By Karen Secord
(Karen’s past Food Fights diaries are available in the Article Archive)

Man, I hate sweating. All that smelly perspiration cascading downwards, causing moistness that stains clothes and makes makeup smear.

When I was a pre-teen I sweat so badly that a good portion of each school day would be spent devising ways to prevent others from seeing my sweat.  I stuffed tissues in my armpits. I folded pieces of cloth and tucked one end into the side of my pointed Playtex.

I even tried sneaking some of the “pads” from my mother’s secret stash at the back of her closet and using them as a kind of underarm sweat barrier. It was as if my arms were velcroed to my side.  If I had thought gluing something there would have worked, I probably would have tried that. Not very practical for an 11-year old.

My fear of being ridiculed for having sweaty “pits” was immobilizing.

I was literally frozen by my less-than-girlish issue. It was bad enough that I was twice the size of my classmates, but to have this crazy hormonal side-effect just seemed to reinforce a stereotype of sweaty & slovenly during the slim & swanky “Twiggy” era.

I was a child in an adult body.

My father insisted that each one of his five children participate in a winter and a summer sport. I assumed, of course, that I was the only one sweating and that sweating was wrong so that made me some sort of mutant because I did it profusely and, what seemed to me to be all the time.

Playing ringette freed me from my sweat-phobia. So did swimming (even if it did expose a whole other spectrum of neuroses).

Softball heightened it. I loved softball and if memory serves me right, I wasn’t a half bad second-baser! Still, often times I had to raise my arms in the air to catch a pop fly or to throw to an anxiously awaiting teammate. Inevitably, my ball shirt advertised ever-expanding half-moon markings I just couldn’t get past.

Between the constant worry of my sweat being exposed and trying to pretend, at least to myself, that I looked like everyone else, stomach-churning anxiety came to define me.

Fast forward 40 years and I now have the “look” I have always dreamed of. But the anxiety hasn’t subsided.  I am still me on the inside, even if the outside is unrecognizable. A smaller tummy and reduced body mass haven’t altered my memories. I still abhor sweating, especially forced sweating (aka exercise).

Nevertheless, it became increasingly apparent that not exercising would be foolhardy and that walking was not enough to strengthen my upper body. I joined a gym in my neighbourhood because reduced body fat has meant lost muscle tone and I just knew that I had to face facts.  My filled-out flab had become floppy flab.  A personal trainer designed a strength program suitable for my fitness level (pathetic!) and instructed me to complete ever-increasing rounds three times a week.

After three rounds of three exercises on the first day of my gym experience, my legs were so wobbly that I struggled to walk down just three stairs. Over the next few weeks my body adjusted to the challenge. But my mind didn’t. The sweating started to get the best of me. I made reality-twisting excuses – not enough time, too tired, too old, can’t afford. The truth, however, was that I had embarked on unfamiliar territory. . . and the idea of movement induced perspiration as something to be celebrated simply made me gasp in horror!

Today, thanks to a Behaviourist at the Ottawa Hospital’s Weight Management Clinic, I am training my mind as well as my body. Both involve sweating. Both depend on positive self-talk. Both are about the claiming/reclaiming and building/rebuilding of self-esteem.

I wonder if anyone really grows to accept and like themselves exactly as they are?  Do more women than men allow unrealistic body image expectations define who they are?

My apologies to Marshal Paige for not being at his wonderfully supportive gym more often.  Tomorrow I start over. . .  again!

PS: I am looking for house sitting/pet sitting opportunities beginning early August. I am available for short or long stays in and around the City of Ottawa. If you or someone you you know is going away but doesn’t want to leave their home unattended or put their animals in a kennel, please contact me at this email, kswrites@rogers.com, or call 613-304-0878. (Karen’s past Food Fights