Pudgy, never quite good enough – that’s what the lady looking back at me through the mirror preached. I swallowed all of it.
My daughter’s Christmas present changed everything. It looked innocent enough: a few printed lines in an envelope. But my stomach turned inside out as I read them: a gift certificate for twenty-four fitness classes. My daughter smiled expectantly. I smiled back through clenched teeth.
That night, the lady in the mirror yelled at me. "Ignore the gift," she said. "You can’t display your pudgy body at the gym."
January came; the lady in the mirror convinced me to do nothing. February rolled around; she won again, and the guilt grew. March arrived; another round with my nemesis ended up in a screaming match. By the time April came, guilt overwhelmed me and I decided to stand up to her for my daughter’s sake; I’d find a way to survive the humiliation. But she smiled wickedly and I stalled once more.
Out of excuses and scared to death, I eventually entered the dreaded fitness center on a Monday in May, wearing an oversized T-shirt and baggy sweatpants. The young girl at the desk was a size 2 at the most—she probably never ate a cookie in her life. She pointed to the aerobics room.
When I walked in, the lady in the mirror stared back at me. Who let her in? The whole front of the room was one huge mirror, top to bottom, left to right—no place to hide. My pudgy arms, jiggly thighs and enormous buns looked back at me. I had to get out of there.
But just as I made my move to the door, the music started and the crowded room came to order. I was shoved into place and the instructor announced the aerobic segment would last "twenty little minutes." These were going to be the longest twenty little minutes on my life.
I did my best to move to the music. The singer told me I looked good today, but she was lying. Ask the lady in the mirror, she’ll tell you. The teacher said to give it my all, but I cheated every place I could. I prayed no one would notice my smaller steps and heavy breathing. The lady in the mirror laughed. Then it was finally over. I went home and had an ice cream sundae, with an extra cherry on top.
Wednesday came around too fast, and the lady in the mirror convinced me to skip the aerobics class. I grabbed my favorite magazine and a candy bar and plopped myself on the couch. That’s when the phone rang. "You remember you have class today, Mom?"
I dragged my still sore body to the gym. The same size 2 girl sat at the front desk, and the same wall-to-wall mirror glared at me. The dreaded class started. Ten minutes into it, my skin dripped with sweat, and my nose screamed for me to get away from my own smelly self. But as I concentrated on the moves, my body woke me up from the inside out. The awkwardness almost left, and I enjoyed myself just a little bit. After class, I splurged for a purple water bottle—if I was going to keep going, I’d do it in style. Take that, lady in the mirror! I still had my ice cream Sundae when I got home.
Friday was rainy, and the lady in the mirror said to take it easy. But my purple water bottle called out to me. I went to class and survived. Three classes under my belt! "Twenty-one to go!" the lady in the mirror scoffed. I came home to a little card waiting for me on the kitchen table: "One whole week done, Mom! Way to go." This time, the lady in the mirror cringed as I smiled. And I forgot to eat the ice cream Sundae.
I became more conscious of what I ate. I found myself choosing a few carrots instead of a candy bar. I drank water with lemon instead of that sugary soda. I switched from chocolate chips to raisins in my banana bread recipe.
Twelve classes down the road, I was almost having fun, not needing to cheat quite as much any more. One of the ladies said I looked smaller. I stepped on the scale when I got home –three pounds lighter! I wouldn’t boast to the lady in the mirror yet, but I smiled all evening, and skipped dessert. Maybe soon I could go buy a pair of those fancy workout pants all the other ladies were wearing…
Over the weekend, at my son’s cross-country meet, I ran from one point to another to catch him on the trail. I didn’t even run out of breath—was I really getting fit? I decided I would try to run one whole mile at home the next Saturday.
"Who are you kidding?" the lady in the mirror said.
When Saturday came around, I laced my shoes, singing outloud to silence the lady in the mirror’s laughter. I started to run. One whole mile later, I stopped, my heart soaring. The lady in the mirror didn’t dare talk to me again that day.
My jeans actually felt a bit loose a couple days later. To celebrate, I went for another run; this time, I made it through the two-mile marker. Could I do three? That would be next week’s challenge.
When the twenty-four classes were up, I signed up for another session. The numbers on the scale kept creeping down, ever so slowly. I ran each Saturday, pushing a bit further each week. Me, the fat, pudgy lady, running five miles! By now, I found an almost permanent smile in my heart.
A year later and twenty-five pounds lighter, I was loving every class, hardly ever missing a day. I moved from the back row to the front, and even occasionally looked in the mirror. The lady staring back at me didn’t look too angry any more. And most importantly, she had stopped telling me how ugly I was. At times she almost smiled.
My aerobics teacher got pregnant and taught through much of the pregnancy. At about her sixth month, she asked me to stay after class. When all the ladies were gone, she brought up the idea of me taking over her class. The lady in the mirror stood up in a fury, back to her old tricks.
"I can’t," I said. "I’m just a bit too pudgy, if you know what I mean…" She gave me a puzzled look.
"Would you at least give it a try? I’d teach you all you need to know until you can be certified," the instructor persisted.
I dreamed on the way home, but the lady in the mirror turned mean, laughing out loud. I knew then that the confrontation was inescapable.
When home, I slowly walked up to the mirror, mentally preparing myself for the showdown. The lady in the mirror had been my comfortable nemesis, my safe escape from life. Would I survive the dare?
Taking a deep breath, I squared my body and braced myself to defend my new found self. I opened my eyes to stare her down.
She just stood there, perfectly quiet.
I took a long, long look at her. She wasn’t the way I remembered her. The lady gazing back at me had a new air of confidence about her. I liked her; she looked lovely.
I burst out crying. She cried with me.
I filled out the application and was hired soon after. Since then, I have teaching fitness classes a few times a week, daring women from all walks of life to stare down the lady in the mirror at first, and then to make her a best friend.
And we are winning, one mirror at a time.