My love of competition and sport became apparent from an early age. Legend has it that on being invited to take part in the sibling race at my brother’s sports day, I stripped off to my knickers and stood at the start line, bare chested, bare legged, elbows and knees and waist bent into the standing start position of long distance runners, head down and ready to go.
I won. I received a lollipop and a medal along with all the other participants. And then I cried. Why? Well, I was the winner but my prize was shared with those who came in behind me and I simply could not fathom the injustice of this state of affairs. Amongst my family members at least this story became synonymous with me & my love of all competition and would be told on those occasions when the point needed to be illustrated and this part of my nature needed exposing – explanation to boyfriend-at-the-time on why I was insisting on finishing a 3 hour game of monopoly because I was winning, when everyone else had long since gone to bed? Check.
But there is always 1 element of this story which strikes me as more interesting than my competitive nature and sense of injustice at having to share my victory and that is the strident removal of my clothing. The body confidence with which I stripped to nearly nought, aged 3, in front of a crowd without any feelings of doubt. According to my mum I was accutely aware that clothing might impede my success so I stripped off, without any hesitation. What a lovely story, you may say. What a nice little insight into my colleague/friend/acquaintance/Pilates Teacher. But this lovely little anecdote has elicited a rainbow of ever changing emotions from me as I have endured it’s retelling, over and over again across the decades.
In my late teens I’d hear this story and think, I chose to get nearly naked in front of a crowd of spectators? WTF? At the time I was running middle distance for my school and county and regularly wearing those athletics running knickers (we used to call them ‘Edna’s’ but I have never figured out why) under extreme duress, pulling off my tracksuit bottoms at the very last second possible before each race and pulling them on quicker than you could say ‘Orange Peel’ at the finish line! The situation was exacerbated by the asinine observations of a young male sports coach who as I crossed the finish line of a grueling Cross Country meet (yes, I was first) wearing those minimal athletics pants shouted “Norrington-Davies! You’ve got Cellulite”. That same enlightened individual also once commented on the back of my legs in a short tennis dress. I was about 15 at the time.
By my mid twenties I’d hear this story and whilst I’d acknowledge the cute nature of if I’d cringe inside at the thought of doing it in the hear-and-now including on the beach, where I’d wrap myself up in board shorts and sarongs and hide my bum and thighs from scrutiny. For a large part of the decade I was travelling around the World from Australia to Asia, India and Africa. I was visiting some fantastic beaches in some beautiful places. I spent much time under a long t-shirt. I was worrying about the shape, size and consistency of my thighs instead of admiring views which belonged to postcards and films and books.
By my 30s appearing in my knickers in front of anyone other than my husband or gynaecologist was unthinkable.
At 3 winning the race was my priority and stripping to my smalls was incidental if it meant I ran faster. By my 30s, winning itself was incidental if it meant I had to strip to my smalls. INSERT A GREAT BIG SAD FACE EMOJI RIGHT HERE!
I would go so far as to say that sport took a back seat for 2 whole decades partly because it meant showing my body. I hated public swimming pools. I stopped playing tennis and hockey because at the time competition clothing required the wearing of very short skirts. I sort of gave up on sport because I felt my physique was somehow incongruous with an ideal of how a sports woman should look. The irony barely needs explaining.
So how do I feel now, 40 years on from that Sports Day strip-athon? Well whilst I love the story I also mourn the lost decades of obsessing over my body. Of swimming unimpeded in oceans I have visited from the Pacific coast of Western Australia to the Caribbean and the South China Sea. Of hockey games and tennis games I didn’t win. Of races I did not run. Every time I hear it I mourn a little for the teenage girl who loved sport but hated the very thing that facilitated it. Her body!
When I started this blog far from wishing it to be some kind of crusade against Women’s Body Image I wanted it to be a place people visited for positivity. Each time I sit down in front of this screen I try to write about how sport, working out, training, exercise, physical activity, etc, etc somehow changed my life but slowly the realisation has hit me that at some point in my life I let my feelings about my body affect my love of sport. And I’m saddened by that.
