Strong vs. Skinny

(Only Kenny O’Neal can capture how I feel after I go to the gym:

Today, I was released from the sports doctor.

I’m sure that means nothing to you, but, to me, it means that the pain in my lower back/hip/glute area is now healed, or at least manageable without professional help. And that I amazing!

Going to the sports doctor makes me feel important, like an athlete, because they’re not just any old doctor, they’re a sports doctor, which means they work with athletes and if they’re working with me, that means I’m an athlete. 😀

I found eating burdensome as a kid, so I didn’t do it until I absolutely had to. This meant that I was teased mercilessly for most of my childhood with every insult you could think of (“You could hula-hoop through a Cheerio!” “Are you from Ethiopia, like on the commercials?”). I hated being skinny because my peers made me feel awful for it.

Once puberty struck, I started eating everything in sight, but I maintained a wicked fast metabolism, so all the crap I did eat never stuck to me.

Around eighth grade, something flipped. Suddenly, everyone (or at least the white girls) wanted to be skinny. Then they would tell me, “Vonetta, you’re so lucky. You don’t have to exercise at all!”

And I believed them. I considered myself lucky. What more did I need than being a size 0?

I knew I could be a model – the industry loves skinny girls, and it’s the only place where a skinny black girl could find some affection (if selected for a show at all despite the color of her skin, of course). I never pulled the trigger on starting a modeling career, and by the time I was old enough to try to take matters into my own hands, I was too old (like, 17) and had lost interest.

But during my senior year of college, I was chosen to model in Georgetown’s annual fashion show. I thought it would be fun to finally use the years of model-walk practice to use.

At rehearsal, I put on my high, high heels and started down the carpeted “runway,” a path between some desks in an empty classroom. I came to the end, stopped to pose but hesitated for some reason, and felt a small bump in my knee. I didn’t think anything of it, and continued walking in rehearsal.

The fashion show was scheduled for just after spring break. I’d planned to stay on campus and work that week, to make extra money. When I woke up on Monday, I could hardly walk.

I limped to the library for my eight-hour shift, almost all of which I spent sitting because my knee was in so much pain. The pain didn’t go away the next day or the next or the next. I swallowed Advil every few hours to take the edge off, but the pain wouldn’t go away.

I panicked. How was I supposed to walk in the show when I wanted to tear my leg off?

As luck would have it, something happened with the university and the Fashion Club had to cancel the show.

Which meant that I had injured myself for nothing.

The pain had gone away by the time I could get into the doctor’s office almost two months later. But it came back when I took a mile-long walk a month later. The pain went on and off like that for years before I finally saw a physical therapist who told me that the reason for the pain was that I was weak.

So, I was skinny. But I was weak.

What was the point of being skinny if body parts would start to hurt? Would I be physically able to carry a baby if I became pregnant? Would I fall and break a hip and not be able to recover because I didn’t have enough muscle around my joints?

I’d started exercising when I was 25, but I didn’t get intense with weight lifting until I got a trainer when I was 29. I’ve spent the past two years building strength I never had. As a result, I have no more knee pain at all.

Of course, with exercise comes bumps and bruises if you don’t do things right, hence how I wound up at the sports doctor recently. But working out prevents far worse future injuries. Which I was something I didn’t know or fully understand before.

Being skinny is great, but being strong is so much better. I weigh more than I ever have, but I’m firmer. When I lift weights, I genuinely feel like I’m taking good care of myself, now and in the future. I implore you to do the same.


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