Complimenting Fat People at the Gym (RANT FRIDAY!)

Welcome to RANT FRIDAY!

Today’s rant is thanks to Leanne, of Weigh to Health, and her friend Becca, of Between Wander and Wonder, who wrote a beautiful post titled “I Am Guilty of Gymming While Fat.” Their posts spurred my own conversation today, and I think this type of discussion does best when as many of us are talking about it at the same time. Get it out there, put a fire under it, stir it up and see how it settles out.

bicep and back workout
Working the bicep and back on my first day with a personal trainer over a year ago. It has been so much fun seeing how naturally strong I can become.

I feel their frustration. I workout at the Virgin Active in Hazeldean here in South Africa. I do strength training four mornings per week, HIIT training two mornings per week, and either swim laps or bicycle 3-4 evenings a week. That’s between 6-10 good, solid workouts every single week. I’m doing this so I don’t die of a heart attack at 45 like my father, so I can enjoy traveling without wanting to pass out on every uphill climb, and so my bloodwork numbers come back clean and healthy.

eye exam humor vision care contact lenses glasses aging lattice degeneration
My very favorite: bench press

Recently I had a complete stranger give me a thumbs up, grin and say “You’re looking good.”

To make my own opinion on this issue crystal clear: As a heavyset woman, I don’t want or need your “compliments” telling me “way to go” on continuing my workouts, or giving me a thumbs-up just for showing up at the gym, and I especially don’t need you to tell me I’m looking good. You have no idea how I felt about myself before, what my goals are, and I certainly don’t need your opinion on how I look or how my weight fits in with your version of attractiveness.

Although front delt raises are great to prep for a little mild chainsaw use, I couldn't help but think this is just mostly the jerkoff muscle at work.
Although front delt raises are great to prep for a little mild chainsaw use, I couldn’t help but think this is just mostly the jerkoff muscle at work.

Your “compliment” isn’t showcasing how nice you are. It tells me you’re being an ass, even if you’re being a well-intended, ignorant ass.Β  The only way you can behave this way? If you’re a close friend. And unless you know at least three of my pivotal life moments and how they affected me, you’re not in that category.

I generally don’t call people out on this behavior. But I think you’re being an ignoramus.

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger
AJ got me up to 190 pounds on the leg press at Muscle Beach. Yippee ki yay…

Why? Because to tell another person, who you don’t know, or don’t know well, that they’re doing great, and to keep up the hard work, is to project a perceived inequality between yourself and them. You are looking at the “fat girl” or “ugly girl” or “poor girl” you see as downtrodden or picked on, and it’s up to you, in all your magnanimity, to give them encouragement to become something better than what you see in front of you.

It’s not your place to praise me for my progress. I am not your child, not your student, and not your trainee.

FFC Fitness Union Station Chicago IL
About halfway through my hour of elliptical I decided to share a snapshot of my love/hate relationship with elliptical machines.

Here are thoughts for you to consider: I’m fat and I’m happy. I’m fat and I’m sexy. I’m fat AND I’m HEALTHY. I can outlift most women my age, and some men, out-work most of you if you come try my frontier-style living in the woods of Pennsylvania, and out-endure many of you on the elliptical at the gym. I may not be speedy, but I will not stop. And if the apocalypse happens tomorrow, I’m going to survive a hell of a lot longer. (That one’s my favorites. πŸ˜‰ )

lats back muscles pulldown lats pronating shoulder blades fitness
Pulldown lats are great prep for woodchopping as well.

You don’t know me. Unless you’re one of my very closest friends (see above criteria) then you don’t have my blessing or my permission to comment on what you think is my weight-loss progress, or whatever it is you assume I’m there to do at the gym.

Because you. don’t. know. You don’t know if my goal is to lose weight (it is not), to build muscle (it is), to look sexy (I already do), or simply to keep my cholesterol and blood pressure in range (it is).

Let me reiterate. When you “compliment” me on my looks or on whatever weight you think I’ve lost and how it fits into your small world view, you are not giving me the same kind of compliment you give to someone who you see power-lifting and say “Holy shit, that’s impressive.” (That, by the way, is a compliment I will accept. You may view below photo of my 100kg deadlift and compliment as you see fit. And please, do notice that my cuddly little pooh-bear belly sticks out. Enjoy that, too. I do.)

female bodybuilding strength training women in the gym
Almost there…
bodybuilding strength training women in the gym
New one rep max on dead lift = 100kg (225 pounds!)

You are not giving the same kind of compliment to an aerobics instructor when you say “Man, where do you get all that energy?” And this is certainly not the kind of compliment you give to a woman you see regularly working out and envy, when you say “Gee, you can really run. I see you on the treadmill all the time and it’s inspirational.”