So here’s a little positivity. Last Saturday I was lucky enough to attend a ticket-holders-only sample fashion sale which meant of course trying on clothes. In a warehouse. With no changing rooms. In front of lots and lots of people. SCREAM! So I did. Just like that 3 year old charger who loved winning, at all costs, I pulled of my layers and tried on trousers and dresses and shorts and jeans. I stripped off to my smalls in front of complete strangers, male and female alike of all body shapes and sizes and I went for the prize – 3 bags full of very keenly priced clothing. And this time I didn’t mind sharing the spoils!
Part 2: The curse of comparison. In the last year, due to big life changes I have been afforded the luxury of ample free time to devote to getting as fit as I can and I have been, absolutely, no holds barred, completely and utterly loving it. This experience contrasts completely with previous years. Years when sometimes exercise seemed like torture. When I would go through rapid cycling of quite literally, working (& dieting) my butt off to sitting on my butt doing nothing. Inevitably my weight has fluctuated up and down, alongside my mood. If I’d thought to keep a line graph of my weight fluctuations circa 1987 to 2014 it would probably reveal more ups and downs than the FTSE 100 share price over the same time period.
In the last year I have realised that motivation comes in many forms but that for me comparison is the killer. I’ve always wanted to do better, be better, just be, well MORE. Or in the case of my weight, LESS.
During the 90’s there was a trend for super-skinny models. I spent much of the ‘90s girl crushing on the likes of (super skinny, fairly tall) Amber Valetta, Kate Moss and crew. As a 5ft 5in sporty girl my aspirations to look like them were all in vain. I trained for hockey 3-4 times a week and my physique reflected that. So what did I do? I dieted and denied myself food and in fact, I pretty much cut healthy foods entirely. I competitively counted calories! I think my entire calorific consumption at one point during my Uni years came exclusively from alcohol. At one point I bottomed out the scales at 7.5 stone (or 105 pounds, or 48 kg), the same weight as ‘heroine chic’ skinny Miss Moss. I may have weighed the same as her but I sure as sh1t didn’t look like her. I had set myself an unattainable and more importantly unmaintainable body goal (be like Kate Moss) against which I was erroneously comparing myself. True, at the time I didn’t know any better. But when Johnny Depp did not come calling I felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment and failure. Worse still, I became so ill that my hockey suffered and by the end of my second year at Uni, I threw in the towel, or hockey stick. Now, I wasn’t playing hockey, wasn’t exercising and I inevitably started to gain weight.
Like millions of women before me this cycle repeated time and time again. To cut a potentially very long and boring story short, fast forward to summer 2012 and more girl crushing, only this time on Jessica Ennis Hill, Britain’s chirpy poster girl for the London 2012 Olympics. Hell, at the time, with me weighing in at 9st 13 lbs. (61kg, 135 lbs.) at least I was near the ballpark. At the same height as Jess, 5ft 5in, relatively fit this time around I wasn’t in the starvation diet zone. BUT, I was running around 40 miles a week (65 km). I spent hours in the gym. I went to combat, Pilates, lifted light reps on the power plate, body fat literally being shaken off me (or so I thought), and crunched away like a crazy woman but still, no visible abs like gorgeous Jess. Cue the inevitable and overwhelming sense of disappointment and failure.
It’s really NOT rocket science. To compare your body to others and to set a goal based on some pictures you have seen is a recipe for body hatred. Just like when millions of woman walked into the hairdresser clutching a picture of the ‘Rachel’ (Jennifer Aniston’s iconic hairdo from 90’s blockbuster show ‘Friends’) a million hairdressers drew in their collective breath, sucked their teeth and cursed the day the ‘Rachel’ was styled. Not only do very few woman have exactly the same hair type as Jennifer Anniston, neither did many of them have the time or resources for maintenance of said do. As customers walked out of the hairdressers, swishing their gorgeous new locks to-and-fro, convinced they were about to meet their very own Paleontologist (you’d have to watch the show) the inevitable disappointment would follow either the very next day when they woke up with very un-Rachel-like bed hair or worse, within minutes of the heavens opening the moment they stepped out of the salon.
Kate Moss is a party legend. During the decade that I aspired to look like her she (anecdotally) survived on a diet of late nights and Marlboro lights and actually, so did I. I stopped exercising because I was exhausted all the time and I actually became very ill. I didn’t reach my ‘goal’ because it was simply not a realistic one.
