So, we recently got rid of the car. It’s no huge hardship in a city with good public transportation, but of course, in the first few weeks of going carless, you become aware of all the places that are suddenly much more of a PITA to get to.
Over the last several months, I’ve been trying to pick a real gym — specifically, one with a pool — to go to. Before that it was Curves, the yoga studio, or the Pilates studio for any workouts beyond walking. But I really wanted to take a regular water fitness class and maybe start swimming laps, so I started hitting classes at various local gyms on guest passes and non-committal punch cards. I’d narrowed it down to two favorites and was just about to buy a membership at one of them. Then we got rid of the car, at which point I realized that getting to either of those two gyms would require riding at least two buses for a travel time of about 45 minutes, even though they’re pretty close as the crow flies. And I realized that realistically, that meant I would never go to the gym, especially in winter.
So I made with the Google and found a gym that’s a mile away from home, so I can walk when it’s nice and take a bus that goes practically door-to-door in 15 minutes when it’s not. Took a tour, bought a membership, done and done. It’s pretty no-frills, but that means it’s pretty cheap, and they have a pool, which is all I really care about.
Last night, I went to my first water fitness class there. I was all excited, because this one was called “water Pilates” — but if there’s one thing I should have learned from sampling different water fitness classes at different gyms, it’s that they’re all pretty much the same. I went to one that supposedly involved an element of “water yoga,” but all that meant was that the teacher reminded us to breathe deeply a lot. Likewise, “water Pilates” means you get reminded to engage your abs a lot. That’s about it. Fortunately, I like plain old water fitness, so I can live with that, even if I am inclined to grumble about false advertising.
ANYWAY. All of that is background for the point, which we’ll get to now.
So, the instructor is friendly, the class is going along fine, and then it starts. While we’re doing arm exercises, she babbles: “It’s really easy to fatigue the triceps, because they’re smaller muscles and we don’t use them as much. You know what’s funny? We use our biceps all the time, because —” [mimes bringing fork to mouth]. “If we just did this –” [mimes pushing plate away] “–more often, we’d all be better off! Best diet in the world, and you’re using your triceps!”
Really? Pushing food away is the best diet in the world? But okay, a certain amount of that crap is to be expected from people out in the non-Fatosphere world, especially fitness instructors. Shake it off, Kate!
“Wow, the pool’s pretty empty today! Usually, we have to deal with lap swimmers splashing everywhere — and since the Olympics started, of course we’ve got a lot more of them! Everybody watches Michael Phelps and thinks, ‘Oh, someday, I could do that’” [makes face]. “And I’m just like, no, you couldn’t, and you don’t look as good in a Speedo, either!”
I’m sorry, WHAT? I know you’re making what you think are innocuous little jokes here, lady, but seriously? FUCK OFF. First, you’ve got two new students in class today, including me, and you think it’s wise to give the impression that the instructors at this gym make fun of newbies for both technique and HOW WE LOOK IN SWIMSUITS?
Second, nobody in their right mind looks at Michael Phelps and thinks, “I could do that.” Personally, I wouldn’t look at a freshman on a high school swim team and think, “Someday, I could do that.” I’m never going to get up at the crack of dawn to train for hours, let alone every day. I have zero interest in athletic competition, and even less in trying to sculpt my body to look “better” in a bathing suit. And yet, it was indeed the Olympics that inspired me to finally commit to a damned gym membership so I can spend more time in the pool. Because when I watch swimming on TV, half the time, I’m not even looking at the athletes. I’m looking at the pretty blue water and thinking how much I want to be in there.
I fucking love to swim. I especially love to just splash around for fun, which is why water aerobics appeals to me, even if I’m 30 years younger than the target market. But for over 15 years, I almost never got in the water, because I was too ashamed of how I looked in a swimsuit. I could not bring myself to do something I knew to be incredibly fun and good for me, because I didn’t have the kind of body that I believed would earn me the right to appear in public mostly naked. And that’s in part because of assholes constantly commenting on how other folks look in bathing suits (or yoga pants, tank tops, miniskirts, you name it), and who has the right to wear them, and who should really just stay home until they magically become thin enough that their flesh won’t offend right-thinking people.
