Stop Using My Weight to Compliment My Weight Loss

Truth: not everyone who starts exercising wants to lose weight or change how they look.

Between the mental and physical benefits (healthy brain, heart, lungs, joints!), the social aspect of workout buddies or groups, and the variety of activities available (zumba, trampoline cardio, rock climbing, parkour, pole dancing lessons?!), there are tons of other reasons to get active that have nothing to do with appearances.

Crazier truth: sometimes compliments about weight loss can be hurtful.

Hear me out—I’m NOT saying to never give compliments to your friend who just started running, or your brother who has become a hot yoga junkie. When they’re done right, compliments are GOLD. They feel like a mighty simultaneous fist bump from the people you love AND the universe. The thing is, when they’re done WRONG, they’re half way to insults.

It’s true, many people ARE trying to get to their idea of their best physical self. Many people who lose weight start out with this motive: if you’ve read any articles about body transformations you’re probably familiar with trope of  “hitting rock bottom.” I’ve found that a really common rock bottom is someone seeing photos of themselves at a special event like a party or a wedding, and realizing they want to make a change—

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I’m saying even if the person you want to praise might really enjoy a pointed compliment about how slim they are looking, you owe them better than that. Think about what you’ve said about their value if all of your praise is purely based on how they look. What does it say about who they were before in your eyes?

A really good compliment will acknowledge their progress while empowering their further efforts. Otherwise, that’s when stuff turns into mixed signals, feels backhanded and starts to sting:
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We are not numbers on scales, or pants measurements, the calories we eat in a day, or the amount we can deadlift. Reducing someone’s lifestyle change, or whatever-the-hell-they’re-calling-it to numbers or pure physicality? Not okay. These misplaced priorities are why we have self-hating fitspo and fat shamers and eating disorders.

So you have a friend, or a family member, or a significant other who has been working their literal ass off, and you want to show that you’ve recognized their effort. What do you do?

Maybe this person thinks that the best kind of praise is focused on the physical, but you can open their mind up to their own awesomeness with one simple move: praise the work of the artisan, not the art.

We live in the era of the process. We are encouraged to know the farmers who raise our crops, we watch documentaries about how things get made, we will generally pay more for craftsmanship. We want to meet Oz behind the curtain. There’s a lot of power in showing that you acknowledge their process.

In my personal experience, comments on my size are actually kind of awkward or alienating. (Though if you are going to go for physical praise consider a positive “your butt looks great!” versus the critical ring of “oooh you’re so skinny!”) Of course, this  is not one-size-fits-all advice. No matter what, some people will be pleased, and some people might find it embarrassing and highly personal. You just. Don’t. Know.

There are always other words to show someone that you’ve noticed they are growing: tell someone that you’ve noticed the hard work they’ve been doing, and that you’re proud of them. If they’ve inspired you, TELL THEM THAT! If you have noticed they seem to be more positive, acknowledge this change in temperature.

They will appreciate the acknowledgment, and hopefully begin to see themselves as the glorious “MORE” that we all deserve.

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.

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.