More telling, a quick Google search of Jessica Ennis Hill’s Olympic training schedule will tell you that in the run up to the Olympics she was training at the English Institute for Sport for 30 hours a week. Behind the obvious team of physical trainers were physios, nutritionists, physiologists and bio-mechanists able to advise her on everything but who were ultimately responsible for constructing the machine that was her body. And let’s not forget Jess Ennis is driven, so driven in fact that she devoted the preceding decade to training for her goal which was to become an elite sportswomen who would one day win Olympic gold (not to be the skinniest or most ‘jacked’ version of Jessica Ennis). Furthermore, Sport England was pumping oodles of cash into that construction job alongside construction of the Olympic stadium in which she would compete. At the same time, at 14 years her senior, I had 3 children under 10, a full time job, a lengthy commute, limited funds, time restrictions and, blah, blah, blah. Need I go on? What the heck did MY abs have to do with Jessica Ennis Hill?
The fitness industry is as guilty as every other in promoting itself through the medium of comparison. Just as washing powder A is purportedly better than washing powder B, we are constantly being sold an ideal based on ‘before and after’. If you’re trawling through the Internet looking for ways to lose weight you will come across a multitude of side-by-side shots of people who have shed 100 plus pounds. On the left they look unhappy. Their lives were less than perfect. On the right they are usually smiling, on holiday, sporting a new hair-do. There is a usually an exercise plan, diet book or supplement accompanying these transformation photos and we’re succored in, to the tune of Billions in cash. Facebook is awash with posts of incredible people doing incredible things with obnoxious bi-lines like ‘do you even exercise, Brah?’ The videos are often of improbable characters (toddlers, 17 year old girls, amputees, 90 year olds) performing amazing feats. Are these supposed to inspire us? You, yeah you, you lazy Shrinking Violet lady! Constantly exhausted, mother of 3, sitting on the sofa, always on Facebook – can you even do this?NO! Well this kid can – so you suck!
There is a very famous Women’s Health glossy whose monthly cover will often churn out a ‘Run Like Paula – 6 weeks to your best marathon time, like EVAH’ type comment. So you grab your copy off the supermarket shelves and before you’ve even had time to get home and unpack the shopping you’ve sunk into a state of despair realising that, in the real world of work, the winter evenings setting in, your niggling Achilles pain, after school clubs, preparing supper and getting at least 1 wash on today, with the time you’ve got left to train you’re unlikely to get a sub-5 time (hopefully you’ll finish), never mind break world records with the slightly super-human Paula Radcliffe.
My personal favourite ‘you and them’ comparison, when it comes to fitness is the ubiquitous ARE YOU BIKINI READY? articles. Every April, every year, since Noah launched his Ark (do they even write new articles, or simply regurgitate from the previous year?), some gorgeous goddess in a bikini, holding a bright pink, 1kg dumbell in a weirdly porno style ‘gym’ pose is telling you that you CAN get bikini ready, and look like her in 6 weeks. And look like her? I doubt it. And if you do, it won’t be with the assistance of that fluorescent paperweight she’s clutching to her barely covered breasts. That shoot IS HER JOB, her paycheck. That’s what she spends her day doing. Even if you follow the exercise plan the article is prescribing for a year, it’s unlikely you’ll look like her unless you actually become her. Which you cannot.
Even with our own progression shots we are often negatively comparing ‘better’ or ‘worse’ versions of ourselves. How bad is that? How many times has one of your beautiful friends bemoaned her ’20s’ body, or ‘pre-baby’ body? At my lowest weight I was actually quite lonely, unhappy and ultimately probably, depressed. At my leanest, exercising every day I was also lonely, unhappy and ultimately probably, depressed. I was either obsessing over my calorific intake or scheduling my next run/yoga/sweat session. And it wasn’t healthy. And I still hated my body.
Everyone compares himself or herself, all the time. Do you even Practice Yoga? (I know, sorry). Then I know you have taken furtive glances across at the girl, with the tan in the pink Lulu Lemon T (you couldn’t afford last time you checked) whose nailing every single asana in the balance series. You’re flapping about in your over washed maternity leggings with holes in, wobbling all over the place? Or check out the hippy bloke whose Vinyasa jump through is graceful and silent as you ‘thud’ back to your matt to only just catch your plank. Once, ‘cos next time it’s a step through and you’re already wondering when this torture will end. Yes, even Yoga, whose very philosophy defies comparison, when practiced in the aspirational West is a little fortress for a heightened level of comparison. I know this even though I know I shouldn’t! Think about it – how long has she been practicing, how many hours, does she have kids, is she extra strong, super flexible? Does she have a tutor who comes to the house? Is she a teacher, on her day off enjoying a class for her own development? The point is, who knows? My advice to myself now is a very stern ‘look away, focus and get on with your own your practice’.
