“PLANK AND HOLD!” the trainer screams.

I make my way to the ground, prop myself up on my elbows, stretch my legs out and get in a plank position.

During the one minute “active break,” my sweat starts to race down my forehead and lands in big droplets on the ground. I can see my reflection in them. As I struggle to “keep my butt down,” my elbows slide on the foam mat.

I’m trying to keep my core tight. I look down, a loose shirt covers my hanging belly.

Once the painful and long minute is over, I bring my knees to my chest and stand on my feet. My muscles ache and my joints crunch.

The main trainer, a young, energetic, potentially psychotic man, comes up to me.

“I want to get some video of you today on the pads.”

Translation: He wants someone to video me sparring with him using boxing gloves.

I have been going to this particular kickboxing gym for years. In fact, I even received a free pair of boxing gloves from the corporate office after registering 500 workouts. So it didn’t surprise me that he asked for the video, but it didn’t excite me either.

“You couldn’t have done the video before I was drenched in sweat and my face was beet red?” I ask.

“You look fine; c’mon let’s go.”

This particular trainer doesn’t put up with my self-deprecation and he doesn’t treat me differently than any other person in the gym.

I’ve been the person who gains weight and the person that loses weight, but for the past few years, I’ve hovered around the same pleasantly plump number. I’ve spent years trying to be OK with that and while I still have bad moments, I have mostly stopped berating myself for being overweight.

I’m healthy. Almost every day, I go to the gym and for around 40 minutes, I kick, punch, run and push my body to the limits. I also eat nutritious food most of the time. I have an affinity for french-fries, cheese and alcohol, but I keep that type of consumption to once, maybe twice, a week.

At this point, in my mid-30s, it is very difficult to lose weight because of my aging metabolism and my refusal to starve myself.

Because you can’t see the sharpness of my rib cage or collar bone without a shirt on and because my belly, hips and thighs are doughy, I sometimes receive weird treatment in a gym environment. Sometimes, without warning, even though I’ve been doing high-intensity workouts for years, a new trainer will give me a modified exercise move even though she’s given nobody else in the gym this alternative. Or a person will stop me when I’m jogging to congratulate me for “getting out there” or being “brave enough” to run outside, like chubby folks like me need only exercise in a dark, enclosed space.

When my trainer asks to take a video of me, I agree to do it. Even though I still sometimes cringe at my image on camera, kickboxing empowers me and makes me feel strong. If someone who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of someone who is “fit” sees the video and gets inspired to go to the gym, then maybe I will have done some good. It’s not always easy to go to the gym when feelings of unworthiness overwhelm.

Once I tell the trainer I will do the video, he goes up to the only other person working out in the gym and asks her if she would shoot the video with his phone. This woman wears her blonde hair in a high ponytail, her face full of makeup and a purple sports bra with matching pants. Her abs are tan and her arms are cut.

It is clear that she thinks the trainer wants me to film her and not the other way around because she starts to collect her boxing gloves; her hair swishes to the side as she turns around.

“No, I want you to do the filming,” my trainer says.

The woman turns back around, looking dumbstruck.

She looks at me, then at the trainer and then back at me. Her eyes travel up and down my body.

Her?” she asks.

“Yes, I want you to film her boxing with me. Is that OK?” My trainer is receptive to the bitchiness of her question but is trying to downplay the awkwardness.

“Oh, sure!” The woman says this with a sugary pop. She goes from shock after understanding he wants to film me to giddiness like she is about to put on a charity ball.

In these types of situations, I generally experience a burning in my stomach that travels to my throat, up into my cheeks and right into my tear ducts. Sure, the comments makes me angry, but mostly, they deeply hurt my feelings. In one little flick of a word or phrase, these kinds of comments shatter years of work I have done to stop self-hatred. Mostly, I get mad at myself for letting the words get to me. I think of the first time I stepped on a scale at Weight Watchers. I think about how losing over 100 pounds still didn’t make me love myself.

The clueless, blonde ponytailed woman more than likely thought it was a harmless question: “Her?”

What she may not know is that whenever I go to the gym now, I look at the ground and avert my eyes from anyone trying to speak to me because I can hear that question, unspoken. Anytime I take a bite of a burger or a sip of a beer or something “bad,” I hear the question. Anytime I get in a bathing suit in front of my friends, there it is again.

But in that moment, I pretend like that exchange hadn’t happened. This clueless woman films me as I spar with my trainer. Jab. Cross. Uppercut. Uppercut. Hook. Each strike more powerful than the last. Each strike landing on her figurative fucking face.



