Skinny Daily Post


My grandmother, Leone, was not a slim woman. She was sturdily built. Fairly tall for her time, and round all over. Strong.

She was raised on her family’s farm, along with a boatload of sisters. Among them, she was the least slim. She was a teenager, and lamented her figure. Why couldn’t she be thin like her sisters? Her father, my great-grandfather, in an effort to console her, famously said, “Leone, there are race horses, and there are workhorses. You, my dear, are a workhorse.”

This line has been held for now five generations as an example of male idiocy. But I’m interested in re-examining it.

He was, after all, a farmer. He had little use for race horses. But he could not survive without a good workhorse. He knew their value, and they were far more valuable — we might say beautiful to him — than the sleek, sexy race horses who could offer only a momentary entertainment, at best. He was paying Leone a compliment.

It didn’t work.

I live in a very modern home. This place was built two owners ago by a guy who completely embraced a clean-lined, modern aesthetic. It is all clean lines and planes, steel and glass and concrete. It is a modern house at its foundation and down to its bones. The owner between the builder and me? Did not embrace the modern. This guy made several runs at remodeling the place to change its nature. Every effort to change it made it function less logically. He didn’t want a modern house. He wanted country charm. He sold the place when he just couldn’t make it work. Our job has been to restore it. We love the modern aesthetic, so restoration is fun for us. Trying to figure out what the house was before and is trying to be is a good puzzle.

I was born with the body I will live in for the rest of my life, and I’ve never been happy with it. Always wished it was something it could never be, no matter how many remodeling abuses I subjected it to, no matter the crazy diets, extreme exercise, circulation-cutting fashions, foot-crippling shoes, bladder-abusing diuretics, no matter the beauty chemistry or diet pharmaceuticals, the carcinogens, the bleaching agents, the dyes, the paints. I’ve taken up or fallen for pretty much every sort of product, procedure, service or habit designed to make me something else. Something I’ll never be — a race horse.

And you know the rest of this story… Now that I’m old enough to know better, I would give anything to have the body back that I had before I started hurting it and hating it. I’d like to rewind, go back, and appreciate what I had. It was a perfect specimen of its type. The fact that its type wasn’t fashionable, and has never been during my lifetime, is a painful memory. But I should have gotten over that a great deal sooner. What is maturity good for anyway, if not accepting your one body?

Every time I made a great effort to transform my sturdy, strong frame into a slim, willowy one, I weakened myself a bit more. I am very sorry for that. What I’d like to do now is take it all back, apologize to my cells and circulatory system and skin and muscles and bones and brain and endocrine system. I’d like to sooth them all back, make peace, and restore them all. But I’m not made of stone and steel and glass. Restoration is not so easy.

But that’s my new goal. Not to remodel my body, but to *restore* it to its natural, sturdy, strong, workhorse state. Not some fashionable ideal. Back to what it was before I knew enough to hate it. There are race horses and there are workhorses. I am a workhorse. Or I could be, if I take good care of myself.

And my other new goal? To try to ensure no future generation in my family learns to hate their bodies because they aren’t entertaining enough for the times. That’s much harder work. I can figure out my own restoration. I have no idea where to begin on the last part.

Do you know? If so, spill it please. And how about you, anyway? What sort of horse or house are you?

16 thoughts on “Workhorses

  1. Martha says:

    That was wonderful! Very inspirational to me. I too am a workhorse! I am short and now although at my ideal weight, stocky! I look like I did in high school, I am actually almost the same weigh and I am 54 years old.
    I now work on my health it’s far more important to me now. I now jog, walk and ride a bicycle for long distances. I eat a vegatarian diet. I am not on any medicaitons. I have accepted that I am beautiful. At least my husband thinks so.
    Thanks so much for the analagy. It was an eye opener.
    Keep up the great articles. It’s great to see you back.

  2. Mj says:

    Workhorse… definitely workhorse (I can look at my DD, who is a racehorse, and be sure). And that’s OK.

    What is a bit distressing is that the workhorse is starting to not be able to do what she used to do. And I don’t know how much of that is remediable.

  3. Jennifer says:

    workhorse, for sure. Never been thin…best I can hope for is healthy and a little more streamlined than I am now. 80 pounds down, and a bit more to go until the load I’m carrying isn’t myself!

  4. Gail says:

    That was great! I am definitely a work horse and through the years I have gotten more “work” shaped. I think we need to start at a very young age telling the girls how beautiful they are, how to exercise to keep healthy whether by dance lessons or karate lessons or just riding bikes and walking. Girls start at the age of 3 worrying if they’re fat. I have found that one of the best ways to talk to your child is go for a walk with them, things come out that you normally would not have found out about them and it gives you a chance as the parent (or grandparent) to try to rectify their thinking and feelings. Glad you’re back, keep up the good work.

  5. Patty says:

    As my sister and I finished walking and jogging a 1/2 marathon last fall, we were laughing about coming from sturdy peasant stock…built for work. We are the types who can haul bags of groceries and baskets of laundry, rake leaves by the mountain, move furniture by ourselves, hike long distances and trudge on for hours. Definitely not built for speed. But what a blessing to have a strong, healthy body. Clydesdales are beautiful, race horses are beautiful……glad to see The Skinny Daily Post back in action.

  6. Ann says:

    I am a workhorse, too. And glad to be…I love that my three girls look to me as a strong woman who can open the jar of pickles, check the oil in my van, dig in the dirt, hike up mountains and run down them, too. Like Patty says, not built for speed, but definitely for the long haul.

