Fat at the Gym

Gyms are temples for people who aren’t fat to worship at the altars of their not-fatness. Gym workouts are anti-fat devotionals offered by the devoutly fitness-minded worshipers. No matter how “judgment-free” a gym claims to be, gyms are infested with fatphobic people, including fat people who are battling not only their own biology, but the internalized fatphobia that society has pressed into our psyches.

Like many fat-positive folks, before fat positivity came into my life, I had a lot of internalized fatphobia, was on the disordered eating spectrum, and had gone to exercise extremes. I’d received awkward and unsolicited praise, like “You’re so brave,” “You inspire me,” “Keep at it,” simply because I was working out while fat.

Thing is, when you’re fat and you go to the gym, everyone seems to assume that you’re working toward weight loss. That assumption is fatphobic. You assume that a fat person is there to “solve the problem” of their fatness, because you perceive fatness as problematic.

There are more reasons to go to the gym than intentional weight loss. Here’s a few that spring to mind: to maintain or improve strength, to maintain or improve health, to move, to alleviate boredom, to get out of the house, to build endurance, to rehab an injury.

I’ve recently gone back to the gym, and I’m working hard to keep these reasons that have nothing to do with IWL at the forefront of my experience and desire, but, damn, if that internalized fatphobia isn’t rearing its ugly head. No matter how many times I tell myself and others that I’m there for non-IWL reasons, there’s an insidious internal voice that says, “You’ll incidentally lose weight, no matter your reason for being here.”

It’d be easy to spiral from there away from fat positivity, in all honesty. It takes conscious work to deprogram that voice. Here’s some of the script I’m using to do that.

I recognize that is internalized fatphobia talking and that it does not speak truth. Fatness is not a problem. My body is not a problem. All bodies are valid. My body is valid. I deserve to take up space. My body is constantly changing. My body is still valid. I deserve to feel good in my body. Right now I feel good in my body when I incorporate movement in my life. I deserve to move in ways that feel good. I choose to stay aware of the societal scripts that are telling me I have an obligation to shrink. I will eat what I please, when I please. I will move as I pleases. I will listen to my body. I will honor my body as it is in each moment.

The script intentionally doesn’t include “I love my body” or “My body is beautiful” because, one, implying self-love is a solution to oppression actually reinforces oppression and, two, beauty is a cultural construct that reinforces oppression.

In closing:

  1. The gym can be a really fucked up place for/toward fat people.
  2. Fat people deserve intentionally anti-fatphobic spaces where we can move our bodies.
  3. The journey of embodying fat positivity includes repeatedly deprogramming internalized fatphobia.
  4. I’m not anyone’s good fatty and not trying to be.

If you’re looking for fat-positive or HAES-informed movement options, here are some potentially helpful resources:

Superfit Hero’s Body Positive Fitness Finder

Curvy Yoga – Find a Class Near You

Body Positive Yoga

HAES Community – Click on HAES Programs/Groups (movement/activity based)

In solidarity with Fat Girls Hiking, I can’t recommend Joyn. I acknowledge it exists.

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