I am trying really hard to quit comparing myself. My commandments for 2015: I will not be coveting anyone else’s body and equally as important not my pre/post-baby/running days/yoga days/age 15 body. I am not striving towards anyone else’s gym achievements; just because some health and fitness guru can complete 15 strict pull ups it does demean my ugly, grunty efforts. I will covet no one else’s life (man though, that is deep). I will not covet someone else’s expensive workout gear (but I do so lurve LuluLemon). I will exercise because it makes me happy, not to reach some aesthetic body image. Sure, I’m working out most days right now and striving to get as lean and fit as I can be, right now, because it feels good. Not so I look good in a bikini.
This year, I am thinking of my body as I would my car and I don’t care that it’s a writers cliche – no comparisons, right? It is getting older and more outdated with every passing year. It is a maintenance job and so there will likely be regular visits to the garage. It needs fuel, not too much nor too little and sometimes I will treat it to the premium branded good stuff, sometimes I’ll queue at the supermarket for the discount petrol. It’s not as flash or new or fast as my neighbour’s but then I can’t really afford to change it. On some mornings it probably won’t start and maybe I won’t use it for a week or two or three. And other times, I’ll take if for a quick exhilarating spin. But I’ll try to remember to turn it over at least every day. I don’t love it but I am familiar with it. It goes from A to B and with continued care and attention it may well last me for a few more years yet. At least I hope so. Thanks for reading.
A sequence of un FATunate events (or why do we hate our bodies?)
In the UK in the late ‘90s there was a fabulous Russell T Davies show called Queer As Folk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queer_as_Folk_(UK_TV_series) chronicling the lives of young gay men navigating life in Manchester through its Gay Village, Canal Street. The main character is the obnoxious Stuart (played by Aidan Gillen) who is narcissistic and selfish and, well, oozes rakish charm. He is so confident you cannot imagine any vulnerability affecting his glamorous, advertising exec’s life. He is No Shrinking Violet. Or so it seems.
The show was generally quite light hearted and very funny and yet the scene etched in my memory is where Stuart is forced to ‘come out’ to his parents by the untimely, spiteful insinuations of his obnoxious little nephew. The scene unfolds in a suburban living room. Stuart’s Dad asks him to ‘come and help’ with some flat-pack furniture to which Stuart responds ‘I can’t, WE (sic; gay men) don’t do hammers and nails’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5_-ou6H7eg
Stuart: Long Pause. ‘Because I’m queer. I’m gay, I’m homosexual, I’m a poof, I’m a poofta, I’m a ponce. I’m a bum-boy, batty-boy, backside artist, bugger. I’m bent. I am that arse-bandit, I lift those shirts, I’m a faggot, I am a (insert every single homophobic slur you can think of here)……’ and so it continues for 2 increasingly graphic minutes, finishing with the stinging, final flourish, ‘What I am not is a pervert’.
My potted conclusion is that Stuart is not only coming out, but punishing his family by regurgitating the homophobic rhetoric that he has grown up hearing them use in the apparently safe confines of his own home (hence the living room location). He’s, kind-of, rubbing their noses in his revelation. Why? Well as a young gay man Stuart has repeatedly heard these words and perhaps interpreted his own sexuality as ‘shameful’ or wrong (‘‘What I am not, is a pervert”). Unbeknownst to those who love him, he is under covert and constant assault by his own family and this perhaps explains the behaviour of his character?
So what the hell has all this to do with WHY some of us hate our own bodies?
