I am in a college gym, complete with huge weights, and that slightly funky smell of old and new sweat combined with the rubber smell of the mats. I am surrounded by two, sometimes three 18-21 year olds that are in great condition. I mean, ‘wear skin tight leggings and a belly baring shirt and look awesome’ kind of condition. I am 41, frumpy and fat. Oh and did I mention there is a ridiculously fit professor that is around my same age encouraging me as I try to perfect my form in a Romanian dead-lift? I am WAY outside my comfort zone here! I am also actively wondering why the heck it is named that?! There is not a single Romanian in sight- dead or alive! But despite the fact that I am huffing slightly from exertion and most certainly red in the face, I am having fun. Yes, I said FUN!!!!! Now if you are overweight and uncomfortable with it you know this is not the usual way things go for us in a gym. If you are overweight and have always been confident enough that this scenario would not ever have bothered you….I am hugely envious! Either way, for those of us that have always been slightly mortified at even the idea of going to the gym with all those perfect bodies judging us, it seems pretty impossible that I would be there and having fun at the same time. How did this happen?
Gyms are not made for the people that actually need them. I’ve always thought that. Gyms are supposed to be for people who are unfit to go and become fit. I suppose some of the people there started out less beautifully muscled than they are now, but they sure as hell didn’t start out at 300lbs! And ok, maybe I have a slight, tiny, miniscule prejudice about these people who have always intimidated me with their beautiful bodies. The fact remains that I never felt comfortable or welcomed in any fitness facility. They always seem like a voluntary way to go relive middle and high school gym class and what fat person wants to do that??? Once through that torture was more than enough thank you very much.
I decided when I went back to school at 39yrs old to study nutrition since it’s been an all-encompassing issue in my life. Mostly a frustrating mysterious seemingly impossible issue. My family has always had overweight issues and I figured that if I’m going to do my best to solve that for me and my kids, the more I know about nutrition the better. So why not a degree? The school I attend had just implemented a program where I could earn an Associate’s Degree in Health Science with a Concentration in Nutrition and I was off and running. My second journey through school has been wonderful! Who knew I could be a straight A student? And who knew that I would turn out to be a science geek? Well, let me clarify, more like a human body geek. My Anatomy and Physiology classes were a blast! Bones and muscles and body systems and how it all works together were like play time for me. I loved learning it all and I was good at it. Fast forward to my last semester where I only have two classes left. For some reason, the people who designed the course of study for my major must have thought that anyone in this major wants to be a personal trainer and work at a gym or high school. So I find myself in a class all about being a personal trainer where by the end I can even take a national certification exam and probably become the first over 200lb, out of shape,42yr old personal trainer! Um…yeah…that could happen.
So anyway, I look over the syllabus and realize I will have to be exercising and moving around a lot in this class and spend time in the school gym. GASP! The high school gym class PTSD kicks in and I can feel myself getting red in the face, feeling embarrassed and humiliated and sick to my stomach and I haven’t even moved out of my safe chair at my safe desk located a safe distance from the nearest gym yet. What could I do? I need this class to finish my degree so I HAVE to do this.
I am hoping what comes next can help some of you who are facing similar potentially embarrassing situations. I figured I’d be in class with about 15 huge, buff 20 year old guys who “pick things up and put them down” and a collective IQ below plant life. Yeah, no slightly bitter, totally uninformed opinions here…. I was pleasantly surprised by a nice mix of men and women and not all of them with perfect bodies. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a few buff 20 year old guys and it probably won’t be all that difficult to watch them exercise. 😉But for the most part a nice normal group of people.
The problem remains, though. I’m going to have to go to the gym with these people and exercise in front of them. To re-arrange my body into strange and uncomfortable positions twice a week. Sigh…can’t someone just let me memorize how the moves look in the book and give me a matching test? I’m good at that! I went back and forth in my head for a full week leading up to this class about what to do and how to handle it.
I finally hit on it while I was thinking about this blog. It’s all about seeing what we all have gone through as strength not weakness. I’m finally taking hold of the fact that even dumb high school gym class made me stronger and didn’t beat me down. I’m still here and I’m still trying and I’m finally actually being NICE enough to myself to want to be healthy for my own sake, not so I look good for others. That’s all I needed to realize. I have to keep re-realizing it but when I do, it’s all I need. And suddenly I really and truly just didn’t care about it at all! I for the first time ever actually don’t care what “they” think, be it classmates or general public. Those people have NO IDEA what we have gone through and that’s fine because I’m sure they have their own struggles. I have no right to assume that they are judging me and I don’t have to care about it anymore. What a weight lifted! I don’t have to put that weight of what they are thinking about me on my shoulders anymore. They probably aren’t anyway. I know what I have gone through and how much strength I have as a result.
So how did this translate into me having fun in the gym? Simple. I talked up front and frankly about the elephant in the room. I’m the biggest and clearly the most out of shape person in the class, not to mention the oldest. So on the first day of class, when the prof. asked us all to introduce ourselves and tell a bit about us I came right out with it without embarrassment or shame. I told them straight out that there is a weight problem in the family and I am educating myself so I can try to solve it. I told them that I am really good at learning and memorizing, but not so good with movement and I’m trying to fix that. And then I told them that I would love for them to help me through this class because it’s all foreign to me. I would have been fine if no one even responded, but their reaction stunned me. I’m so used to the side long looks and subtle (sometimes not so subtle) discrimination that when they responded so positively I was speechless. A few of them said they were proud of me for attacking the problem, most smiled and a few more said they would love to help me. I think I turned myself into a kind of class pet or project. But even if I hadn’t become a pet of sorts, I would be comfortable (finally!) going into that gym and trying. But what a bonus, to be respected for trying and being offered help on form (which is apparently important) and being offered smiling encouragement that for once isn’t condescending!
So yeah, that was me, AT THE GYM! With a smile on my face and both chins a bit sweaty and having fun. Now it’s a day later and I have taken as much Motrin as it’s possible to take without overdosing and still I whimper when I sit (thank you squat!) and groan feebly when I have to lift my arms (curls and something called a “seated row”) and look forward to doing it again because I’m determined that by the end of the semester it won’t hurt to do it! But most importantly, I am free of the weight of other people’s opinions or judgements for the first time in my life. I may have to remind myself often because old habits of thinking constantly try to battle back in, but I won’t let anyone else determine my state of mind anymore. And neither should you!