If you “compliment” a fat person simply because you see them working in the gym, especially if you aren’t running around divvying out compliments to all the non-fat people, you seriously need to think about the way you see us heavyweights.

The assumption this type of left-handed compliment creates is that you believe I’m on some sort of “journey” to fit into a part of society you might believe you’re already in, and want to welcome me to.

Fitness female personal trainer weight lifting
Apparently my personal determination look comes with a side of middle finger. I’m working on that…

Let’s get real people, although the gym might seem a lot like that old high school some people miss so much, it’s not. You’re not part of the “cool kids” and I’m not one of “the outcasts” simply because of my weight (granted, my over-the-top personality keeps me in that group and I kinda’ like it) and I certainly don’t need your pat on the back to make me feel good.

Until you stepped up to imply how “proud” you are of me, I was under the impression you and I were equal.

I know I don’t usually speak out so harshly, but this type of “compliment” is just another back-door means of discrimination, so think hard before you speak.

Why did you pick that person to compliment? What about you makes you think they need or want your unsolicited comment?

So with all my bitching, do I even have a suggestion on how to treat an overweight person at the gym?

Hell yes. It’s called “the same everybody else.”

Muscle Beach Venica CA travel Los Angeles Venice Beach California writer blogger
Focus, Marla, focus. Pay no attention to the speedo with a boombox outside the pen.

Just go to the gym, workout, smile if you’re a nice person, make eye contact, and say hello when you pass someone, and check yourself before commenting on any other person’s “progress”. Ask yourself who else you’ve said that to, and why you’re saying it.

If you’re not paying these compliments to other random gym-goers, then it’s targeted.

Targeting = discrimination.

Disagree? Argue in comments below. We won’t see eye to eye, but if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know your voice will be acknowledged.

Love and Ass-Kickings, Marla

25 thoughts on “Complimenting Fat People at the Gym (RANT FRIDAY!)

  1. Thank you so much for this. I hate the gym for just the reason you have stated, ignorant people who think they know why I am there, who think they know or understand my goals, who think I give two plugged nickles about looking like the Barbie doll next to me. It makes me crazed sometimes, other times it simply makes me want to weep. They don’t know and if they did it still wouldn’t matter.

  2. I was literally giggling reading this. This is part of my hatred of the gym. I don’t want to socialize. I don’t want people to look at me. I don’t want people to talk to me, or give me “advice” or “input” or whatever. I tried to send off the biggest “FUCK OFF AND DIE” vibes that I could just so people would avoid me for part of this reason. I go to the gym to exercise and that is it!

    It was especially annoying when guys would comment about “good for you!” when I was working out. My thought process was essentially the same as yours, “What the heck do you mean ‘good for me?’ Because I showed up? Because I work out in no makeup? Because I’m not on my cell the entire time? Because I can leg press more than you?” I never did figure it out.

    Dang it used to make my blood boil – I don’t KNOW you, why are you comfortable commenting to me about ANYTHING I am doing? What makes you feel that is ok? Would you say that to the 95 pound bleached blonde, fake tanned, fake boob, caked on makeup chick bouncing on the treadmill next to me? No? Then why do you say it to me? It wouldn’t have annoyed me at all if I saw them say it to EVERYONE and not just the bigger gals.

  3. How, exactly does “you’re looking good” translate into a commentary on your progress? To me it translates into ‘hey, babe, I like to pick-up chicks at the gym, how about it?” and the rest of this is about how you feel about yourself and think others think about you. Of course, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know tone or demeanor, and heaven KNOWS I am the queen of the “and what do you mean by THAT?” response.

    I truly don’t care what strangers say to me or think about me… they are A-STRANGER (nod to Mercury Rising)… I care what the people who know me and love me say, and I DO want them to notice, to comment, to encourage and to applaud even the smallest of my achievements because trying to lose weight and get into shape are the fucking HARDEST things I have ever done in my life, and I am doing it in part FOR them.

    BUt that is me, and as you said – I don’t expect you to agree with me, but at least we can agree to differ (nod to Beatles movie HELP!)

  4. Ah my feisty Marla, I love her. So just so you know, next time the appropriate response is “thanks.” LOL πŸ˜‰

    Oh btw – 225 pound deadlift? Holy shit that’s impressive!