Can I even dare to compare Stuart’s experience with my own? Nah, definitely not but I can empathise with exposure to a constant negative rhetoric that ultimately influences how we feel about ourselves as we grow? During Stuart’s formative years the viewer can assume he heard a drip-feed of anti-gay sentiment, so-called ‘casual’ homophobia (it’s not casual folks, it’s just homophobia!) which led him to think he was a pervert and possibly, in the wider context of show explains why he (and ironically his horrid little nephew) behave the way they do. I know its Apples and Pears (sorry, no pun intended) but during the image-centric 80s, 90s and 00s myself and many other young women were drip fed the idea of the perfect and not-so-perfect body. This happened in our living rooms, was perpetuated on TV, in the glossies, on the posters we put on our walls. Popular films of the 80s – remember ‘10’, ‘Perfect’ anyone? Women’s bodies were under constant scrutiny. Barbie and the (positively inferior, slight more voluptuous and now extinct) Sindy were our dolls. Super models were our role models. Eastern European female athletes were criticised for looking like men. We didn’t talk about Fatima Whitbread in terms of sporting success, but her body. Female tennis players were discussed for their beauty. Steffie Graf’s legs would have had their own Facebook page, in this day and age (but Oh! What a shame about her face – come off it people, she was the best female tennis player that ever lived). I know I’m shamelessly jumping decades here but Heroin Chic graced our 90s magazine covers, even unnaturally skinny was praised and celebrated. Lady Di was lauded whilst the Duchess of York was dubbed ‘Fat Fergie. When Prince Charles finally admitted that he was in love with another woman, I remember one not particularly enlightened individual wondering how he could bring himself to ‘bed’ such a grotesque human form over and above Princess Di (read: only the beautiful deserve love). Posh Spice was too skinny whilst Ginger Spice was too fat, oh, and too Ginger. Anyone remember the early 00s show hideously titled ‘What-Not-To-Wear’, where Thinny & Skinny (or whatever their names were) told us we should wear this, or that and definitely NOT wear that, that we should ‘disguise’ our hideous natural body shapes with uncomfortable elasticated underwear that could cause a DVT. They went on to market their own brand, of course. Duh! Demi Moore endured 3 full decades of tabloid ‘revelations’ over her bodily fluctuations. We pored over the pictures, read the articles and as individuals interpreted the words.
So, how does this rhetoric affect the Growing Violet? Well, just as Stuart comes out in glorious, explicit and shocking Technicolor to his audience (and I really think he enjoys it) so shall I. Here is my ‘Shrinking Violet does Stuart from Queer-As-Folk’ scene.
Friend: ‘SV, let’s take a selfie.’
Shrinking Violet: ‘I can’t’
Shrinking Violet: ‘Because I’ve got orange peel, because I’m short and stumpy. Because I’ve got Clements* legs, cankles, no thigh gap. I’m a pear. I haven’t got the legs for it. I’m flat chested. I’ve got shoulders like a Bulgarian weight lifter, legs for hockey. I’m a rack-o-ribs. I crack walnuts with these thighs. I am that short, dimply bummed, ginger-minger and yes my collars and cuffs do match, thank you very much! I am bingo-winged and muffin-topped. I will never look good in a mini skirt. I shouldn’t wear ‘that’ (fashionable skinny jeans, knee high boots, crop tops or shorts). I will wear sarongs & t-shirts on the on the beach to cover my bottom and boot cut jeans that ‘suit my shape’. I have hips for childbirth and I did indeed ‘shell peas’. I will always eat too much because I have an appetite like a horse and if I don’t watch out, I will end up taking after so-and-so (family member). What I am not, is a PERFECT!’
Did I really grow up hearing all that? Yes, I did. BUT what I am definitely not, is a victim. I’m just trying, as an adult who has reached a very happy truce with her own body, to understand why I have been ashamed of it for so long and why I spent about 30 years keeping it covered up and hiding it from others. Nearly every other female I know probably felt the same way as I did. Did I indulge in the same sort of language about others? Of course I did. Looking back though, I am horrified by how much of my precious time I’ve wasted obsessing over something so trivial.
Unlike Stuart, I’m certainly not trying to rub anyone’s ‘nose in it’. In fact, at this juncture I’d like to make it VERY clear that I had and still have a very supportive Mum who in my memory only ever made comments about how beautiful I was. Shame I did not hear through the other noise – remember, Shrinking Violets only ever hear the negative. Stuart has every reason to feel angry and in spite of his own character’s dubious treatment of other characters on the show, I remember watching the scene with a lump in my throat, feeling nothing but compassion for little Stuart.
