Fat Girl Exercising
Hello my lovelies, my name is Gemma and I am fat. “Nooooo, don’t call yourself that!” I hear you cry, “You are beautiful.” And that I am! This may sound conceited but, like every other wonderful human creature, I am beautiful and the fact that I am fat doesn’t make these things mutually exclusive. Let me tell you a little about me, other than the fact that I am fat. I am 40 years old. I have tattoos and pink hair. I am an art teacher with a passion for teaching my students about all things creative, as well as being a big advocate for Body Positivity, both at school and in my own personal sphere.
Anyway, despite all these things, I am unfortunately judged by society and the media for the size printed on my clothes label, the number on my bathroom scales and even worse, the dreaded figure on the BMI chart. I say ‘dreaded’ but actually BMI is a complete load of rubbish. Health professionals know it, but yet we are still forced to measure ourselves against this total pile of nonsense. My BMI indicates that I am obese. Yes, this is true. However, it does not indicate how healthy I am. I could have a ‘healthy’ BMI but still smoke like a trooper and take all the illegal drugs known to man. I don’t. In fact I quit smoking about 5 years ago and it is possibly one of the reasons I gained weight. That plus the fact that I have NEVER been small.
Anyway, I digress…
Were PE Teachers in the 90s Sadistic or Just Keen?
So, what I wanted to really explain is that I am a fat woman, who exercises. It is something that can be a little intermittant for me, but I do it. In fact it is one of those things in my life that can totally transform my mood and my feelings about my body. I always hated PE at school, if I could write a note for it I would. I must have had the longest period known to man and I was terribly forgetful… “Sorry Miss, I forgot my kit”… Yes, I would rather do an hour detention than have to get changed in front of the other slimmer girls or worse – have to play netball. Now I imagine I might have liked netball if I had been taught it at primary school, but I wasn’t, nor did they bother to teach it to me at secondary. So I was AWFUL! And that just didn’t cut it with the ‘Popular Girls’. THEN, in a fit of inspiration, my PE teacher made me ‘Centre’ position one lesson – I think she was just trying to let everyone “have a go” I’m not actually sure why she did it, maybe she was a total Sadist? Or was she just trying to encourage me? Regardless, it backfired horribly and the ‘popular girls’ just had to watch their beloved game get murdered by a chubby girl, flailing around without a clue. PE put me off exercise and sport for life… or so I thought…
I started at the gym along with some housemates about 10 years ago, in a bid to … duh duh DUUUUHHHHH …lose weight. I was probably torturing myself on some kind of diet with one of the two well-known companies and I wanted to get my activity points for my booze at the weekend. The first time I went I was TERRIFIED. I was pretty sure that I was going to be chased out by some torch wielding villagers shouting “OUT! FATTY! OUT!” But it didn’t happen like that. Eventually I got the courage to go on my own, and do you know what? I loved it even more. I found that I could just get lost in my thoughts, I was moving my body in a way I never had before and most importantly, there was NO JUDGEMENT.
When I exercised I felt free and challenged.
Then The Demons Set in…
So, over the years, my relationship with exercise mostly hinged on the need to make my body smaller and almost always coincided with a diet, a plan and some kind of accountability system. Now this is where I found my inner stroppy child, if I went off plan, didn’t get the results I was expecting, or (God forbid) gained weight, I would throw a tantrum. Then there was the guilt…
Me: “I don’t want to go to the gym tonight, I am shattered/ ill / fed up / busy”
My diet obsessed brain: “That’s fine FATTY, but don’t come crying to me when you’ve gained 300 stone”
I would even bargain with myself by doing something else, morally or socially worthy, like visiting my bed ridden Nan or going on errands. This is when I started to then find myself distancing myself from the gym; I associated it with bad feelings. Fast forward a few years, I am in a band and about to be in front of an audience on stage. So, I started the whole process again. Diet, gym, plans, accountability and now… apps!!!! Even my phone was judging me and shaming me into making myself smaller. Everything ending in perceived failure.
THEN, fast forward a few more years… I am getting married. Rinse and repeat.
This was my M.O. for a very long time.
Being Set Up For Failure
I found myself in a job where I just couldn’t get to the gym after work, I was doing a 450 mile round trip every week and it was just too late for me to get to my local gym, especially as the M25 liked to scupper my plans! So I quit. We bought a cross trainer and set it up in a spare room, along with a telly and DVD player in order for me to do Pilates at home. I put a photo of my new cross-trainer on Facebook and a “friend” HILARIOUSLY commented “That’s a nice, expensive clothes horse.” I was crushed. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. This person had already set me up to fail.
Then an Epiphany…
I started seeing a chiropractor and he was really encouraging me to do Pilates to help strengthen my core and my extremely weak and wonky pelvis… apparently, it’s hypermobile… who knew?! It was a revelation. Not once did my chiropractor tell me I needed to lose weight, not once did he intimate that the exercise was for anything other than strengthening my body. MIND BLOWN. What…??? This exercise malarkey isn’t just for weight loss??? I became invested in doing my Pilates and working out on the cross trainer, even if it was only half an hour here or there. I realised I felt good afterwards, despite the extremely colourful language I used whilst following the Pilates video… this is one reason why I can’t be trusted at classes!!!!
I moved jobs and was in the middle of house renovations, so our ‘exercise room’ upstairs became full of the entire contents of downstairs! I was unable to get in there and I also had to let my gym membership lapse. I found myself being cross with myself and my body. Constantly moaning to my husband that I felt awful. He took me back to the local gym and I signed back up. The relief was palpable. I went for my induction and the conversation went like this:
Stella: “So, Gemma, what do you want from this?”
Me: (being all defensive) “Well Stella, I am not looking to lose weight. I know I am fat and if weight loss is a pleasant side effect then so be it. But I am here for my mental wellbeing and to strengthen my body.”
Stella: “Well I think that is perfect actually. Most people respond with ‘I want to lose weight’, and then become disheartened when it doesn’t happen.”
I almost wanted to kiss Stella! She trained me up on their E-gym and although it has been a little bit stop start, I know that it is there for me when I need to get my peachy butt back in there and get it moving!
I suppose what I want to say is that my relationship with exercise has changed. It had to. My original motivation for exercising were the most un-motivating reasons… lose weight, diet, be strict, restrict, calorie deficits, syns, points, steps, plans etc.
Actually, what I needed to do was to remind myself that there is such a thing as health at every size. I needed to remind myself that my body is a machine that needs maintaining, not punishing or shaming.
I need to remind myself of the FEELING that I get from exercise, the feeling of endorphins, the feeling of accomplishment and the feeling of the pleasure you get when you just blow away the day’s cobwebs..
So I will continue to be a fat girl exercising.
By the way did I tell you? If you are getting out there and moving, lifting, walking, swimming or even gardening, you are awesome! How often you get to do it, or the level at which you do it, does not define who you are.
You are you and you are always amazing!