Working Out While Fat

Just after I reposted my story of why I left Goodlife Fitness in 2006 two super posts appeared on the problems of working out in public while fat.

The wonderfully titled essay by Lindy West, Hello, Fellow Gym-Goers, Look at My Fat Butt, details how wonderful exercise is but also how awful it is be everyone’s idea of a ‘before’ picture:

The more I exercised, the more I loved it. I felt strong and lean, I had tons of energy, I slept like a brick. But my body didn’t look much different. You’d still see me on the street and read “fat person.” And as a fat person, going to the gym is doubly challenging. There’s the basic challenge we all face—of getting the fuck out of bed, finding a clean sports bra, physically moving your body toward a place where a man will yell at you until you do enough lunges (IT DEFIES ALL EVOLUTIONARY LOGIC)—but for fat people, there’s an even more intimidating challenge on top of that.

It’s entering a building where you know that every person inside is working toward the singular goal of not becoming you.

Do you know how hard it is to walk into a building devoted to not becoming you when you are you!? It’s the worst! I’m me literally every day! “Fat=bad/thin=good” is so seamlessly built into our culture that people I consider close friends don’t hesitate to lament their weight “problems” to me—not stopping to consider that what they’re saying, to my face, is “becoming you is my worst nightmare, and not becoming you is my top priority.”

And Emily Anderson published Fat Acceptance at the Gym Burns More Than Calories at Women’s E-News. It’s an excerpt from her contribution to the anthology “Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion.”

Being a fat woman at the gym is in itself an act of social disobedience. I shouldn’t be in there, taking up the space of the lithe-bodied, unless it’s with a face of sincere penance and shame. But I have claimed the gym as my own. I celebrate being visible and fat all over the gym–running and sweating and sometimes breaking into song, lifting dumbbells alongside muscle-laden men with uncompleted tribal band bicep tattoos, flinging my weight around in aerobics and finally cooling it poolside in my bright, non-apple-body-shape flattering tankini.

I smile and chat with women before yoga and mention how hungry I always am after class and can’t wait to eat. I want to be seen. I am fat and happy in places where I should be fat and shameful, and denying this stereotype is a political action in my eyes.

You should definitely go read Anderson’s essay to find out about her daring and transgressive act on the elliptical machine.

I loved what both writers had to say, despite my own ambivalence about the word ‘fat’ as it applies to me. Thanks Lindy West and Emily Anderson for your fat pride trail blazing ways. I too hate it when people assume I’m either new to the gym (ha ha ha) or that I must already have lost a lot of weight and then they express admiration that I’ve made it so far. I really do worry about putting fat people off exercise when they think they only reason to do it is to lose weight and then they meet me.

I’ve often thought I’d like to teach a fitness class for big people, one that doesn’t mention weight loss at all. No mention of calories burned or looking good in your skinny jeans. I’m cool with people trying to lose weight–I’m not without goals in that department myself–but my dream class would focus on fitness and moving for fun only. The Y’s fitness instructor certification classes look like they might be fun. And I think I’d have a blast teaching spin classes too. Perhaps I’ll get my certification as part of this ‘fittest at fifty’ project.

Clearly, there’s a need for a spaces without fat shaming. A gym in Vancouver, Body Exchange, set out to create a safe haven for plus size exercisers but it ran into controversy with its plans not accept skinny members.

The Province interviewed Tony Leyland, from Simon Fraser University’s department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology, about the plus sized gyms and he was adamant that people not downplay the social value of creating safe places for mothballed bodies.
Leyland also says some bodies are naturally resistant to being lean. Even slightly pudgy people can be terrific athletes, he says. “Fitness trumps a lot of things,” he says. “The evidence is clear that people are really going to benefit from getting fit whether they lose weight or not.”You can read more about it here, Canada’s only plus size fitness company: no skinnies need apply.
I’m still not sure of what I think of a plus size only gym–generally speaking I prefer inclusion to hiding out in safe spaces and I worry that then people would think that’s where you belong, “Get thee to the fat gym”–but I think plus size, healthy at every size inspired classes would be lovely.

About Sam B

Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist!

One thought on “Working Out While Fat

  1. [...] Of course, it’s not like things improve once you leave the locker room. My main complaint is that everyone assumes I’m new to exercise and that once I get into the groove the pounds will just drop off. Um, here let me pick up that very heavy weight for you and no, no they won’t. For more on this theme read Myths and Stereotypes Are Ruining My Zumba Class!, Five Things Every Gym Should Already Be Doing, and Working Out While Fat. [...]

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