The classroom had a basket filled with peanut butter crackers and oatmeal cream pies. A coffeemaker held luke-cold coffee. The water basin was bright orange and only had water sometimes. The square room could have had desks for a standard classroom or, like that summer evening, be cleared out to create a giant space for the blue exercise mats laid all over the floor. I was there with my mother; a woman at her work had taken the self-defense class with her daughter and my mom, always looking for a way to spend time with me, suggested we do it.

There were four classes total and each one was taught by officers of the local police department.  Each class was three hours long, once a week. The first class was strictly instructional; we watched cheesy and dated safety videos complete with women in teased bangs and shoulder pads screaming “No!” as any man approached them. I also got to see first-hand just how much my fellow Alabama residents love their guns. I mean, I already knew they did but I had no idea just how much. When the officer asked who in the room owned a gun, only 4 of the 20 participants didn’t raise their hands. Many of them had the guns in their purses. At the end of the course, there was an option for a gun range, but I skipped that day because my goal was to learn practical self-defense moves if I were ever to be attacked by a predator.

The class progressed slowly, beginning with standing moves—kicks and punches. The last two class periods, though they don’t say it explicitly, are clearly intended to help defend against sexual assault or rape. The moves on those days were optional, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try them. I watched woman after woman go to the mat, lay on their back while a stranger (a male cop) straddled them and taught them how to get out of certain situations. I am not a modest person, or shy, but even I had to admit that the straddling would feel uncomfortable. Once I saw my mother take the mat to practice the moves, I decided I might as well make the most of it and give it a shot.

Having lain on my back, flat against the plastic-y, cushioned mat, I stared up at the ceiling. I listened to the instructions without looking at anyone. I agreed to learn a particular move when suddenly, a man with strong arms and dark hair tightened his thighs around my head. I looked right at him as he stared down at my face and gently put his hands around my neck.

What I saw then, instead of the fluorescent lights of the regional airport where the self-defense classes were taking place, was Steve’s room from over three years ago. It was dark, but there was a dull glow from a lamp on the bedside table that gave the room a maroon, seedy nightclub ambiance. Steve was above me; his hands were wrapped around my neck.

I had been sleeping and his violent grip jolted me awake. I went from scared to confused to scared again as he alternated between choking me and pushing my underwear down my legs. Once he was successful, he again put both hands around my neck, just tight enough so I couldn’t resist but not too tight that he risked cutting off my airway. He tried to force himself inside me. Without lube or my desire to have sex with him, his penis wasn’t going in, no matter how many times he tried.

He stared right into my eyes. It didn’t look like there were feelings in his. They looked dead. I tried to see myself in them. I wanted to know what I looked like, but I also tried to focus on anything other than what was happening. I felt pathetic. After the initial shock wore off, I had let it happen. I mean, I’d gone to bed with him earlier and had sex with him then. I guess he thought he had constant permission, so I just let him do what he wanted to do.

After only a few minutes, he gave up. It wasn’t working. He huffed and violently ripped himself off of me, grumbled some kind of comment my way to imply blame and then went to sleep.

I pulled my panties up and turned over on my side to face the wall. One tear streamed out of the corner of my eye to the bridge of my nose and just puddled there like the penultimate dramatic scene of a goddam, bad movie. Even though I thought about leaving, I didn’t. I was as still as I possibly could be but inadvertently let out a small sniffle a few minutes later.

He asked what the fuck was wrong with me, and I said nothing.  The parameters of my relationship with Steve had been made clear by him from the beginning—nothing but sex.

Still, I pined for him. I envisioned a future with him. I’d faced a number of rejections and hated my body most of the time. All I had was hope that someone, even someone like him, would love me. He once asked if I liked it rough; he told me he had rape fantasies. One night we had sex on the floor and he balled up his fist and punched me in the vagina. He called me a whore once because I was wearing mascara.

He was the one that ended the relationship. When I remember that time, I feel more anger at myself than him, but I rarely let it enter my mind. I didn’t do everything I could to stop him, so I made myself forget that night.  

It wasn’t until that police officer in the self-defense class had his legs closed in around my face and his hands circled my neck that I was back in Steve’s room, in that moment, with that tremendous feeling of disgust and failure. Not a victim, but also not a willing participant in a scumbag’s fantasy.

I whispered no, used my hips to thrust the officer off me and hurried off the mat. A lesson learned.