For the past week, my nose has been buried in the book, “The Year of Living Danishly,” written by the wildly insightful and passionate Helen Russell. When given the opportunity of a new life in rural Denmark, Russell was confronted by a comforting reality: Denmark, often deemed a land of dark, incurable winters, legos, and decadent pastries is, in fact, the happiest place on earth. But what is the secret to this eternal happiness? Russell delved into this question over the course of one year, dedicating herself to uncovering the formula for this seemingly superficial joy. In the long run, she reveals to us both the positive and negative aspects of Denmark, all the while showing showing us how we might all live a little more Danishly ourselves. Above all, she shows us that is not a superficial joy, it is a happiness rooted in an appreciation for life's simplicities.
Among the commendable childcare, notable education, delectable foods, and interior design, there was one aspect of Russell’s discoveries that motivated my longing for a Danish lifestyle: strong, resilient viking women. Yes, at first read this comment of mine may seem alarming or may even cross the line over to offensive; however, it lends nothing but praise to the powerful women figures living in Denmark. During her stay in rural Jutland, Denmark, Russell took note that the women around her were not stick-thin. The slender physique of “over-pilated” women were no where to be found in Denmark, nor were women trying to git into double zero sized jeans. In fact, it is quite the opposite in the happiest place on earth. When visiting a local bakery, Russell witnessed an encounter between a American tourist and a Danish baker that would be regarded as nothing less than peculiar in a place like the U.S. When greeting the Danish woman behind the bakery counter, the American tourist, overcome by her beauty, complimented her by saying, “You look like a viking woman!” Ok, if anyone had said that to me in my hometown, I would have thought they were calling me stocky. Manly, even. And that would have been seen as a completely terrible thing. It would have put a damper on the rest of my day, or even would have sent a rush of questions through my head: Have I been wrong in the way I see myself? How could I have walked out of the house not knowing I looked manly, or even worse, big? But in Denmark, Russell saw that the woman behind the counter looked genuinely pleased and thanked the tourist for the ‘compliment.’ In Denmark, unlike most other countries, being seen as a strong woman is an accolade. Being thin is not particularly desirable, nor is it encouraged. In Denmark, there are no misleading social media platforms that portray weight as the pinnacle of “being in shape.” Weight is not considered a symbol of fitness, and losing weight is not seen as a prized result of leading a a health-conscious lifestyle. In Denmark, there are robust, all-powerful viking women. And they are proud of it.
When reading Russell’s undeniably witty, truthful account of Danish living, there was one aspect of her journey that struck me the most: Danes live their life with blinders on; they remain loyal to their beliefs despite constant influence from other lifestyles. When discovering this, I recognized that Russell’s suggestion of living more Danishly might be beneficial to me after all. Maybe it is time to channel my Scandinavian roots.
Up until a few months ago, when I underwent a drastic change in workout routine, I only responded to the identity of “runner.” In my mind, “being fit” was synonymous with being lean. Never would I have imagined the word “viking” being synonymous with “fit.” With passing months, I have come to recognize running as more of an impulse, an addiction rather than a passion for me. Miles were counted exasperatedly, rather than enjoyed. When running, I lost touch with my body and transformed into a machine. It was not until I discovered strength training that I began to harmonize with my body, and discover the beauty in power, strength, and resilience all the while abandoning thinness as a defining factor for ultimate fulfillment. I quickly learned that veering away from familiarity and setting new goals in line with my new fitness regime takes tremendous bravery. It takes living Danishly— putting on your blinders to avoid being distracted by other workout routines that are not conducive to you. While everyone around me was “slimming down,” chasing the thin frame regarded so highly in today's world, I was reminded by my trainer day after day that strong always comes before skinny. I paired strength training with food to fuel weight and muscle gain— in other words, Danish words to be exact, I was embracing my inner viking.
Today, more so than any day, I have embraced the Danish compliment of being a powerful viking woman. In celebration of my nineteenth birthday, I spent my morning at the strength training gym I have come to love throughout the year, and successfully finished a birthday challenge only a certifiable insane person would have spent their birthday completing. (To my trainer: without the music from my birthday year, 1999, this workout would have been insurmountable). When reflecting on my birthday last year, completing a workout as challenging as this would have been physically and mentally impossible. I rigidly held myself to the false reality that thinness defines fitness. In my mind, lifting weights of any kind would only lended itself to a stocky, masculine frame. Never did I consider the beauty in feminine strength, and the power accompanying this.
My nineteenth year will be one like no other. My nineteenth year will be a year of living Danishly— putting on my blinders to focus solely on what aligns with me, my health, and my values. Straying from familiarity takes an exceptional amount of courage, but if you accept the challenge, you will have the power to find your inner viking. I encourage all of you to recognize the beauty underlying power, strength, and resilience.