When I Get Good at It

I was out of town this week at a professional conference. Instead of my usual — running through my neighborhood with my partner and practicing yoga in my living room — my away workouts consisted of using the hotel’s fitness center with approximately one kajillion other people. Fortunately, most of us are teachers, so we had the “share” and “take turns” business well under control.

Not so fortunately, I’d forgotten that exercising in public — particularly exercising alone (sans immediate workout buddy) in a relatively crowded public — is apparently grounds for people voicing inaccurate and sometimes hurtful assumptions about my body and level of fitness.

The first I heard this week was actually from someone I know, someone who’s recently lost a lot of weight by adding daily exercise to her routine and who describes this as a positive change in her life. That’s awesome, and I’m happy that her choices have brought about her desired results and satisfaction. But even if our actions are similar, that doesn’t mean her goals are my goals or that her results will be my results

She asks, “How long have you been working out?”

“Regularly?” I reply. “About 5 years, give or take.”

“That’s really good,” she says. “I hope I can stick with it that long. How much weight have you lost?”

Ah, yes, the weight loss question.


In reality, I’ve put on just shy of 50 pounds in that time period, but I don’t really feel like getting into that. Because my colleague is looking perplexed, like the possibility of someone exercising for so long and not losing weight is a possibility she’d never before considered and that she views as genuinely troubling.

I didn’t get into it because I’ve been there before. I’ve mentioned to people that I haven’t lost weight, which apparently opened me up to criticism of what I was doing “wrong” — counting calories; not counting calories; eating fat; eating carbs; working out too heavily; not working out enough; not finding the Magic Combination of cardio and strength; and, my favorite, lying to myself about how much I’m actually eating or moving. To be fair, I had no specific reason to believe that my colleague would have argued any of the above to me. From the surprised look on her face, however, I suspected that she was not immediately comfortable with and accepting of my experience.

I simply didn’t want to chance opening myself up like that emotionally, not when I’ve had such judgmental past experiences, not when I must have a continuing professional relationship with this person.

Which is maybe why, the next time it happened — in a way I can’t think was well-intentioned — I was not in a mental state to be nice.

It’s early morning, and the gym is crowded. I grab the last open treadmill, and by the time I finish my first mile, there’s a line, though mostly for the ellipticals. I decide that I probably have just enough time to get in my 5 kilometers before it’s someone else’s turn, just in case it’s a treadmill someone wants. I figure that both lets me work out and gives someone else access to the equipment within a reasonable time frame.

In light of the people in the fitness center, my workout is decidedly nondescript, neither particularly long nor short nor fast nor slow. So I am surprised when a man taps me on the shoulder and asks if he can use my treadmill.

I glance around. “I haven’t been on it too long, have I?” In fact, of the people on the 5 treadmills, 2 have gotten on before me and 2 after.

“Not at all,” he assures me. “But let’s face it, you’re not really working out, are you?”

I glance around again, mostly because it keeps me from looking at his face. Of the 5 people on treadmills, all appear to be women. One person is walking (perhaps in warm-up), one person is running quite fast (by my standards), and the other two appear to be going at approximately the same pace I am. I am, however, decidedly the largest person on a treadmill at that time.

“Why would you assume that?” I ask.

Now he backpedals. “It’s just that you’re… you know…” He draws a wide hourglass shape with his hands.

I shrug in faux apology, “Sorry, I really am working out, which you might have guessed on account of the whole ‘running’ thing. You can have my treadmill when I’m through with it, though, if no one grabs it first.”

And just because there was no one else in line, damned if I didn’t run 6k that day out of spite.

What interests me most about this experience is whether this guy was being deliberately manipulative — in other words, hoping to embarrass or anger me into leaving the treadmill — or whether he genuinely saw my effort as “less than” on account of my size. Because I know what to do with assholes, but I don’t know how to address folks who believe they truly see a difference.

Like this woman.

I’ve switched to working out in the afternoon. It’s quieter; it’s safer.

When I arrived, I was alone. Right now, it’s just me and another woman, each running on our own treadmill. She asks if I’m in town for the conference; I reply that I am.

“It’s nice to have some time to unwind at the end of the day,” I say. “I feel like I’ve had too much teacher togetherness or something.”

“I know what you mean,” she agrees, slowing down. “I’m glad you’re running,” she confides during her cool down. “I know it’s tough at the beginning, but you’ll learn to love it once you get good at it.”

She stops her treadmill and leaves the room.

I run two more miles and do the same.

It’s not about who runs faster or for longer time or greater distance. It is about maybe not assuming that running is “tough” for me or that I don’t “love” it right now, particularly when I’ve not said anything of the sort. It is about understanding that the reason I might seem to need to “get good at” running is because I might be running for a different goal — i.e., a slower pace for a longer distance.

Mostly, though, I think it’s about not assuming that I’m dissatisfied with or disrespecting my body because of… whatever reason, size among them. I work out because I like it now, at my current weight. I’m not waiting until I “get good at it” to enjoy my body and my life. And I think for some people, that is revolutionary.


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in non-asana, swadyaya
15 comments on “When I Get Good at It
  1. Neely says:

    Thank you so much for this post – it really spoke to me, especially your conclusion. I appreciate it!

  2. Jadelyn says:

    …Wow. I’m sorry you had to deal with that crap. Shit like this would be why, even when I had a gym membership, I made sure it was to a 24-hour place and would only ever go between midnight and 3 AM to ensure nobody else would be there. >.<

    That asshole dude's logic doesn't even make sense, is what gets me. Like, since we all know Fat Is Bad And Unhealthy (/sarcasm) shouldn't he want to give you the MOST time and chance at the treadmill? Because I mean, you were being a Good Fatty by exercising, right? So for people who genuinely believe fat is bad and unhealthy and everyone MUST LOSE WEIGHT, shouldn't they be encouraging more working out for larger people?

