I work for a company that offers some pretty awesome benefits, and one of them is a free membership to a small gym about two minutes away from work. I hate going to the gym—trapped in four walls, every rep or minute on a treadmill reminds me of a time I could be outside or at home.
Recently though, I decided I might incorporate more weights into my routine, shoving down my hatred with podcasts and music, so I went to activate my free membership—that’s when I ran right into a wall.
Maybe it was the way I thought the door was stuck on my way in, and the guy at the front desk pulled it open for me. Maybe it was my large wool coat and the hoodie underneath making me look bigger than my already larger size. Maybe the guy was more French than English and didn’t know what he was saying (which sometimes happens on Montreal) but in any case, giving me the preamble, the man at the front desk asked:
“have you exercised before?”
I think I laughed.
I knew what he really meant. He really meant, “have you been to a gym?” and “are you familiar with the equipment?” But that’s not what he said, and it got me to thinking. There is always a chance he would have asked a thin person the same question, just probably in a different way… or there’s a chance he might not have asked them at all. In any case, it had happened to me. I wasn’t even mad, I just made small talk as I filled out my form, told him I was looking to supplement my outdoor running with a weight routine—like I somehow had to back up my claim about having tried exercise EVER in my WHOLE LIFE.
Yes I move my body on a regular basis. No, I didn’t roll in here on a segue with a bucket of 7-11 slurpee just to look at the bros in the muscle zoo.
When I was finished with my form, I went to check out the weight room upstairs. It was small, pretty standard—and yes, there were a few torture devices I had no clue about, but for the most part, gym standard. I left the place feeling off without understanding why, and texted some of my friends about it to get some feedback and opinion on it—they were more offended than I was.
Here’s what’s eating at me: this is something fat people have to deal with ALL THE TIME— whether it’s getting the stink eye for eating a Big Mac in public, or judged for wearing certain items of clothing we aren’t “supposed to” or assuming we got ever-so-lost and wandered into the gym by accident. People just like to judge us; it’s always open season on fat people. By being plus-sized, we’re visible in a way that others are not. The worst part about being this particular kind of visible in a gym, about the kind of microaggression I experienced, is that it can be discouraging.
It can make the surroundings feel unsafe or unwelcoming, make the person who experiences it feel like they have no place there. In a lot of ways, it can prevent us from breaking the cycle—if that’s something we want to do. (Yes there are people who are happy being plus sized! It’s a Thing. It’s none of your business!)
On the way home I wrestled with two extremes: ditch the gym idea and find new ways to work out in the safety of my bedroom, or stick it out and show him that I ain’t a slouch.
I chose neither, because I’m sure as hell not letting someone who doesn’t know me attempt to shove me into a box or guide my decisions. I’ll go back there. If I’m going to the gym, it’s going to be for me, and because I want to. I’m not here to impress anyone else.
I also thought of a great reply on the commute home: “have you exercised before?”
Yeah, dude—check my Instagram.