Why I Work Out: To Be a Badass

“Maybe you can do the recumbent bike? Or elliptical? Although, I can’t see you getting off on the elliptical.”

These were suggestions from my physical therapist on what I could do during the running break he was about to prescribe. After making a face and laughing at the accidental double entendre (I have the humor of a 15-year-old), I wondered what he meant by that. He must think I’m a lot more hardcore than I am, I thought. Of course, I recently suggested as much when I asked him about a pain I’d been feeling in my shoulder since starting wide-grip pull-ups.

“Is there any reason in particular why you’re doing these?” he asked, after explaining the pain as biceps tendinitis.

I answered, “To be a badass.”

My response was without hesitation and while I laughed immediately after saying it, it wasn’t untrue.

Here’s the thing: I love action movies. The more punches, round-house kicks, and general testosterone thrown, the better. Part of it is that, well, said movies often feature a nicely built, good looking gentleman as the protagonist and, also often, there is reason for said protagonist to be shirtless at some point in time. Here is one of my favorite examples of this:

I maintain that watching Jason Statham fight is like watching a well-choreographed dance.

While part of it may be that I want to get with the action hero, another part is that I want to be the action hero. How awesome would it be to have your body as your weapon, ready to take down any foe that comes your way?

Now, I was never an athletic child. I never played sports, I quit ballet classes because I was heavier than the other girls, and I had a pretty solid relationship with Dr. Pepper. I remember quite vividly being in high school PE class and while a friend showed me the proper hand placement for push-ups, the coach came by and told me to drop to my knees because girls didn’t do push-ups on their toes. Maybe that’s when my quest for badassery began, because when I embarked on my fitness journey in college, you better believe that doing full form push-ups was high on my list of goals.

Add to this that I am 5’3”. I am not the shortest person I know, but in any given interaction, I tend to be the smallest person in the room. Typically I don’t give this a passing thought, but there are times when I am hyper-aware of the physical inequalities between my interlocutors and me. This usually happens in the presence of men: I’ve found myself craning my neck upwards to talk to three 6’+ contractors in a work meeting; I’ve shrugged away from men literally twice my size, taking up half of my seat on the bus; I’ve had dudes step in front of me to board the el first, as if I weren’t even there. For as much as I know I can hold my own in a room full of men, there is still a part of me that knows I’m viewed as the wounded gazelle amongst a pack of hungry lions. It’s disconcerting, being made to feel physically inconsequential, and I don’t like it.

For me, working out allows me to forget about these inadequacies. When I run 10 miles, I know I’m doing something that not everyone else can do. When I do planks and v-sits and hanging leg raises, I know I’m building myself up into something that will be harder to knock down. When I do a pull-up, I know I’m defying my gender norms. After all, women can’t do pull-ups.

I know I’ll never win a marathon or a pull-up competition or fight off seven bad guys wearing nothing but bicycle cleats and a thin layer of oil. It’s not that I need to prove myself to anyone else, but that I get great enjoyment out of proving myself to…well…myself.

And I think I am pretty badass. It’s pleases me to imagine someone else thinks so, too.

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