    Of course, that assumes that 1: the arguments of anti-fat bigots hew to anything resembling *logic* at all, and 2: that it's actually about health instead of just body-policing and fat-hating. Which, y'know. Neither is a particularly good assumption to make, so. :-/

    Also hi! I'm going to go poke through your archives now. ^_^

    • Tori says:

      The only thing I can think is that he thought I was taking my workout less seriously or that it was less meaningful to me because of my body size, lack of evidence notwithstanding.

      But yeah, it seems counter intuitive at best to first (essentially) call me fat and then to ask me to get off my treadmill.

  3. Alexa says:

    A friend linked me here because she thought it was right up my street, and boy was she right! I loved this. I haven’t been exercising very long (a year, if you don’t count five months where I, um, didn’t LOL) and I’ve encountered a few of the things you describe, and expect to in the future. I HATE going to the gym because I feel constantly judged — not even because of my size (though I am the biggest person there usually – thanks Hollywood!), but because I go for slower pacing, and can’t run continuously yet. No one has been as rude to me as that man was to you, but I worry that some day someone will say something, or eternally assume that I’m a “beginner” who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

    I’m exercising more than ever (3-4 times a week for me = HUGE) and my weight loss has dropped off… but I’m ok with it. I’m really liking my body as-is, and worry people will make the same judgments about how much weight I *should* be losing with regular exercise. People are just so damn judgey when it comes to this stuff, and make ridiculous assumptions based on how a person looks and how “active” or experienced they must be.

    Will definitely share — thank you for posting this!

    • Tori says:

      Aside from this past week, I’ve been lucky enough to have been spared from workout judgment for the past… oh, about 5 years. First, I lived with a couple of roommates, both of whom were actively supportive of my exercise habits (as I was of theirs), and at least one of whom ran because of how it made her feel rather than how it did or didn’t make her look. When I moved cities, I was fortunate enough to find a yoga studio that’s body positive and diversity welcoming. And of course, with my partner — well, if he were unsupportive, he would never have become my partner in the first place. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      So I think I was more surprised than anything last week. I’d remembered it happening in the past, but I don’t recall it being so frequent — 3 out of 5 days is 60% of the time, which seems… ungood. Maybe that’s a sign that surrounding myself with body-positive exercise buddies was a good call.

    • Tori says:

      PS — I am pretty much in love with your site and have added it to my news feed.

  4. Starfirenz says:

    Here via @theunshaven’s twitter shoutout, and wanted to let you know how *right* this post felt to me. I’m really active – it’s become part of my identity to an extent beyond the number on the scales which seems to go up and down dramatically through cycle after cycle in my life.

    And yeah – despite the fact that I walked 100km for charity earlier this year… despite the fact that I walk/run 30-40k a week regularly and do 20k trailruns… despite all the other activity I do, I still always feel like “the great, big, galumphing one” when I’m around other “fit” folks – the one who really doesn’t belong there – the one who should probably *really* be doing something a bit less strenuous given my size.

    I’m lucky enough that no-one’s been rude enough to point this out to me (yet), but at the back of my mind, I’m always wondering if they’re thinking it. I wish I had a good answer, but all I can say is “I hear you” and “it sucks”

    • Tori says:

      … despite all the other activity I do, I still always feel like โ€œthe great, big, galumphing oneโ€ when Iโ€™m around other โ€œfitโ€ folks…

      I especially feel this way when I’m practicing yoga at a studio or in a class since yoga tends to skew toward thinner body types. Despite the fact that my current studio is awesome and accepting of all kinds of people, I am often one of the largest people in class. Combined with years of past experience where I have — overtly and covertly — been made to feel like I don’t belong in any yoga class, much less ones geared toward lots of physical activity, it’s a hard thought pattern to break.

      • I keep being amazed at the small sizes at which people experience this kind of thing, and/or amazed that I haven’t experienced more of it. (I’m about the same size as you or slightly fatter.) I tend to think a lot of it is regional variation in what’s considered “fat”, although a lot of it could be the environment I exercise in; the most public and frequently-used places are outdoor trails where I run/walk/hike, where I don’t encounter lots of other people and they don’t generally stop to talk.

        • Tori says:

          In this case, I think environment definitely played a significant factor. Usually, I practice yoga at home or in a studio I specifically vetted for acceptance of body diversity. When I run, it’s in the company of my male partner, and the folks we’re most likely to meet on the street are little old ladies walking their dogs — and yeah, the only talking is generally a quick nod or smile hello.

          But where there’s a lot of diversity in reasons for practicing at my yoga studio or for walking/running/biking/etc. on the streets of my neighborhood — in this fitness center, it seemed like there was a much narrower span of reasons for using it (and I think “to keep up with weight loss” was a not-small one) and thus a much narrower definition of “fitness.”

  5. Autumn says:

    Wow. I am truly floored at the nerve of that man, though I’m glad you put it in the context of the subtler messages you’re receiving that are on the same path. It seems just incredible that there are people who don’t understand the whole spectrum of why someone might choose to exercise, but it seems they’re legion.

  6. Nanci says:

    I haven’t read through a lot of your blog entries, I won’t lie, but just reading that you do your yoga at home made me think about. I’m not a big yoga in public person cause although I’ve had nice instructers, the loud breathings of others is sometimes a bit too distracting (breathing is essential and a stress reliever but should not be some sort of dramatic thing you do to show just how amazing you are at yoga). I’m happy to say that I started doing some yoga at home today and plan to insert it into my jogging/walking exercise.

  7. […] is neither a measure of whether I’m lying when I talk about running three miles nor a reason “why [I] should just stay out of the gym entirely, so people don’t have to […]

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