For over 15 fucking years, I just stayed home.
“Harmless jokes” like that are neither harmless nor jokes to me.
And wait, it gets better. After class, I stopped to talk to the teacher (about the towels, nothing at all loaded). I knew I should say something about how much her remarks had bothered me — if nothing else, point out that joking about pushing your plate away being “the best diet in the world” might not be such a great idea in case she’s got someone recovering from an eating disorder in the class — but frankly, I wasn’t up to it. I do not always have the energy to confront people about this shit, and last night, I just wanted to get dressed, get out of there, and try a class with a different instructor next time.
So she asks how I heard about the class, and I say, “Well, I just signed up here because we got rid of the car, and it’s the closest gym with a pool for me. I knew I wouldn’t keep going to a gym that was hard to get to.”
Her eyes light up, and she starts telling me how she’s actually a wellness coach — specializing in weight management! — and she’s always telling people stuff like that, how you’ve got to make it easy for yourself and get rid of all the excuses if you want to keep going. At first, I’m nodding, ’cause yeah — obviously, I agree. Then she fires off 85 other tricks — all of which I’ve heard before, and/or done myself — with the strong implication that she assumes this is the first time I have ever considered exercising in my life, and I have actually just asked her for help in learning how to haul my poor flabby ass to the gym.
And then. AND THEN. Unbidden, she tells me more about her weight management services. “You know, I always tell people there’s no magic bullet –” OH REALLY YOU DON’T SAY “–but you have to change your behavior over time and really find a way to stick with it…”
Fortunately for her, she did not say the words “lifestyle changes,” which meant I didn’t have to deck her. But man, did I ever want to, especially when she wrapped it all up with this:
“So, do you have any particular… concerns?”
To her credit, when I said no and glared a little, she covered — asking specifically about injuries and whatnot, stuff she should know about as a teacher.
Me: Nope, thanks, I’m good.
Her: Okay, so you’re… healthy?
HINT HINT, FATTY!
Me: Yep. Thanks. BYE.
So. It’s my first class at a gym where I just signed a 12-month contract, and I have to listen to pro-dieting, anti-fat, anti-FOOD commentary throughout (there were more examples than the ones I gave), AND get an unsolicited pitch for “weight management” services before I’m allowed to hit the goddamned shower. AWESOME.
Of course, there are other water fitness teachers at the gym, and I will certainly be trying out their classes. (Though it irks me unreasonably that if I don’t show up to this one again, this woman will write me off as a “typical” lazy fatty who couldn’t stick with it.) I’m also thinking of taking some swimming lessons to improve my strokes and learn how to make lap swimming seem a little less mind-numbing to me — so I can eventually get my water fix without having to interact with other human beings at all. And, if I’m feeling strong enough, I might just go back to one of this woman’s classes and tell her privately that I’m a body acceptance activist who believes in HAES, and I find her patter really troubling and alienating. To be fair, apart from everything I’ve mentioned above — which amounted to maybe 5 minutes altogether, out of an hour — she was a good teacher, and I liked her. So maybe it’s worth taking up my teaspoon for this one. I just hate having to do that, you know? I spend all fucking day reading and writing about this shit, and I want to get in the pool to clear my head, not fill it with more work to be done.
And can I just say, this is one of the many reasons why so many people, fat and thin, hate the fucking gym. It’s not because we’re too lazy or don’t like exercise; it’s because at so many gyms, the culture is all about punishing and depriving yourself, not moving for the joy and genuine health benefits — as opposed to appearance “benefits” — of it. I’m really, really hoping this woman is an anomaly and does not actually represent the culture of the gym. I’m hoping every other instructor I meet will be more of a Terry. But I’m not too optimistic, frankly. And if I do have to deal with little arrows of fat hate coming at me every time I go to a class or work with a trainer there, it is going to be a lot harder to drag my ass there on a regular basis. Not because I don’t like exercise, but because I don’t like the default assumption that any fat person who darkens a gym door hates her body, wants to lose weight, and will give up if professionals don’t take it upon themselves to “motivate” her to work harder. For fuck’s sake, SHUT UP AND LET ME ENJOY MYSELF, and I’ll actually come back here without you having to do a thing.