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My post-holiday workout has brought me to my knees.

For three weeks now, I have been attempting to complete a 35-minute aerobic workout without ending in a fetal position with thoughts of potential funeral hymns cycling through my brain. At one particular low point, on the second verse of “On Eagles Wings,” I was confident I saw The Light shining down on me from just outside our family room window. I will tell you, it was a mixed blessing to realize it was just a neighbor on a walk wearing a headlamp (and a face of serious concern). If nothing else, I have learned, I need to invest in curtains and expensive sports bras. In that order.

“Please don’t do that Mom,” pleads my fifteen-year-old son as he walks by eating a handful of cookies.

“I’m just following directions. The instructor says to roll your hips.”

“Yeh, but it looks like you are about to birth something.”

“First of all, you should know right now, birth is not nearly this sexy. Second of all, you are not required to watch me workout. Eat some carbs with abandon in another room please….”.

There was a day, moons ago, when I used to teach step-aerobics, but those muscles have been stored away with my matching neon leggings and hair scrunchies for decades now. My hips have been repurposed over the years, carrying babies instead of button-fly jeans, scaling the incline of Suburbans and indoor climbing parks (curse those net tunnels) instead of hiking trails and black diamond ski hills.

Motherhood asks a lot of women, not the least of which is to adapt our bodies to a new rhythm, a new dance. From the moment we conceive, a woman’s body must learn how to dance for two (or three, or four, or an entire brood…..) for survival. In addition to the functionality of growing and caring for new life, motherhood asks us all to listen carefully to the changing music, knowing when to lead and when to follow, when to improvise and when to insist on an established choreography. The dance is unique, the dance changes all the time, but for all, Grace is an imperative partner — for each other and ourselves.

There has been a lot of heated discussion about JLo and Shakira’s arena-shaking performance in the Superbowl halftime show last Sunday. Some believe the costuming and tone of the performance was too mature for the Superbowl audience. Some would go as far as to say this mega-dance performance was nothing more than female objectification on an international stage, reinforcing stereotypes feminism has fought hard to unravel, especially recently with the “Me Too” movement. Others interpreted this performance as empowering, noting the jaw-dropping athleticism and unapologetic confidence required for a performance of that caliber. I believe the reactions associated with the halftime show highlight our society’s continuing confusion regarding women’s bodies and sexuality.

Since the beginning of time, society has struggled with interpretations of female sexuality and power. While there are small libraries written on this subject, we don’t seem to be any wiser for it. Why do we desperately feel a need to categorize only women under labels of sexual OR strong? Why does one label exclude us from the other? Why must women defend their female sexuality while men are openly rewarded for their masculinity….especially on a platform like the Superbowl?

To those who argue this performance was an ungrateful display, a turning of our backs to those who fought for female equality, I would ask them to define equality, because at the heart of this discussion is choice. Shouldn’t we all, men and women, straight and gay, be allowed to choose who we are and when we are ready to take the next steps in our own dance? And why are we most threatened by those who seem to have solid footing?

Jennifer Lopez is a fifty-year-old woman with two children. Shakira is 43, and the mother of two boys. Katie Sowers, the assistant offensive coach for the San Francisco 49ers, is the first openly gay female coach in the NFL. The Superbowl was a useful example of how far women have come and how determined they are to choose their own future. Power is in the act of choosing, not the ability to prove you belong to any one label.

Personally, I heard the funeral hymns creep back into my psyche when JLo and Shakira performed in the Superbowl halftime show. My brow started to sweat and my hips ached with sympathy. I was proud as a peach to tell my son, “She is older than me. She just followed her own set of instructions….”

And my hips shake just a little bit slower…

Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.

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