I'm Overweight And Get Fat-Shamed When I Exercise

Yeah, fat people exercise too. (Image Credit: Think Stock)

I’m riding my bike around a local community center on a Sunday morning. The air is crisp and fresh - a rarity in Los Angeles - and I enjoy feeling the cool air against my skin as I ride. I remember how happy I felt when I rode my bike as I child, and how similar I feel now.

Suddenly, I’m jerked from my place of bliss when someone yells, “Hey Lard Ass! Why don’t you exercise and lose some weight?”

For a moment I can’t get over the thought that bike riding is exercise, and my inner snark rears its head and I think, “Did you go back to the 1970s for that insult, or was that the best you could come up with? Maybe you just didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be a dick.” But by the time I think to actually say this out loud, the car is out of earshot.

***

Unfortunately, getting drive-by fat-shamed is part of the deal when exercising while overweight. People want obese people to exercise, but they don’t want to see them doing it. No before or during, just the after, please. It’s as much of a disconnect as refusing to believe a cow was harmed while eating a cheeseburger. You don’t want to think about the slaughter, but one thing can’t happen without the other. If an overweight person is going to get healthier, maybe even lose some weight, they’re going to need to exercise.

It must be that if someone sees a fat person working out, it challenges their preconceived ideas about them. They’ll see that they aren’t lazy and they don’t spend 24 hours of every day stuffing their faces with junk food. Perhaps it’s just that it’s still somewhat socially acceptable to make fun of fat people, even when they’re clearly doing something good for themselves. Maybe especially then.

I like moving my body, but I’m not a genius at every kind of physical activity. I admire those who can do yoga, but I really suck at it. Since not every exercise is good for everyone, you have to find what kind of movement is best for you. I’m good at water exercise, so I have to put on a bathing suit, which I prefer to do without being mocked.

 

It takes guts to go the gym, no matter your fitness level. I don't go as often as I should, because there are times I can't summon that tough skin I know I'm going to need in order to withstand the silent and not-so-silent haters. 

There were years when I didn’t exercise because I was afraid of being ridiculed. And my body suffered for it. It wasn't until after a number of people who I knew, who were by all accounts healthy, thin people, had heart attacks. Then I decided that if moving my body could help prevent me from getting a heart attack, that’s what I had to do.

But we all need support, especially when we go out of our comfort zone - like going to the gym. When people like Dani Mathews bully us and make our worst gym nightmares come true, it makes it that much more difficult to keep going. And seriously, that’s the most important part: going on a regular basis and doing as much as you can, as often as you can.

Making fun of someone for exercising is the opposite of support.

It takes guts to go to the gym, no matter your fitness level. I go to a YMCA where there’s every type of person; and for the most part, everyone is pretty nice. Still, I don’t go as often as I should, because there are times when I can’t summon that tough skin I know I’m going to need in order to withstand the silent and not-so-silent haters.

I have a larger body, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to treat me with respect, or that I need to stay at home because I upset your perception of reality. Screw that. I don’t have enough room in my living room for Zumba.

Yesterday, I managed to get my lard-ass to the gym. I was using the bicep curl machine when I paused between reps (because that’s what you’re supposed to do, so you don’t wreck your muscles). I saw that my tee shirt had ridden up and my belly was almost exposed. As I pulled it down, I noticed that an extremely fit woman was giving me the stink eye.

I had a choice: I could either try to shrink myself down and wither under her gaze. Or I could claim my space.

I chose B, heaved myself up, and gave her a big smile. I continued to take my full rest time, and then went back to the business of working my body.

My message to Hard Abs was, “Shut-up, I’m exercising and I’ll continue to do it whether you like seeing it or not.”

So much of the time we have to be our own cheerleaders. We all have the right to do whatever we need to do to make our lives better and healthier, and those who want to knock us down as a joke need to get out of our way.

When someone yells at me to lose weight while I’m taking a walk, or looks disgusted when I’m making my way to the pool in a swimsuit, I ignore them. They’re not going to derail me from doing something good for myself; I’m not doing it for them anyway. The fat-shamers and the fat-bullies are welcome to have a good laugh on my account because ultimately? I’m going to have the last laugh.

Since there’s no (as far I know) Fat Fitness Island where overweight people can go to exercise, then exercise-shamers are going to have to suck it up and watch us as we move, sweat, and do our cardio. If you witness me biking, walking, working out at the gym, using the pool, or just hanging-out, keep your comments and your dirty looks to yourself and I’ll do the same.

Now, I think it’s time for my bike ride.

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