Not all athletes look like Nike cover models.
Fitness is a huge part of my life. I love to exercise because I know that it helps keeps my heart healthy (and for the rush of dopamine I get after a good sweat). But for all the time I spend working out, I’m not particularly thin. Nor do I have the defined butt muscles that get hundreds of Instagram likes from strangers looking for #fitspiration.
Just because I don’t fit the stereotypical image of a gym rat, people have trouble believing that I’m actually an athlete. And while I love myself and all, the constant disbelief is starting to wreak havoc on my self-esteem.
I go to Zumba classes twice a week, do a three-day a week weight lifting routine, and I kickbox on Wednesdays. I ran my first half marathon a couple years ago and I’m currently training for my second. As soon as my 4-year old twins are in school full time and I can dedicate the hours to longer runs, I plan to tackle a full marathon. Working out has been a part of my daily routine since high school, and I don’t feel like myself unless I’ve soaked through a sports bra at some point in the day.
But in spite of the fact that I know my way around the scary looking equipment at the gym, people who don’t know me don’t think of me as fit. At 5’3,” I lack the praying mantis-like stature of most runners. And my DD chest and natural curves camouflage the solid layers of muscles on my arms and legs that I’ve worked so hard to build.
Recently, I was browsing in Kohl’s hoping to score some cute on-sale workout tops to motivate my runs in the dreary winter weather. I was happily scooping up options to try on when a well-intentioned stranger completely killed my shopping high. "You're trying to get in shape for the New Year?" the older gentleman asked me with a smile. “That’s great." The desire to be polite to my elder won out over the part of me that wanted to give him a feminist-inspired rant about body image and healthy.
And ironically, because of my body’s set weight point, the struggle to maintain that chiseled, lean appearance would most likely lead to me losing some of the muscle mass and strength that I have right now. Plus, I’d have to give up eating sugar, including most fruits, and f*ck that.
Instead, I gave him a wordless grimace, trying to keep the tears in my eyes from spilling over onto my cheeks. As soon as he shuffled off towards the jewelry counter, I shoved my finds on the first rack I saw and left the store empty handed.
I get comments like this a lot — about my apparent lack of fitness — for someone who works out six days a week. Just because a person doesn't look like they've just finished a cover shoot for Nike doesn't mean they're not an athlete. Still, whenever I try to speak up in conversations about fitness and working out, I’m brushed off as if I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about.
Once, I was waiting for my husband to finish a 5k run. At the post-race festivities, a young sports injury doctor had a booth set up, presumably to try and drum up new clients. I had just run a 10K the week before, and had some lingering pain in my knee, so I pushed my kids over in their jogging stroller to see about possibly making an appointment. He glanced quickly at me and the stroller and I could see him dismiss me as an out-of-shape mom.
He didn't let me get a single sentence out before telling me that he focuses his practice on athletes only. “Next time I guess I’ll wear my half marathon medal for proof then?” I said to him sarcastically, and walked away as he stammered after me. There was no way I’d give him my business after that.
It’s frustrating that people always assume I’m a work-in-progress at the gym, rather than someone who’s received both their group fitness and personal training certificates. My arm muscles may not be as big as some of the men that use the bench press machines, but I still have the education to know that 75% of them are using improper form.
My body type and love of cheese means I'll never have washboard abs, but I shouldn't have to carry my race bibs in my purse in order for people to take my fitness abilities seriously.
I know my body and my metabolism well. Getting the sculpted legs and arms that would make people respect me for the athlete that I am isn’t impossible, but it would involve some seriously restrictive eating habits for me. And ironically, because of my body’s set weight point, the struggle to maintain that chiseled, lean appearance would most likely lead to me losing some of the muscle mass and strength that I have right now.
Plus, I’d have to give up eating sugar, including most fruits, and fuck that.
Deep down, I know that my body is perfect the way it is. I know I’m strong and healthy, and that should be what matters most. The number in the back of my jeans has no bearing on how many pushups I can do. But just once, it would be nice to join a conversation about working out without seeing someone’s eyebrows lift in surprise that this chubby girl actually knows what she’s talking about.