh oh. False narrative of mean girl disrupted! Now what?)

So I said, “That was my first class here.”

And she said, “Helluva class to start with!”

Helluva class to start with. Helluva class to start with. I turned the phrase over and over in my head.

Hello, validation. With just a few words Black Spandex Girl made me feel like a hero instead of a joke. But just by looking at me, she knew that it was a hard class for me, and she recognized me for that. It was such a profound moment that I meditated on it for an hour. What was so invigorating about those few simple words? Why did the validation feel so transcendent?

Because I was wearing my weakness on the outside. I was visibly exhausted, pushed to the limit. Black Spandex Girl saw my weakness and validated my struggle. So I asked myself the bigger question, who is walking around with hidden weakness? Who is struggling in ways that no one can see? Who needs to be validated just for getting up in the morning? Who could barely keep from hurting themselves today, but survived anyway? Who needs to be congratulated for getting dressed this morning? Which kids need to be celebrated for not breaking any valuables or bullying other kids? For holding it together for just….a few….more….minutes….?

When we wear our weakness on the outside, sometimes we get a bit more empathy from the outside world. But when we carry our weakness on the inside, the world is not a safe place. Black Spandex Girls don’t always know. Sometimes they are not nice. They don’t see the weakness. In fact, I looked at Black Spandex Girl and didn’t see weakness. It turns out this was her first class after giving birth six months ago. Who’s the mean girl now? Me.

My exercise class was a breeze for Black Spandex Girl. She could have looked at my red face and judged me for getting into the situation I’m in, but instead she said, “Helluva class to start with!” And I felt like a million bucks.