Contrary to popular belief, many fat people are physically active, and enjoy sports, dance, yoga, Pilates, and other forms of exercise. I like canoeing, and ballet, and walking around the city. I like to go to shows and dance. With the amount of criticism fat people receive for allegedly not caring for our bodies, coupled with the good ol’ calories in/calories out oversimplification of metabolism, you’d think society would welcome fat people into the “fitness” fold and offer encouragement and support. I have found it to be quite the opposite. Let’s look at a few examples.
#1: Gyms are the WORST
Ever been a member at a gym? Many fat people have, including me. Why did I join a gym? It certainly wasn’t to feel good. I wasn’t there in the best interest of my health, I was there to get thin because I was insecure. Nowadays, I might actually reconsider and join again, but only because I have enough self esteem now to navigate the DEMORALIZING MINEFIELD that is your average neighborhood fitness center. Sights are targeted on fat people as soon as they walk through the door. Nutrition counseling is almost always offered; the immediate assumption is that a fat person isn’t at a gym to build cardiovascular endurance, or swim, or do yoga, or build core strength — they are there to LOSE WEIGHT. Very fat people at the gym receive judgmental stares. It’s assumed we don’t know what we are doing, and that we are just in the way.
This punishing, aesthetic-driven mindset creates an atmosphere of body competition, and the endless walls of mirrors don’t help. I would go into the gym and do the same exercises as those around me, and I would sweat. I would breathe hard, harder than those around me, and rather than think “Whoa, I am working hard! Awesome!” I would think that I was somehow less than the two ladies on the elliptical next to me, chatting about their evening plans, without a drop of sweat running down their carefully made-up faces. Hard work doesn’t feel like hard work in a big gym setting; it feels like public humiliation.
#2: There is a scarcity of supportive, fashionable athletic wear
Society screams at us to be thin and “fit”, yet there is very little exercise attire designed with our bodies in mind. Not only are there a dearth of options, but some companies flat-out refuse to carry bigger sizes (I’m looking at you Lululemon) or even shame our bodies in the process (still looking, Lululemon). When I go looking for plus size exercise outfits, I am met with a sea of black polyester and spandex. I usually emerge feeling more like a stack of car tires rather than a sporty jogger or graceful dancer.
Another consideration is that we have a larger proportion of jiggly bits, and those jiggly bits, if left to jiggle unsupported, cause discomfort and sometimes pain. Let’s take me as an example: I have a large chest (38GG) and those puppies need to be strapped down securely before running and jumping anywhere. Retailers take regular sport bras, increase the dimensions, and just assume that something of a larger mass and volume will somehow magically bend the laws of physics and stay securely in place. My bras need underwires, and much more rigid fabric. An XXL sport bra at Old Navy is far to loose in the band to provide any support, while my cups spilleth over. Tops need to be longer, and pants need a higher rise to avoid ride-up/slide-down while in motion. And would it be too much to ask for patterns? Colors? Interesting details? Uncomfortable, ill-fitting and unstylish workout gear is antithetical to overall body positivity.
Working out when you feel ugly and are in pain creates an aversive relationship. I dug around and scrounged up some brands and prints I like for your consideration:
Oh the scale, implement of self-castigation for people of all sizes.
Scales are inextricably linked to exercise because society conditions us to associate exercise with weight loss. Fitness and wellness then become something measured with an arbitrary number system that actually provides us with very little information about how healthy we actually are, and those data are then combined with height to determine one’s Body Mass Index. BMI is a notoriously poor measure for fatness and health. I have friends who have had the luck to meet really thoughtful, body-positive personal trainers who de-emphasized weight loss as an ultimate fitness goal. One of my friends was told she wasn’t supposed to even step on a scale until after she’d been working her plan for a month, but even then the scale was used as final proof of improved health overall.
Scales are a constant reminder than we aren’t meeting a goal set by a society that determines our status and worth. I used to own a scale, and I would check it every day, celebrating every little dip and bemoaning every tiny increase. I used to weigh myself in the morning, while I was still dehydrated from sleep, after I peed but before I showered so that bladder fullness and wet hair wouldn’t add ounces to the readout. What I didn’t understand back then is that my celebrations and failures were fueled by bias, and rooted in discrimination. I don’t have a scale in my own home now. I resent “compliments” like “Have you been working out? It looks like you’ve lost weight!”, because they imply that the number, not the person, is the valuable variable in the equation.
Bottom line? My body is fine. Whether I work out or not is no one’s business. When I DO workout, I deserve the same resources and positive experiences normally associated with joyous physical activity. Want me to love my body? Then let me do it without judgment.