strong vs. skinny

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given my track record, you may think i tune into any and every reality television show ever made (and that would be saying a lot considering how many of them the soup manages to make fun of week after week). but surprise! (i know, you almost just spit out your coffee in disbelief) i actually try to limit myself. if anything for the fact that there are simply not enough hours in the day to keep up with them all. i would have to cut into my already almost non-existent social life even more, and well, i have to draw the line somewhere!

and one of the programs i willingly forgo every season is none other than dancing with the stars. but a few years ago, during season 5, my tv schedule must have not been as rigorous because i remember tuning in weekly to see helio catroneves’ rise to victory. and as is the case with every year, the cast was sprinkled with the likes of washed up entertainers and child actors looking for a jump start in their dwindling careers. but perhaps the most noteworthy contestant (at least for the purpose of this post) for me was model-slash-spokesperson, josie maran. she was gorgeous with legs for days. certainly her blessed anatomy alone would warrant her a fighting chance in this competitive dancing competition. but apparently, a flawless face and a body that won’t quit only get you so far in life, because come premiere night, josie’s performance fell flat. and america agreed as she was the first one to be voted off that season.

and i remember hearing snippets of interviews that had been conducted with her dance partner, alec mazo following the ejection. while he never threw her under the bus for their short stay on the abc reality show, he was honest in his suggested reasoning for their early exit. in so many words he basically concluded that josie’s inability to execute the choreography was due to the fact that she lacked muscle strength. she was skinny, yes, that was quite apparent. and skinny would be useful when trying to slither into those barely there costumes, but skinny didn’t translate into stamina. skinny wouldn’t allow her to squat and kick and twirl around the dance floor. without the tone in her muscles to withstand the dance moves, she became extremely limited in what she could successfully execute within a given routine.

this resonated with me. the fact that this beautiful model with a body any gal might trade their right arm for could not perform even the simplest of exercises. it almost humanized her in my mind. well look at that, models aren’t perfect. i had always equated being skinny as a positive thing. i never dreamed that there might actually be a downside. and once this light bulb went off, i changed my thinking. i would never want to be accused of having little to no core and muscle strength (you know, if i ever got famous and was asked to appear on a reality television dancing competition). in my mind, strong was the new skinny. toned, the new trim. because if being strong meant having slightly larger quads, biceps and bum, that was alright with me. at least i knew i wouldn’t become winded after one twirl around the dance floor.

fast forward a few years and my discovery of (and often harped-upon) pure barre technique. when i started these classes almost a year ago(!), i had no idea what it would do to my body. i could only hope that this workout i had heard so much about would live up to its hype.

but boy did it. and it has continued to even almost 365 days later. but that’s not to say that it hasn’t taken a conscious effort on my part to ensure that each 55-minute session is milked for every calorie burn, muscle tone and inch-pinch its worth. and that’s also certainly not to say that i haven’t found myself on occasion ridden with feelings of self-consciousness (or worse yet, jealousy) whenever a gal enters the studio wearing a small size of lululemon wonder unders than yours truly. it’s in those moments that i seem to forget the lesson josie maran taught me.

which leads me to last night and my tuesday evening class. and where i was once again reminded of “the josie maran lesson” as a svelt little thing made her way into the studio. oh my goodness, i thought, what i wouldn’t give to have those skinny little legs of hers! and despite the fact that i am grateful for the newer toned bod that pure barre has earned me, i couldn’t help but steal glances of the girl (talk about creepy) in the mirror as she performed the choreography beside me. but then something changed. the more i watched her, the more confidence i gained. i know, it sounds counter-intuitive, but let me explain.

as we moved through the warm-up, doling out sets of crunches, push-ups, tricep dips and planks, i saw her start to struggle. while i had no trouble squeaking out numerous reps of bicep curls and sit-ups, it was evident that the tasks were more difficult for her to execute. and as we moved into the thigh-portion of the workout, the same sentiment continued. and by our entrance into seat work, it all clicked. the josie maran lesson was being lived out in the middle of my pure barre class. here was a skinny little thing, with a body most ladies (including yours truly) would kill for (or at least severely injur for) who couldn’t get through some of the simplest of exercise moves.

timeout for two point five. i realize that pure barre is ridiculously hard, oh-em-gee, y’all should have seen me during my first few weeks of class. i was a hot mess. literally. i was so sweaty by the end, it was almost embarassing. so i am by no means implying that everyone should be able to execute all of the choreography as well as the pure barre founder herself.

what i am getting at is that after realizing that the mystery girl’s svelt body didn’t warrant her the strength and tone that i have fostered over the past year, suddenly i wasn’t so self-conscious or jealous anymore. i was on the contrary, extremely grateful and proud of my body. yes, my body was bigger than hers. my quads, arms, bum, all of it. but my body was also stronger than hers. more conditioned. more capable of doing the choreography. i had, in that moment, confirmed what josie maran’s dance partner had spoken about in his interviews. skinny doesn’t always equate to being strong. they aren’t synonyms for each other. that’s not to say that you can’t be both, but it does put things into perspective. because if being strong means having legs that can support copious amounts of squats, plies and knee-dancing, having a seat that can withstand minutes of pretzel (one of the hardest bum workouts in the pure barre choreography arsenal) and having abs that will make holding a plank position [almost] a breeze, then i’ll take strong over skinny any day.

sometimes i take for granted what this body is capable of. i criticize it for not being this or that. for not looking like this or that. but then there are moments like last night. when my eyes are opened once more. and i am reminded of its strength and power. and those are reminders i don’t mind getting. especially on a tuesday evening during the middle of my pure barre class.


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