So, I started going to the gym in February. February 8th, to be specific. I had never so much as set foot in a gym before (my ‘working out’ had always been confined to my apartment, or the basement gym of an apartment block where I could go at 3am and never be seen.)
I decided to go to the gym for three major reasons:
1. The two people I spend most of my time with (my roommate and my significant otter) go to the gym regularly. Really regularly. Everyday, every second day, twice a day. They do very serious things at the gym and they seem to really enjoy it.
2. I went to the doctor, and I got on one of those cannot-tell-a-lie digital scales, and the results were…significant. (More about this later.)
3. I committed myself in 2014 to taking control of my life. More budgeting, less driving, more writing, and more self-care. The gym seemed to fall into that.
Once upon a time in 2009, I went to the doctor (for birth control, the only reason I could ever truly justify visiting a doctor back then.) and got on the digital scale, and weighed in at approximately 412lbs. Now, it is no joke when you’re told you weigh over 400lbs. You want to crawl into a hole and die. I decided then to lose weight, and I did. I told myself that if I lost weight I would be prettier and happier. I used Weight Watchers (totally works, lots of fun), all sorts of funny diets, half-hearted juice cleanses, some very hesitant working out – 2 or 3 times a week, and a lot of shaming. I shamed myself, and welcomed shaming from other people. I generally made myself miserable. BUT I lost like 95lbs (at my most, those last 25lbs yo-yo’d a lot.) So, by that measure – I totally won.
However, when I was confronted with major life change and crisis, I couldn’t sustain my frenetic eating habits and lost the grip. I kept promising I’d get back to it, but didn’t really get around to it. Now for a moment of real honestly: I didn’t get around to it because I got into a new relationship with someone who didn’t fetishize my fatness, but didn’t shame it either. Eventually after a couple months of this grievous lack of shaming, I realized I was too happy to bust my ass losing weight that I didn’t mind having, and apparently no one else minded either.
It’s easy to lose weight when I’m miserable, it’s harder when I’m happy.
However, when I got on the scale in February and it said 396lbs, I thought, “well, shit. I’m 28 now, and things feel fine now. But how long will that last?” I decided that I would order workout clothes and go to the gym the very next day. I also decided that if I liked the gym, I’d keep going, and maybe think about my food more, and see if I could lose some weight. I realized it didn’t need to be lots of weight, and it might not budge at all (ol’ metabolism isn’t what it used to be, it takes me three days to recover from a mild hangover.) I also realized that it wasn’t going to make me happier, or prettier. (In fact the only tangible result I would expect would be crossing back over the “visibility line” where a fat girl goes from being sexually invisible, to being an object of sexual fixation. This is SUCH an awkward experience.) I also had the realization that I gained 70-some lbs because I was happy, because I’m dating someone who fails to appropriately shame my body. Hardly seems like a thing to cry over. (Also, failed to notice said weight gain. WOW.)
Now, for the driving point of this post: How is the gym (Gold’s Gym in Courthouse, Arlington) for a fat girl?
To be quite frank, it’s fantastic. It’s great fun. The day I got there, everyone was really nice to me, and not in a condescending way, or a relieved way, or the way I imagine people are in Evangelical churches, but in an honest kind of way. They made clear they were happy I was there, and they seemed excited because I was excited. They didn’t issue me any tedious warnings, or make me commit to promises I didn’t intend to keep. They simply showed me around, told me I would get a free session with a trainer, and sent me on my merry way.
I’ve been almost every day, sometimes twice a day depending on what sort of day it is. I generally work out for 60 or 90 minutes, I walk (I nearly broke into a run yesterday, my legs said “yes,” and my brain said, “cool it, you’re not ready.”), I bike, I have training sessions with an awesome, attentive, highly capable personal trainer, and complete her weight workouts three times a week. All in all it comes down to about 90 minutes of weight training, and 5.5 hours of cardio a week. It’s not easy, and it’s not “getting easier” because every time I do it, I make it harder for myself, constantly attempting to beat my last day, or personal best, and I keep rigorous records (the spreadsheets are at least 30% of the fun.)
Now, this may seem rather rose-tinted and idealistic, but remember, I am a fat person. A real, live fat person. The gym is in Arlington. Fancy-pants Arlington.
The people in Arlington are not known for their fatness, but rather their public jogging, trips to Whole Foods, and general sveltness. I workout alongside all these slim, trim Arlingtonians. In the evenings, most people in the gym are my age – runners, lifters, joggers, cross-fitters, men and women. During the work hours, 10-4, there are more older people, stay-at-home moms, people recovering from surgeries, or accidents, fat people. The folks who work in the gym treat everyone exactly the same, they are helpful, supportive, cheerful, and present (should someone need advice, or should I fall and snap my fat ankle).
I say this with total honesty, I never feel put-upon, or alienated by these far thinner, far fitter people. They see me, they see me in my pink sneakers, and my leggings (yep, I wear leggings to the gym and everywhere else. Want to get comfy with your body, ladies? Wear leggings) and my fat. They know that some of the things they do could damn near kill me, and I do less in my whole work out right now than they might do for a warm up, but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to be there, it doesn’t make my fitness goals or my hard work any less admirable. In fact, I’m sure the people who see me there every day feel no animosity toward me at all, why would they?
I’m not interfering with their workouts, my walking or biking doesn’t stop their workout. They don’t know why I’m doing this, or where I come from, and I don’t know anything about them. I have no idea how the guy lifting a lot of weight did before he could do that, or what that girl who is sprinting like crazy’s life is like. And I don’t feel like they’re judging me, because I’m not judging them. I don’t think they don’t have anything better to do, or that they lack real intellectual pursuits, or that they are shallow, empty, or stupid. Most importantly, I don’t assume that they hate me, or find me gross, or would make fun of me because I’m fat. I don’t go into the gym with that attitude, and so I get to bounce out with the same enthusiastic glow as the sprinter, and the lifter (but not the same self-important air as the cross-fitters) because I know why I’m there, and I find that environment to be encouraging, exciting, full of potential, and promise.
So next time you’re fat (or even less fat) in a gym and feel put-upon, take a second and think about the assumptions you’re making about the people you think are judging you.
PS. I’ve lost 16lbs!
PPS. Trust me, the moment someone makes a shitty comment to me in a gym, I will have no hesitations about putting them in their place, because guess what, I paid to be there too.