Recently, I was getting ready to leave the gym when someone congratulated me on my “new healthy lifestyle.”
“You’re doing great, by the way,” the person said. “How long have you been at it?”
I felt my annoyance surface and finished putting away my supplies before I answered.
“Actually, I’ve always worked out and been active,” I said.
I knew that the comment was well-intentioned, but I was irritated nonetheless. Purely based on my physical appearance, this person assumed that I was unhealthy and working to change.
I’ve been working out consistently for nearly ten years. Being in the gym makes me feel strong and sexy. However, when other people see me in the gym, they see something else: someone who is just getting started, who is weak and unsure.
Over years of being in the gym, as my body ranged from a size 20 to a size 12, I’ve heard the most ridiculous things:
“Just being here is what counts.”
Yes, this is true. Being active is very important for everyone, regardless of size. But please don’t assume that because I’m the biggest person in the class, I need an easy out. I’ll be held to the same standards as everyone else, thanks.
“What diet are you following?”
The diet of none of your damn business! Most recently, this came from someone who had recently started working toward diet and nutrition goals, and she was approaching me for guidance. However, opening a conversation by asking about my food consumption habits is still completely uncomfortable.
“Even if you’re not thinking about weight, you should think about your joints.”
Ah, this gem. I’ve worked with personal trainers for a long time, and am always up front with a new trainer that the scale is not a primary indicator of my health of progress. This particular trainer felt the need to remind me that every pound I carry increases the pressure on my knees, and could lead to long-term damage. Thanks for that dose of encouragement!
“You’re really losing inches.”
When will people learn to never, ever comment on another person’s body?
“Good for you.”
I could say the same to you. But somehow, you assume that me being at the gym is more praise-worthy than other people who are small and therefore, you presume, healthier than I am.
Now, before I scare anyone off from the gym, I will say that I have a lot more positive experiences than negative.
My current trainer won my heart when she told me she is never again going to train a size 12 who wants to be a size two. I knew she would understand me. The fact that she has never once in six months asked me to step on the scale or given unsolicited advice about nutrition makes me realize that there are fitness professionals who understand that health can come in all shapes and sizes.
It’s great that people want to encourage others who are at the gym pursuing physical fitness. But spread that love around! After all, you never know who is feeling out of shape, over tired, or who is suffering from an invisible illness. We can’t see those things just by looking at a person.
Instead of talking about what I’m doing right, tell me about yourself. Remark on how tough kickboxing class was, or how much harder it is to get motivated when it’s cold and dark. At the starting line, ask me if I’ve done a race like this before, instead of assuming I need you to tell me I’ll be fine. Share your experiences with me, but not your assumptions.