There is no poisonous little nephew bribing me to keep my little secret or force me to come out as a body-hater. And there is no moral to this blog post (although we should all be careful what we say around impressionable minds, perhaps). But suffice to say I intend to waste not a second more hating this amazing collaboration of skin, bone and flesh that is my body. I’m not necessarily going to strip off, bear all and celebrate it either. But I am going to try and respect it and take care of it with the best diet I can manage depending on the day. Exercise, when I have the time and the inclination. And definitely, definitely not continually criticise it. Thanks for reading.
*Clements legs are a family trait – they are straight up and down and chunky’ish around the thighs. To qualify for real Clements legs there must also be a hint of cankle. They are, indeed, built for sport. They are the very best legs I have.
I wish I did have a pound (or better still dropped a pound of fat!) for every occasion someone had said this about me, “Well, she’s no Shrinking Violet“. I would have paid off my mortgage with change. I’ve never figured out what they mean but I’m assuming they were referring to my love for going on a night out with friends, or being the longest on the dance floor (I love to dance), my argumentative nature (I like to be right, especially when others are wrong), or my garrulous interaction with my buddies, especially when drinking. Or maybe they were thinking about how super competitive I am. Or maybe they were referring to my love for clothes and expressing myself with (sometimes) interesting fashion choices. Who knows?
The truth is, I AM a Shrinking Violet.
Growing up I frequently felt afraid in social circles, even my own. I may have been in, but I felt OUT. I never got the party started, but I was often the last man standing, drink and cigarette in hand. In fact discovering alcohol in my teens was probably the only thing which got me to the party in the first place! But this isn’t a blog post about teen alcoholism or even teenage anxiety. It’s not even about self-acceptance, self-worth or self-love. It’s about me being a Shrinking Violet and getting on with it.
So what makes a Shrinking Violet? The list is long. She tries to win approval, she predominantly hears negative thoughts, she is afraid to speak out, she procrastinates, she obsesses over her body image and her hair, face, clothes, etc. She compares herself to others, all the time. She sometimes avoids going out worrying that the invitation is disingenuous. If she does go out she might avoid eye contact, cross her arms, bite her fingernails, hang out by the bar, drink too much and perhaps indulge in a bit of gossip, putting others down to alleviate her feelings about her own mediocre personality. She tries to assimilate to fit in. She HATES school pick up. She’s an extroverted-introvert with self confidence issues thank you very much Mr Carl Jung!
You all already know that self-confidence has a lot to do with feeling good about yourself, about who you are and not giving a damn what others think of you. Well it’s taken me 42 years, 2 academic degrees, 2 husbands, the birth of 3 children and God knows how many painful hungover mornings (regretting all your actions anyone?) to come to the realisation that I’m happy lacking self-confidence. I’m okay standing in the corner of a room, arms crossed, feeling anxious about meeting new people. Because that, my dears, is who I AM. And in this confidence-centric culture, where we obsess over fixing ourselves I know that I don’t want or indeed, need to be fixed.
I’m HAPPY being a Shrinking Violet.
Buuuuutt….. (and there’s a big BUT here – I’m not speaking anatomically) being a Shrinking Violet does not mean accepting and continuing with negative and oftentimes self-destructive behaviours. DUTCH COURAGE (confidence from drinking – although in my experience a phrase which could just have easily have evolved as British Courage) is not true courage. And I suspect if left un-checked it can become a different sort of dependence altogether. Denegrating others to feel better about yourself is, well, not so good either. And hanging about waiting for good things to happen in my career, my bank balance or to my body or mind is quite simply unrealistic.
Okay, so now I’ve ‘exposed’ myself though the medium of social literature you may be asking what the ‘eff is this Shrinking Violets Fitness all about? Well, it’s about everything Shrinking Violets Fitness! I’m not a scientist. I’m not a physical, nutritional nor analytical therapist. I haven’t appeared in a bikini on the front of Womens Health (although many of my athletic heroines have). I am not a celebrity fitness trainer. I am a professional-amateur fitness Shrinking Violet who feels she has something to offer other Shrinking Violets who want to get a little bit holistically fitter. I want to discuss, debate and perhaps debunk, with a little known science called Common Sense some of the myriad information out there pertaining to life, and healthy living. I may even put pictures of myself out there, in a bikini (cork that wine bottle, darling!).
There is a lovely little cliche out there which says that Fitness is a journey, not a destination. Well Shrinking Violets Fitness is my departure point. Welcome!