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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 😉 )
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.)
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.
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.”
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