Toronto

Fit N Fat: Body Image Ideals at the Gym

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We hear it all the time: how great working out makes people feel. We think, ‘Hey! I should get some of those endorphins people keep talking about.’ So we throw on our best lycra, put our hair back, and get ready to sweat. We roll into yoga class, hop up on a bike at spin class, hit the pavement for a run, or get to the gym and the confidence and good vibes we feel about doing something for ourselves can dissipate real quick. Why? Fatphobia doesn’t stop existing just because we want to move our bodies.

I have a complicated relationship with my body. I am technically healthy: I have great vitals and can move my body in pretty much any way I desire. I also have a chronic health condition which causes me to gain weight and grow thicker body hair. Not bad things, not undesirable things – but things that I’m expected to hate or apologize for or try and change. I am also fat and have a BMI(that I decided to stop giving a shit about over a year ago) that rests firmly into the territory of ‘obese’.

Intellectually, I know there is nothing wrong with any of this. I am thankful for this body that I live in and know there are so many great, privileged things about it. I also am extremely sensitive to and aware of the ways that my body is viewed by others. Especially so when I’m trying to work out – my hyper-awareness of my fat, soft body is not just distracting, but can actually dangerous.

It always starts off with the best intentions: I’m going to go to (fitness class) and just focus on moving my body to the best of its ability. I prepare myself for feeling anxiety about my body in the change rooms, try and get ready to remind myself that all bodies are good and worthy, and focus on my own goals. Inevitably, though, it seems like I last about all of 30 seconds in my zen mindset before totally self-destructing and falling into a familiar pattern.

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The truth is, as a fat girl in a fitness class or on a run through my neighbourhood, I’ve generally felt compelled to prove wrong other people’s conceptions about what my body is and isn’t capable of doing. I’ll let other people’s (sometimes projected and untrue) opinions about fat girls and my own internalized fatphobia get in the way of something nice I’m doing for myself, a way of taking care.

Instead of focusing on my breath and the way my body moves, allowing it to take up space and push itself past its edges; I’ll find myself in downward dog, feeling superior to the smaller women next to me who require adjustments. I’ll think about how embarrassed they must be to be having their ass kicked by me and my supposedly flawed body. I’ve pushed myself to the point of overextension and injury in my attempts to keep up and best others in class.

Basically, I take the time I’ve set aside to practice mindfulness and use it to completely miss the point of the practice altogether. I lose sight of the incremental ways I’m improving aspects of my own health or just making myself feel good.

It’s really hard not to feel out of place and stigmatized in a place where a good number of the other humans go to avoid looking like you. When the messaging around fitness is so focused on ‘fighting’ and preventing fatness, it’s so easy to feel pathologized and like you don’t belong. I get it, truly, I do. Be easier on yourself. Unlearning decades of harmful messaging is not a feat that can be accomplished over your lunch hour spin class. It takes consistent practice and focus – just like finally killing that 8 minute mile or touching your toes.

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Comments

  1. Julia says:

    I feel this SO HARD.

  2. Jenni Marie says:

    I have felt this so often. Thanks for sharing. Do you have any tips on keeping motivated even on the days when you feel really self conscious?

  3. Roisin says:

    This piece is so honest. Most people firmly put the blame outside but don’t acknowledge that their own struggle also helps in making them feel defeated. Thank you. This was great to read. I am feeling more and more acceptance of my body lately. So happy to have found your blog.

    • Yuli Scheidt says:

      We’re so glad you found something in this post and in us! Stick around, there’s plenty more where this came come.