Working out while fat

Yesterday morning I went for a jog in my neighborhood, as I now apparently try to do at least once a week. As I went past a bus stop, an elderly gentleman smiled at me and said, “way to go!”

I smiled, nodded and kept jogging. I know it was a compliment, I know it was well-intentioned.

Yet, we live in the culture we live in. And in this culture we live in, I am completely unacceptably fat.

Lindy West writes Weighty Matters at Jezebel. Recently she posted a piece, Hello, Fellow Gym-Goers, Look at My Fat Butt. In it she makes a point which occurs to me with some frequency. When I go to the gym, I’m “entering a building where you know that every person inside is working toward the singular goal of not becoming you.”

That’s fascinating. It truly is.

I can’t know what everyone at the YMCA is thinking, of course. But I presume that the vast majority of them have accepted some portion of the dominant cultural narrative regarding weight. That fat is life-threatening. That fat is moral weakness, a failure of will. That fat can be avoided and removed or reduced by simple effort. That thinness can be achieved by anyone, and maintained by everyone. That thinness is always desirable over all things. That fat can never coexist with fitness.

These are, really, the mild forms of the fat messages. These are the positive forms those messages take. The best thing for me is that, while I have failed at life and am fat, I can fix it! I can remedy my pathological condition by dint of willpower and effort! How fortunate for me!

When I work out, when I jog by, I therefore am being a good fat person. I am trying to fix myself. I am trying to repair my moral failure and my unsightly bulk. I am a role model for other fat people.

Except, I’m not.

I’m not trying to get thin.

I am trying to be strong. God knows, I pine for strength. Some part of my head is very confused on what I actually look like, and thinks that I can have shoulders like Vin Diesel. This is impossible. But I still keep trying. (Windmills and Shoulder Presses and Push Presses and Cleans and — ) I keep checking to make sure I can deadlift my children, in case they are ever dangling off a cliff and I have them by one hand and I need to pull them to safety. They are growing, so that means I need to keep getting stronger. I keep making sure I can squat my kids, because if they were hurt in the woods and I needed to carry them out to civilization, I would have to get them up on my shoulders first.

I want to be strong. I want to be powerful. I do not intend to be thin.

I am trying to endure. I am trying to increase my ability to be active to for longer periods of time, at higher intensities. I jog. I jog on the hills in my neighborhood. I run laps at indoor and outdoor tracks. Next year we’re planning a trip to Guatemala, and we’re planning a trip to Ireland the year after that. I want to be able to walk up and down the mountainous roads, I want to be able to climb up the pyramids and castles. I want to clamber up the cliffs with my kids to look at the sea. I want to enjoy these things with my family and I do not want my endurance to hold me back.

I want to last. I want to endure. I do not intend to be thin.

I am trying to eat better. Vegetables, so many damn vegetables, vegetables I cook for myself. Fruit. All the fresh fruit in the kingdom. Home-cooked food made from ingredients I can pronounce and identify the origin of. Eating more food like this has changed my ability to taste. I can taste food now beyond the simple fact of whether it’s salty or not. Some food is too salty, a thing that has never happened to me before. I drink a lot of tea, a hella lot of tea, and try to avoid beverages containing ingredients I struggle to pronounce.

I want a digestion that works. I want an immune system that works. I do not intend to be thin.

When I work out, I work out as a fat person. When people smile and tell me “way to go,” or “good for you,” or “That’s it,” I nod and smile. I do not, after all, know what they mean by it. And, honestly, jogging two miles is hard enough as it is. It’s not made easier by carrying seething resentment along with me. I nod, and I smile, and accept their remarks as if they mean, “I support you in your fitness efforts, whatever they may be.”

Which, who knows? That might be what they mean. But, Lindy West says it well:

“At the gym, as a fat person, you encounter a few different types of people: The majority are, most likely, indifferent. They’re focused on themselves. They’re just there to work out, like you. Some are scornful. They eye you with disgust and you can tell. They are jerks. Whatever. But then, possibly the worst, are the condescending dicks who treat you like animatronic inspiration porn. Like you’re theirs. I can’t tell you how many times women—strangers!—have come up to me at the gym and said some variation of, “I see you here all the time, and you just work so hard. It’s so inspiring for me! If you can do it, anyone can!” Maybe they cluelessly think they mean well, but it’s code for, “Hey, fatty! Congratulations on doing your public duty to become not-you! It really makes me feel good about my membership in the Not-Being-You Club!”

But the thing is, I’m not doing it to not be me. I’m doing it because ME WANTS TO. And I love me.”

That’s just it. I’m not working out in order that I might stop being me. I’m working out because being me is pretty decent, and I want to continue doing so.

So I will keep jogging, and lifting, and walking, and cooking. And I will enjoy the body I have and what it can do. I will enjoy being me.

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3 Responses

  1. Love you, love the post.

  2. Joining the love chorus. 🙂

  3. I find your dedication inspiring. You have made big changes in your life to meet your goals. These were not things that came easily for you. You are proof that a person does not need to be athletic, does not need to start in her 20s – no excuses, you can get fit.

    I just finished eight months of physical therapy with directions to keep doing the same exercises. Probably for the rest of my life, or at least as long as I want to be able to walk up and down stairs. I am finding the goal of reducing pain to be much more motivating than the goal of looking better. I can use all the tips and strategies I can get from my friends to integrate regular exercise into my life.

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