Just like you might find it difficult to fly while fat, going to the gym can also be a terrible experience to endure while fat. This is one of my favorite points to make when people justify their fatphobia with “I’m just concerned about their health.” If people really wanted fat people to practice healthy lifestyles, then you would think they would be in full support of us joining gyms and health clubs, right?
Wrong. Instead, thin people have decided that gyms are their territory and that fat people should just go and hide in their homes forever in their fatness. It’s total hypocrisy, but that’s the entire message behind fat shaming — you should be ashamed of your body and therefore not expose the outside world to it.
But just because that’s the message that reigns over most of society doesn’t mean that you should listen to it. It’s also a myth that all fat people are unhealthy and hate to exercise — many of us actually quite enjoy it! Working out is not a size exclusive activity.
If you’re looking to hit the gym but find it unbearable to feel the judgemental stare of others while you work your body, here are the best ways I’ve found to get rid of this tension and get your workout in, as everyone else does.
Change At Home: Locker rooms don’t get any less uncomfortable after middle school. I think people of all sizes probably have anxiety about changing in front of complete strangers, but this can be even worse for people of size. Come ready to work out and change at home in the comfort of your own space.
Wear What Makes You Comfortable: The question around what workout clothes one should wear can be tough to answer, but I say wear what makes you feel the most comfortable. If you fear that wearing just a sports bra will give you major anxiety, then don’t wear it. Fat people also have to worry about chub rub, or that rash that results from your fat rubbing together vigorously, so definitely wear bottoms that are tight-fitting on you. I would also personally recommend wearing workout leggings or bike shorts, since they are super absorbent and cling to your body, leaving you rash-free.
A Body-Positive Shirt Wouldn’t Hurt: Jess pointed out in her piece on flying while fat that wearing a shirt with a positive message about body image can take the elephant out of the room and give others a cue that you already know that you’re fat and don’t care. This trick can work in a lot of different scenarios, with the gym definitely being one of them.
Wear Earbuds: I can never work out without music, partly because it blocks out the rest of the world and forces me to focus on just my movement. This is also a great technique for avoiding fat shamers, since you’ll be so focused on what you’re doing that you won’t even see or hear them in your presence. I find that a lot of the shaming is subtle or based in micro-aggressions, which can make you think “Wait, was he staring at me?” and totally distract you from getting your sweat on. Tune out everyone else and tune in to your body.
Don’t Be Afraid To Beast It: One of my favorite things to do is impress people with my athletic prowess. So don’t be afraid to do five extra reps, lift an extra 20 pounds on a machine, or run as fast as you can. I feel like, since many people underestimate the abilities of fat people, we often underestimate ourselves. Don’t limit yourself and really go for it!
Don’t Be Afraid To Show Fatigue: Another common fear amongst people of size is showing signs of tiredness. A fat person sweating and being out of breath is probably going to cause others to stigmatize them, even though a thin person can be out of breath, too. It’s just a sign of really working your muscles. Holding your breath and trying to act like you’re not exhausted doesn’t help anyone. Breathe! Make all of the noise you need to. You can also use this to acknowledge the elephant in the room and say something like “Wow, I went so much harder than yesterday!” to prove others expectations of you dead wrong.
Just Focus On You: You should really never be in competition with others in the gym, because they don’t matter as much as you matter. It can be really easy to go down the rabbit hole of analyzing everyone’s performance and behavior, but stay in your own lane and pretend you’re the only one there.
Avoid Peak Times: A lot of the anxiety that you might have about going to the gym can probably be avoided if you go during quieter hours. Plus, you don’t have to worry about your favorite machine being taken! Gyms are most crowded during early morning and evenings, so try to go in the afternoon or late night if you are able to. I would also recommend doing this when you’re first getting acquainted, since seeing big muscle-bound men being the only ones lifting weights can feel intimidating. Get in some solo time first so that you can get in your stride.
Hire A Trainer: Working one-on-one with a trainer can not only help you to get the type of results you want, but can also give you a more personal gym experience. You can use this guide or this resource guide to find a list of body-positive fitness trainers that you can work with. Don’t be afraid to do a free session first or ask the trainer about their philosophy on weight and body image before working with them.
No matter what, remember that how and if you decide to go the gym is entirely your decision! Do what works for you and leave the haters in the dust.