  5. HOLY CRAP! You pushed some buttons today, sis! Hahaha…I can hear your mental profanities from clear across the big pond. hahaha!! I’ll be sure to be offended next time tells me I look good for a fat, bald guy, hahaha!
    Lookin’ good sis! Love u

  6. As usual, I LOVED THIS BLOG POST…. πŸ™‚ but probably this is the first one where I wouldn’t agree with you fully… I am fat… and proud of it…other than that, I too go to the gym, in fact the same one that you go to, but yes, if someone compliments me (nobody has till date πŸ™ ) but if some day anybody does, I would take it as a genuine compliment and go on from there… compliments, especially in the gym are purely instinctive, because everyone is sweating out, literally…so probably when a person compliments me, he/she isn’t thinking so much, but just complimenting… so I would be ok with that… but yes, if someone sarcastically remarks in a sarcastic tone, I would probably tell him/her to get lost… taking the sentence from above which exactly describes how I feel, “I am fat and I am happy, I am fat and I am sexy, I am fat and I am healthy”… loved the lines… πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ the rest of the world can go to hell…!!!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  7. Hey Marla… In looking at your photos, it’s clear that you WORK at the gym. Maybe he’s not being patronizing but honestly complimenting your work ethic, being willing to go for it and get sweaty, and DO WORK. I’d be more likely to say “looking good” than to say “man, you’re really sweaty! Good job!” Love you, girl. And you are looking good!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kara. We aren’t going to agree on commenting regarding people we don’t know. But yes, I definitely work hard at the gym, and any stranger who wants to comment on the work is free to. In fact, I’ve had comments like that, where one of the regulars in the strength area said jokingly, “Geez, you’re making me look bad” (aimed at how heavy and hard I was lifting).
      To comment on a person we don’t know is projecting our own standards of what looks good onto another person, and has the potential of implying they weren’t looking good “enough” before, regardless of whether or not that’s the intent.
      The bottom line (for me, of course) is that we simply don’t know their goals, their history or their journey, and what we’re telling them says more about our own standards of attractiveness than their hard work.

      You, by the way, are a close enough friend that the comment doesn’t fall under the same category as a stranger who would say it to me, so I’m not offended.

  8. “Effected,” or “affected?”

    Maybe that’s what that dude should have said.

  9. I completely agree with you. People go to ”workout” for so many other reasons than vanity. It is quite annoying. I go, get my business done & get the hell out! Everyone is on their own journey. I don’t interrupt others & I certainly do not want them interrupting me! ahhhh….I DO feel better now….thanks for the rant!

    1. Yeah, it was really distracting. I get in a zone when I’m working out as well, so to be interrupted in the first place is frustrating, and to have it be that really just “grinds my gears.”
      I’m glad I could help. Now get your butt over here and gym with me. We can go, ignore each other for an hour, then leave refreshed and ready to take on Africa.

  10. I’m so glad you’re talking about this, Marla. One of the greatest things I found when I joined a women-only gym in Boston several years ago was that suddenly I felt comfortable in the weights room. No one tried to chat me up or tell me how to do my workout better. We were all there for our own reasons, and there was an unspoken agreement that we were all working hard and deserved the space to do it. Plus, there was a sauna.

    Which is not to say that men are the problem. The problem, as you say, is when people assume they know our goals and that they have information that will improve us. The culture of a gym can go a long way to discourage that sort of behavior, but as usual it’s more about personal awareness.

    I tend to get the most unsolicited chatter when I’m running alone, though. Maybe it’s because I look AWFUL when i’m running and people think I need encouragement, or maybe it’s because they think that my actions invite commentary. Either way, I enjoy it almost as little as I do when someone says to me, “You look great! Have you lost weight?”

    1. Thanks, Caroline. Geez I can’t even imagine anybody commenting on you (since, as you know, I think you’re perfect), so, like Leo (Doggy’s Style) you’re totally reassuring me that this crap is a worldwide phenomenon, an issue of personality and boundaries instead of just cultural.
      That women-only gym sounds intriguing. I’ve heard they have them here but I’m locked into this two-year membership so I’m going to make the best of it.

  11. What about you makes you think they need or want your unsolicited comment?
    That’s exactly why I rarely compliment people, even those I know.
    I think “you are the shit!” is the best compliment ever and it fits everything.
    I’m on the “other” side Marla, I’m a skinny guy, I go to the gym 3-4 times a week, you see all the gays loving themselves on the mirrors and touching every piece of their body every time they drop the weights.
    Some dare to come to me and advice me what exercise to do to built up muscle. It pisses me off, because they do not know why I go to the gym and just so they never talk to me again I get back to them with “well, I’m not here to build muscle, or talk to people, I’m here to compensate my running, see, I’m a runner, I’m skinny, I have no need for bulky muscles, they just slow me down. But thanks anyway.”
    Granted I’m the most hated gay there, but I don’t give a shit.
    However, I do appreciate when they keep staring at me when I’m running on the treadmill for longer than 1 hour at 15km/hr or faster.
    I hate the gym.
    Great post!

    1. Oh Leo, I love your comment so much. Thanks for writing this, because I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective.
      Gym takes a lot of emotional strength, and it’s helpful to know that it’s not just the heavyweights that get the unsolicited advice.
      I think we should both come back as cows – those big, furry cows that nobody wants to eat. (Loved your post on the furry cows, btw). πŸ˜‰

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