From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Sit-Ups Till Your Eyes Pop Out

Worry is a misuse of the imagination.

Dan Zadra

The day was glorious, warm and fresh, the sky a clear Wedgwood blue. I was out for my morning run through the forest preserve, feeling vibrant and strong, breathing in the smell of new leaves and sunlit air. My electric-orange running shorts were cut high, showing a lot of leg, the black jog-bra cut low, showing a lot of skin.

When my shoelace came untied, I crouched to retie it. That’s when I saw it. A fold of dimply flesh hanging over the waistband of my shorts. I gasped and shot up, arms high as if being robbed, looking at my belly. It was gone. Oh, thank heavens, I thought, it had just been a hideous hallucination. So I bent to finish tying the shoe, and there was the blasted thing again.

I had been blessed with thin genes and was one of those women who other women regarded with envy as I packed away unladylikemounds of food and never gained an ounce. I naively thought itwould last forever and Iwould die an old woman with firm breasts, a tight butt and flat stomach.

The offending flesh shocked and appalled me, and I knew I’d have to get really serious now, so along with running, I took up aerobics, step-classes, spinning and Pilates. I started strength training and a new routine of leg lifts, curls and squats. I bought an Ab-Blaster.

At brunch one day I laid out my new exercise regimen to my friend Judi.

“This has to be obsessive-compulsive disorder,” Judi pronounced. “You already look too good. Here, eat some of my eggs Benedict, you sicko.” She pushed the gooey plate toward me. “If you get any better, I can’t be friends with you any more.”

Judi’s idea of exercise was getting out of bed in the morning, and her idea of a healthy diet was a green salad and Diet Coke with her fettuccine Alfredo and chocolate mousse.

“I have to work on my stomach,” I said. “I want six-pack abs.”

“Hah!” Judi said. “I can just see it: you, in an ad in the back of a women’s magazine, seventy years old, face wrinkled like linen on a hot day, but you’re standing there in a string bikini, all buffed out with those six-pack abs.”

“That won’t happen,” I said. “I’ll have had a facelift before the photo shoot.” I dipped a piece of pineapple in low-fat yogurt but felt faint from the aroma of eggs Benedict wafting up my nostrils.

“You’re fifty years old. You can’t get a six-pack when you’re over fifty unless you go to a liquor store.”

“Sure I can,” I said. “I just have to work harder.”

“Didn’t we always say we were going to grow old gracefully?”

“Yeah, when we were fifteen. We also said we’d never spank our kids in the grocery store and we’d never use a cell phone and we’d never turn into our mothers.”

Judi shrugged, pulled back her plate and took a large bite, dripping with hollandaise.

“Look at Cher,” I continued. “Look at Goldie Hawn. Every time I see Goldie’s flat stomach in one of her little body-skimming evening gowns at the Academy Awards, I want to scream. She’s older than I am. If she has a flat stomach, I can, too.”

“Those women spend more on plastic surgery than we spend on our mortgages. Get real. No one’s exempt. We’re all getting old. Let’s do it with some dignity.”

I considered Judi’s words as I immersed myself in my new training program. What does aging gracefully mean, I wondered one day as I did twenty extra squats. Letting yourself go? Giving up? I ran an extra mile that day.

On the day I finished fifty crunches and thirty-five leg lifts, I heard Judi’s voice in my head: “No one’s exempt. We’re all getting old. Let’s do it with dignity.” And when I finally worked up to sixty-two reps on the Ab-Blaster (shooting for one hundred) I collapsed, gasping, wondering where this was getting me. The belly-roll was still there in spite of my punishing efforts. I could probably do sit-ups until my eyes popped out and that flab would sit there, unperturbed, mocking me.

I lay on the floor, mopping my sweat-soaked hair. And then I got up, grabbed the Ab-Blaster furiously as if it had bitten me and took it out to the trash. I vowed to accept being fifty-something with all its consequences: excess hair where I didn’t want it, thinning hair where I did, drooping breasts, sagging butt and the inability to focus on my eyelashes as I tried to coat them with mascara. I would be happy with who I was and how I looked now. I would. I really would.

I opened a Diet Coke and drank thirstily, looking out the kitchen window, breathing in the smell of the sunlit air. Something moved by the garbage can and I frowned and squinted. Someone was picking up the Ab-Blaster. Hesitating for only a split second I rushed to the door and threw it open with a thwack!

“Hey!” I shouted, running out. “Leave that alone. I need that!”

Samantha Hoffman

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