On Finding Fat in Fit Spaces

Being fat is hard. It’s especially hard to be fat in traditionally “fit” spaces—health clubs, yoga studios, sporting goods stores, hell, even restaurants serving up healthier fare. In general, the world hasn’t realized that you can be fit and be fat simultaneously, so the very presence of someone with an so-called imperfect BMI in any of these locales automatically shoves fat people into the category of “other.” According to traditional standards, we don’t belong there.

I recently wrote about a gym employee who asked me if I had ever exercised before, and while I generally try to assume people mean no harm, the experience left me feeling like a sausage shovelled into a skintight leotard, centre stage on opening night. That is to say, the question othered me so hard that I wasn’t 100% comfortable being there. Translation: you are different. This is not your space. You don’t belong here… yet.

As though if I go to that gym enough, one day I’ll sashay through the door as in society-issued size 6, and the employee will know he made a mistake thinking I was a “them” instead of an “us.”

Such bullshit, wow.

We shouldn’t have to change to feel comfortable anywhere. These spaces should encourage, rather than alienate, the plus-sizers of the world. At best, encourage and welcome, at worst, shut up and mind your own business, right? This is such a common thing that whenever I have a positive interaction in any of these places, it’s kind of mind-blowing.

This week, I was looking at pictures of my first 5K run ever, and realized I’ve been in t[he same running shoes since 2011. My running periods have come and gone, but these shoes were my first 5K and 10K shoes. These shoes ran me around Scotland. The 20-year-old who first wore them is physically and mentally a very different person now, and besides the cartilage in my knees also probably appreciating a little break, it all translated into NEW SHOES REQUIRED. There was one hiccup—I didn’t want to go to the Running Room near my place because I was intimidated by the idea of putting myself into a space I felt I wouldn’t be welcomed.

I like to run, but I don’t call myself a runner. I am not a certified member of the the Cult of Running(tm), the gazelle-human hybrids who are constantly seen with hydration belts, compression socks, and the calves of Greek gods.

But of all the things to not order online, the shoes that will possibly run you through another 6 years of your life (lol) might be on the top of the list, so I sucked it up and went to the store, preparing to defend myself. What I got instead was a warm welcome, and it was amazing.

The woman there was so keen and kind, telling me about local running groups and classes. She talked about being part of our community. Our. She didn’t assume I was a beginner. She ordered me in my shoes from another store, and when I went in on Saturday to pick them up, the two employees working there automatically asked if I had come in to sign up for the race up the mountain on Monday. L. O.L. A RUN UP A MOUNTAIN.

It was amazing. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing or the way I was being treated. You don’t realize how hard you’ve been othered in one situation until you get to be treated like one of the “us’s” in another. I have the class lists and the brochures next to me right now. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about the prospect of fit space—that’s the way it should be.

Obvious S#@! You Already Know, Backed Up by Winter Running

#1. Take Baby Steps
Okay yes, duh: it’s logic. Start small and work towards bigger challenges. You don’t want to sign up for a 10K this coming weekend if you don’t feel confident about running around the block.  Winter running, also incorporates this literally, take small steps, actual baby ones.

The Cult of Running(tm) is filled with sleek, gazelle-like individuals who glide along pavement like it’s a conveyer belt and have calves of granite. I am not a member, but I know that even THEY have to slow down in the winter because it’s dangerous. On the snowiest, iciest days, I’m afraid a wider stride will send me crashing down to the ice, even in cleats.

So from the terror began the habit trotting along, and shortening my stride has helped me un-hunch my shoulders, improved my running posture, and helped me power through hills… which is a pretty dope tie in to the metaphor. Baby steps will get you up the mountain (and keep you from breaking any bones).

#2. Overprepare
Duh: it’s better to have too much ready to go than too little. Slightly less obvious? Trying to dress appropriately for a winter run is a complex math problem:

If it is -14 C outside but it is -22 with the windchill, blowing snow, and a sunny glare, but the body heats up 10 degrees on average during a run, how many layers of clothing should you put on for a 6 kilometre jaunt in order to keep your fingers and toes?

If I had taken up running earlier in high school I might have been less afraid of math after grappling with all of that BS. The answer is, layer up. Just be prepared for it to be COLD and if you’re too warm you can yank stuff off and carry it as you go. Overprepare!

#3. Hard Work Pays Off
Triple duh: running in snow can suck,  it’s like running in cold sand with the potential for an icy surprise at the center to send you sprawling across the pavement. It’s hard work, because it’s hard to get anywhere fast when you’re basically running on the bitterness of Canada’s natural treadmill.

But there’s an upside—what doesn’t shatter your bones or give you frostbite makes you stronger! There will come a day when the snow will melt. I know, it seems unending, and every time the sun dares to peek out, another foot of the white stuff feels likely to drop from on high…But it end. For the first time in weeks, the sidewalks here have been clear and moving from running in winter sand hell to straight pavement felt….almost….easy. The big e!

Now it’s not gonna feel like pixie dust forever, but there will be a few honeymoon runs where the sole hits nothing but the pavement and it’s such a confidence boost because of all the strength you got while slugging it out in the slush has come back to let you power on at full strength.