My mom, sister, and I have taken an annual girls’ trip to a spa for a number of years and in October 2019, we trekked to Miraval in Austin, Texas. In the program guide, we noticed that they had an activity called “A Swing and a Prayer” and since we're suckers for a good pun, we decided to sign up.
The morning of the event, we walked to the stated location near an unassuming wooden pole that seemed to get more assuming the closer we got. The group leader walked the ten of us through the instructions and handed out the safety harnesses with one version for the women and one for the men. As everyone was anxiously chatting, awkwardly giggling, and taking selfies as we put on our helmets and stepped into the leg holes of our unflattering harnesses, my heart suddenly sank. The harness I was given didn’t fit. I couldn't pull it up. Choking back tears, I said I needed a different one and the instructor had to call for someone to bring over the men’s version to exchange it for the one I had been given. I was mortified, and it left me feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and not at all excited for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It was so painfully familiar to me: feeling like my body didn’t fit. I have always been bigger than my peers, never able to swap clothes at sleepaway camp or shop at the cool tween stores at the mall (RIP Contempo Casuals). I had to shop in the kids’ hefty department (seriously, that’s what it was called) and borrowed items from my mom’s sensible wardrobe instead of selecting from my sister’s cute and trendy one. And, here I was, now 40 years old with my body still not fitting into what was deemed appropriate. I cheered as my compatriots took their turns for the big thrill while I quietly slunk to the end of the line not wanting to draw any more attention to myself than I already had.
When it was finally my turn, I sheepishly climbed the ladder and nervously took my place on the starting block. I felt like a float at the Macy’s Day Parade wondering if the instructor at the helm and the group members assigned to support me would be able to manage my heft. I turned my attention to my mom, my sister, and my fellow participants who were shouting words of encouragement, cheering me on, and drowning out those negative thoughts in my head. I was slowly raised to the top of the pole when suddenly everything got quiet. My heart was racing and my super grip on the rope was starting to hurt. I heard the instructor say to take a moment to look around and take in the beautiful view of Austin’s hill country, before he said, “Marissa, what is it that you need to let go of?”
A slew of memories, images, and regrets came flooding in. How much of my life had been wasted thinking about my weight? How many times had I held back because of my body image? How much creativity, connection, and joy had been squashed by my preoccupation with how others might view me? I didn't want to give any more time, energy, or power to those self-imposed limitations that were feeding me excuses (pun intended) to play it safe. Ironically, feeling big all of these years had made me feel small, and that just didn't seem to fit anymore.
I took a deep breath, said a little prayer, and let go.
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