“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.