    I just found your site. I love your “program”…common sense, good old fashioned common sense.

  7. Ann says:

    Oh. My little cupcake. I hope that’s okay. I just couldn’t find any other pix small enough for an avatar. I don’t mean to offend or tempt.

  8. Kitty says:

    I LOVE the concept of restoration… must be an age thing. I already complained this week about that broken foot of mine. I’m just at the beginning stage of getting back to a decent healthy fitness level. Starting with a massage today to help with the back pains from limping.

    One healthy, happy step at a time. Just trying to get back to my energetic self.

    It’s all in the attitude, isn’t it?


  9. Kathy says:

    I enjoyed this reading this morning. It was like having coffee with a good friend. I am encouraged by your words of wisdom. That said, I’d best get to work, and not just stand around all day eating in a pasture.

  10. Karen says:

    I’m so glad you’re back to writing. You’ve got such a gift!

    I had to laugh at your comment about foot-crippling shoes. Well, my DIL convinced me to buy some pointy-toed small heel shoes. I wore them last Sunday and 5 days later my knees STILL hurt! At 52 – what WAS I thinking!! Anyone need 2 pairs (red/black) size 8 foot-cripplers?

    Have a great day!

  11. Angel says:

    Thank you for this entry. I can relate. I am 46 years old and at the tender age of 18 my five-foot nine inch body rested comfortably at 140 pounds. I was beautiful workhorse–really I was. I look back at pictures of myself then and marvel at the beauty my face and body held, but I could not see it because I was blinded by my own expections. I hated the fact that I didn’t weigh 120 pounds. I was always comparing myself to those “willowy” people out there. Over the years, I continued to hate myself all the way up to 365 pounds. Through many lessons and self-discovery I am only now seeing some long-term sustained success. Over the past 14 months I have lost 90 pounds and kept it off and currently am losing about 1-2 pounds a week. For the first time in two decades I can look at my face that has shed some of it’s puffiness and notice the cheekbones and jawline that are the underlying foundation for an attractive face. And for the first time in my life, I actually feel pretty. What’s crazy is that I weigh 255 pounds still with so much progress to make yet, but I have learned to love myself and only wish now that I had learned the lesson a little sooner.

    P.S. Clydesdale horses rock!

  12. Cindy says:

    Work horse, definitely. I have always felt strong and capable of anything—too much so, in fact, at times. When my body got so big that I was losing abilities, I finally got the message and started doing something about it. However, my knees are shot and my 46 year-old body sometimes feels WAY older than that. This pain may be the legacy of all those years of abusing my body. This doesn’t seem fair, but ti is what it is… How do you deal with not being able to turn back the clock and change the things you would want to?!

  13. browneyedsusan says:

    My mom, who grew up working on her grandparents farm in Georgia, was short and fat. (I’m made just like her) When she was 16 she wanted an expensive blue suite that she had seen in a catalogue. Her grandparents gave her a parcel of land to plant peanuts to sell in order to buy that suit. She worked that land and lost weight in the bargain. I’m sure she looked real cute in that blue suite. (She would tell that story with such pride.) She was a beautiful work horse who died from compications of being overwieght. Heart condition and diabetes. I’m doing my best to not let that be my future. We work horses need to keep on working. And never give up.

  14. Cindy says:

    Juju you made me weep as I read my thoughts on your page. Oh how I wish… and no, so far I do not know at all how to spare the ones I love most from going through the same horrible stages before – I hope and pray – coming to appreciate and love the body they have been given.

    Make them have no contact with popular culture? Put blinders on them so they never see an advertisement on a billboard or in a magazine? How does one counter such powerful messages?

    Since I have finally come to appreciate the body I have been given (and yes, I too, would love to apologize to every single cell in my poor abused frame!) I LOVE to feel my muscles work, I love to see what I can do with them. So the only thing I know to do besides pray, is let them see me loving and moving my body. I’ll talk, too – but who knows if they will hear me.

  15. Briget says:

    Oh, juju, I love this. I am (was) actually a racehorse, but an off-kilter one, due to being unfashionably short-waisted and having a scoliosis that has now, at 55, cranked me around from waist to shoulder. I was diagnosed at 43 with Type 1 diabetes, and though it’s under good control (I wear a pump), insulin puts on pounds, and I now have a workhorse-like middle with racehorse arms and legs. It’s riddled with osteoarthritis, too. And of course I don’t like it. I too would like to have the body I began to hate and try to change during my 20’s. It was young, and lithe, and there was NOTHING wrong with it except the stuff I believed from reading magazines. How lucky I was, to have that body that never hurt, never let me down when I needed strength or endurance. How I wish I could go back and appreciate it. But at least I now know what I know. I appreciate how much of it still works. And I try everyday to be thankful for that, and to exercise it and feed it good healthful food, and to appreciate it for what it is and not to blame it for what it is not.

  16. Kery says:

    Definitely a workhorse. And now, for the first time in my life, it’s okay with me. 🙂 I too have wondered about that, and decided that I had to accept what I am. So, okay, I’m a sturdy little thing that looks more like a dwarf out of some med-fan game than a tall, lean model? Well then, I’ll use that to its full extent. I won’t be a race horse, but I’ll sure be beautiful in my own, muscular way, even if it’s not to the taste of a part of the population. 😉 Besides, I can be thankful that my body IS strong. Now that I’m giving it enough nutrients, it’s become amazingly solid and enduring. My hopes are that I’ll be able to maintain such a body as long as possible, and still be fit and in somewhat good health when I’m old.

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