Four Failures


I will never forget my first time. I sat rigidly on a small black chair with a short back, faced the expansive mirrored wall in front of me, and gripped a 15 pound dumbbell in each hand. I raised the weights into position beside my shoulders, and paused, looking intently at my reflection in the mirror. Then I began to lift the weights overhead, making a sweeping arc while breathing in and out as I had been taught. By the fourth set of 12 repetitions, I heard encouraging shouts of ‘keep going.’ Suddenly my arms froze in mid-press. My brain kept telling them to move. I commanded ‘push you lazy bitches,’ but my senseless shoulders did not comply. I looked in non-comprehension at my trainer and she just laughed. With the slightest assistance, she helped me to raise the weights, shakily, one last time.


It’s a cold house—a cold house, and a small one. When you get out of the bath, you wrap yourself in the towel—still damp from the last person who used it—and run downstairs, to dry in front of the fire. … ‘Oooooooh!’ rings out a voice, suddenly, from the tightly packed sofa. It is my mother. ‘Is that PUBES I can see?’ The sofa stirs into altertness. Everyone stops looking [at the movie] and starts looking at my pubic hair instead, except my dad, who appears absolutely unaware of what is going on and continues to eat crackers and cheese while staring at the television. … I feel like I’m not allowed to look for the pubes myself—I have to be nonchalant about it, although it is, frankly, news to me. [Excerpt from Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman, 39-40]


I had a major episode … which I didn’t know was an episode … pain in my feet, numbness and tingling going all the way up to about the upper chest and then back down, over about three days. I thought it was cool—I was poking myself and couldn’t feel anything! I didn’t say anything to anybody. … I didn’t think it was worth telling anybody. And if I told somebody like my parents, they would be upset. [Excerpt from Gabor Maté, When the Body Says No, 20]


After swinging my feet underneath the apparatus, I lightly press my legs forward, ensuring that the flat black pad will be safely lifted by my strong shins rather than my more vulnerable knees or weak ankles. I lean back, arranging myself on the vinyl chair so that I look good: tummy flat and triceps delineated. Turning away from the mirror, I reach down to move the pin into the 160 pound weight block, hoping that someone at the gym will notice and be impressed. After a few preparatory breaths, I thrust both legs upward, straightening my knees while trying to relax my upper body so that the stress is borne exclusively by my quadriceps. The movement is mechanical, as if a doctor is using a hammer to check my reflexes. This kicking is, however, purposeful and controlled. At the top of each swing, I flex my feet and intensify the contraction in my muscles, feeling an extra pulse of pressure directly above each knee, before slowly lowering my legs back down again. When the burning becomes too intense, I move the pin to decrease the weight by 10 pounds, and immediately restart my repetitions. Visualizing numbers in my head, I count towards 50, like a Sesame Street lesson. Clenching my teeth, and grunting with exertion, my eyes become unfocused. Everything goes blank and I am alone.

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

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