It’s well established that body image is a struggle for me, as it is for many people. There’s a multitude of factors as to why a huge majority of people find one, and usually many, reasons to dislike their bodies, and basically, it sucks. It sucks not feeling happy with the way you look. End of story, it just sucks. So when you find some way to find a little peace with yourself, it truly is an amazing feeling. Until something like this happens…
The scene: A hoity toity health club where nearly NO ONE is overweight. All people working out seemed to already have achieved ideal gym toned bodies.
Enter a 30 year old woman about 18-22 pounds away from an ideal gym toned body (11 of those pounds just recently regained after a hard-fought battle to lose them before turning 30). Though she is one of the very few in this club not already possessing an ideal gym toned body, she is happy and looking forward to meeting with a trainer because she truly does enjoy putting in a good workout. She is in very good health and rather than focusing on getting that ideal gym toned body is there to find new workouts to push herself a little harder again after spending seven weeks away from a daily gym routine.
Enter a 20 something male trainer. In good shape, not a total meathead, but a person that clearly is fit.
The two talk for about 45 minutes on workout styles she’s enjoyed in the past, what made her lose 13 pounds recently, and what led to gaining most of that back. The conversation seems to be going well and the woman thinks to herself, ‘this could be a great person to help me get back into a good routine and help motivate me when I need it.’ The trainer asks what her ultimate goal is when working out. She thinks for a while and, much to her surprise, finds herself at this conclusion:
“Honestly, I know I will never be a small girl. I never have been, and that was really hard for me in the past, but recently, after doing about three months of really intense workouts, and not necessarily losing as much weight as I thought I would from that, instead of being disappointed I came to appreciate my body for what it is capable of doing and not what it looks like. I’d like to just keep working out as hard as I can and maybe have someone there to motivate me with that when I need it so I can keep that feeling going, because it’s taken me a really long time to feel this way about myself.”
The trainer nods and takes a few notes. The girl thinks to herself how proud and excited her old trainer, who worked with her for three months, and really emphasized body acceptance, would be to hear this. She feels proud and even though as she looks at her legs in the mirror in front of her and still sees thighs that are larger and calf muscles that a bigger than most of the girls working out behind her, she likes what those legs are capable of. Five years ago, hell, even five months ago, she never would have had this thought. She still had days where trying on clothes was a nightmare and sometimes her upper arms made her feel as if she should never be allowed to wear tank tops, but on the whole, she felt happier than she could ever remember, even after gaining most of the weight she had just lost back- still happy.
So the consultation between the trainer and the woman ends. They discuss another time to meet, and as they part ways the trainer makes one last comment, “I think I could definitely help you with some more intense workouts, but it disappoints me to hear you say something like ‘I’ll never be a small girl’ because I used to be overweight myself and if you just put more effort into it and make certain lifestyle choices, you could be smaller and you could be happier with yourself.” Interesting, the woman thinks to herself. They hadn’t really gotten in depth on her “lifestyle choices”, what one could only assume means eating habits, so it seemed an odd thing to comment on, but the woman decided to think on it some instead of rushing to judge the comment.
So this was me at my gym with a trainer about six weeks ago. I really did try not to rush to judgment after the trainer said that to me, but the more I thought about it, the more irate/sad/embarrassed I became. WTF. I could be smaller and be happier with myself? Well, fuck you very much for telling me finally making a huge step in gaining self-acceptance has been all for naught because I’m still not as thin as you think I should be! And fuck you very much for fat shaming me and fuck you very much for assuming I must be making terrible lifestyle choices because I’m not a size 4 (or under) like most of the women at the gym and fuck you very much for assuming that I haven’t been putting in effort to be where I’m at now physically. Now, I’ve had people say rude things about my body, usually behind my back, sometimes even to my face, but that was in like high school when people were asshats like that and wanted to try and make people feel bad in order to make themselves feel good. But this felt different. Getting to a place where I felt this way about myself literally felt like climbing up a steep mountain and while busting out my sweet victory dance at the top having this trainer be like ‘just kidding, keep on climbing, fattie!’ It was definitely a setback. And maybe if it had just been some random guy, it wouldn’t have knocked my newly found self-confidence so badly, but as a trainer, a person who deals with bodies on a regular basis, this comment felt ultra-harsh. Since then I can attribute more than one bad mood due to shitty, negative, ‘you’re legs/arms/stomach are/is too untoned/flabby/gross’ type thoughts roaming around in my head. I also couldn’t stop myself from flat out rolling my eyes when a guy I was on a date with told me I looked good in the dress I had on. And I definitely spent a few nights in tears after trying on outfits only to feel like every single thing made me look like a giant Sasquatch.
Unfortunately, there is no pretty bow to wrap this story up with, no happy ending…yet. I’m working like hell to figure out how to get back to that place of loving myself for the way I am, and I’m still working like hell in the gym. Not because, like Trainer McDoucherson said, being smaller will make me happier, but because working out and seeing what my body is capable of will. I’ll be in the gym everyday riding those post-workout endorphin highs until I get that sense of peace back and love that my thighs may be big, but they can do a boatload of lunges and still make it up stairs the next day and that my upper arms may be slightly Hulk-like, but they can get me through 60 laps in the pool in the morning and still manage to carry reams upon reams of paper in the office later that day. I want to get all that back, and more, so the next time some asshat tells me I need to be smaller to be happier I can say ‘I may not have your ideal gym toned body, but I sure as shit have mine. ASSHAT.’