Plus-sized Microaggressions

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. 

 

The Secret Origin of a Fat Feminist

For this post, we’re going on a trip to Bitch Planet.

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I put to you the comic by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, gloriously recommended to me by a friend, and one of my  comic book store guys. So, fuelled by my “two separate recs” rule and feeling spend-y, I picked up it up this past weekend…and then read the whole thing in basically one sitting.

The story takes place in a not-so-far-off future in which women who cause problems are branded as “noncompliant” and sent off to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, better off known as (say it with me) Bitch Planet. The inhabitants are there for a myriad of different reasons, from infractions such as murder to being obese or anorexic. Either way, if you’re stepping outside of the status quo, you’re getting shipped off in space to lady prison.

I loved the first volume. Besides the fact that it’s intersectional as hell and has a campy 1950s sci-fi soul, BP also represents a huge range of female body types, unabashedly drawn with honesty and not a sense of voyeuristic pornography. My favourite character is the goddess-titan Penny Rolle.

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She’s a big, unapologetic, badass woman. Spoilers ahead, there’s a scene where the prison authorities hook Penny up to neurotransmitters, trying to ascertain her ideal self image—they want an end-goal for the “self improvement” they’re about to force on her.

The thing is, when that image is revealed, it’s Penny  exactly as she already is—larger than any other character in the book and happy to be that way.

So here’s what I’m getting at, the notion that reading this book clarified to me: being a body-positive feminist is hard when you’re trying to lose weight. Personally, I feel the goal doesn’t align with my values—not on the surface anyway. They are two core beliefs and desires in a wrestling conflict, and neither of them wants to give up.

I can talk forever, claiming that all I want from this journey is health until I’ve run a marathon with my mouth into a smaller dress size, but—the facts are, I dream of the day I can walk into an H&M and grab one of those size 10s easily, without hunting around for the elusive size 14.

Wanting to lose weight for non-health related reasons feels like I am holding myself to a double standard. I love the body positivity movement. I love women, and people in general, who embrace what they have, and can truly look on themselves with a warm, loving light. Some days, I even see a bit of that light in myself—it just isn’t all the time. I can admit I’m delicate on the touch and go of this—one day, I’ll find inquiries about my workout routine encouraging, the next, an off-hand comment about a jacket that will fit someday has me grinding my teeth to dust.

One of my favourite Instagram accounts, run by self-proclaimed “fat femme” Jessamyn Daniels, is proof enough to me that the body is capable of some truly astounding shit at any size. 

Yet still, I look at myself in the mirror after a sweaty yoga session, or a strong run and think that my own body is not good enough—that I’m not there yet. I know we’re our own worst critics, when we need to really be nurturing and understanding of ourselves. I try to be that, but it doesn’t always work.

Worse, my lack of self body positivity folds back on me, to make even my healthy efforts seem like awful traps. Simply put, sometimes my brain makes me feel bad for making healthy choices, because I should just be happy with how I am right? How messed up is that? And it asks me, how, how, how can you walk around, hating on societal standards, when somewhere deep down, there’s a part of you pushing to conform to those standards? I’m not asking rhetorically, I genuinely have no idea. Maybe these notions and motives make me a hypocrite.

1431897224822433426The only way I’ve almost managed to square off with myself on the subject, console that these efforts aren’t destructive, is that no matter where these beauty standards came from, this is my choice. For me, feminism is about giving all women all of the options they deserve and want. If a woman chooses to stay at home and raise her children in a traditionally feminine role, it’s still a feminist decision, because she picked that path for herself.

Similarly, I have to reason that wanting what I want for my body isn’t anti-feminist, it’s just what I want. This is my path, and I am finding the strength to walk it. If I am aware of all of the trappings of body shaming, and body standards  of society, and I’m aware that I don’t have to change—but I choose to try…

Is that feminist? Or is that compliance?