+
upworthy
Family

This is what it's really like to go to the gym as a fat person.

How the gym exposes a challenging double-bind of attitudes around fatness.

I love the feeling of my beating heart — the rush of blood in my face and limbs, the scrape of heavy breath in my lungs, the pulsing in my fingertips.

I love to feel sweat gather in the fine hairs at my temples, neck. The bright colors of workout clothes and the rhythmic throb of blood in my veins are a celebration of the life in my lungs.


Photo via iStock.

I learned to swim at a young age, joining a swim team in grade school and middle school. I never minded being the fattest kid on the team because swimming made me feel so free and exhilarated. I swam the butterfly, a complicated stroke with a precise momentum, in which my fat body proved a surprising asset. I felt my heartbeat in every inch of my body, and I loved it.

Things changed in high school, when our whole class took fitness tests at the same time, the gym becoming a tiny stage packed with players and too much audience.

In locker rooms, beyond the earshot of adults, classmates would talk endlessly about each other’s personal bests and bodies. Those conversations were a warning shot. I never heard my body discussed, but there was the caution: It would be.

The worst test was running the mile, and the inevitability of harsh judgment that came with it. I dreaded the obviousness of being the fattest kid, the cliché of coming in last. I prided myself on being a high achiever and felt overwhelmed with shame at being seen by all of my peers doing something at which I was so inadequate. After everyone else had finished, I was still there, the last of the last, keeping everyone else from going home for the day. Classmates watched as my reddened face contorted with embarrassment and determination, willing my stubborn body through its final lap.

My brain would overheat and sputter with dread and panic for days leading up to The Mile.

Already an anxious kid, my brain would overheat and sputter with dread and panic for days leading up to The Mile. The night before was often sleepless. Hot, frenzied tears would sear my face while my mother offered comfort. Imagine when it’s over, how free you’ll feel, knowing you don’t have to do it for another six months. Think of how relieved you’ll be. Think of everything else that you love so dearly.

It took me years to rediscover my love of movement and strength.

Today, I walk in the city, run in parks, hike in mountains, and swim on the rare occasion I have access to a private pool. But I don’t go to gyms.

“GOOD FOR YOU!”

I was at the gym on my first day of a trial membership.

I was on the elliptical with my headphones in and my eyes closed, willing the world away. People, problems, noise, and challenge all slipped into the ether, disappearing in a cloud of breath and fast-paced music. Suddenly, a piercing interruption.

“GOOD FOR YOU!”

I opened my eyes to see a stranger standing before me, face to face. She smiled with too much encouragement, the way adults do when children learn a basic skill for the first time. I felt conspicuous, the recipient of too much unwanted and unwelcome attention. I forced a weak smile and nodded, waiting for her to leave.

I looked around. No one else was talking to anyone they didn’t know. One other patron stared at me, his face contorted with unchecked disgust.

Photo via iStock.

Suddenly, I was back in high school, the last huffing, puffing fat kid to finish the mile. The size of my body felt so obvious. It felt piteous because it was pitied, disgusting because it elicited disgust. I walked into the gym feeling fine, even good. I walked out feeling ashamed, small, embarrassed by my own audacity.

Going to the gym as a fat person is a ropes course of social cues — little signals that I’m unwanted or, at best, unexpected.

Like an uninvited party guest who can’t take the hint. Would you like something to drink? We don’t have much left.

The gym exposes a challenging double-bind of attitudes around fatness. Even doing what I’m expected to do — working out — I’m still met with sidelong glances and open gawking, reminders that I’m unwelcome and unwanted. Even in the place I’m supposed to be, I can’t find respite.

As a fat person, I’m constantly bombarded with messages telling me that my job is to spend all of my time and energy changing my body, ever reducing it, until it is the right shape and size, until it moves the right way and says the right thing; until I am confident but not conceited, apologetic but not sad.

This is an impossible standard that rejects nearly all of us. But the gravitational pull of beauty standards is so strong that we are pulled into their orbit.

We all keep trying, keep striving, keep failing. We don’t lose as much weight as we thought, or we don’t lose it in the right places. Our bodies remain stubborn and untamed, unbending to our forceful will.But still, we try. We try new diets, new workouts, new pills. We spend money, time, effort. And every time something doesn’t work, it calls up all of our past defeats. Over time, those failures start to feel like who we are. They ferment, souring into shame.

Photo via iStock.

When any of us goes to the gym, it can call up all of that shame, hurt, and anger at ourselves for our perceived shortcomings. But when I show up, I become an effigy for all of that angst. I suddenly start to feel like a high schooler again at the gym, awkward and ashamed. Because in that environment, so many of us are suddenly awash in insecurity, focused on performing and judging. Even in a gym, the only bodies we can accept are the ones that are already perfect.

When I work out, I don’t do it to fit an impossible and exclusive standard.

I do it to clear my head. I do it to feel vitality, the brightness of knowing just how alive I can be. I do it to take care of a body that takes care of me.

But to go to a gym, I’ve also got to brave a culture that’s borne of insecurity, perfectionism and the lack of it. There’s no room for more, better, improvement. There’s no room for getting stronger, breathing easier, goals other than weight loss. There’s only room for hunger, lack, insecurity and shame.

I’ve had enough insecurity and shame. Instead of chasing a mirage my body will never be, I focus on making it strong. I attend to the many measures of health that shame conquers and flattens. I take long hikes and runs to clear my cluttered mind. I find safe places to swim, to feel the power of my body, the waves it can make. I return to that simple, glorious feeling of my sturdy heart pumping blood brightly through my veins.

Photo via Isaac Brown/Stocky Bodies/Stocky Bodies.

I have known enough shame. Today, I choose abundance and confidence. I choose nuance and self-determination. I choose strength.

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

More parents are taking 'teen-ternity leave' from work to support their teenage kids

Parenting through the teen years takes a lot more time and energy than people expect.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Raising kids through adolescence is not for the faint of heart.

When you have a baby, it's expected that you'll take some maternity or paternity leave from work. When you have a teen, it's expected that you'll be in the peak of your career, but some parents are finding the need to take a "teen-ternity leave" from work to support their adolescent kids.

It's a flip from what has become the traditional trajectory for modern parents. Despite the fact that the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world to not have mandated paid parental leave, most parents take at least some time off when a baby is born to recover physically from pregnancy and birth and to settle into life with their tiny new human. Many parents then opt to have one parent stay home full-time during their children's younger years, as full-time childcare is often cost prohibitive, and raising babies and toddlers requires an enormous amount of time, attention and energy.

Parents often return to work when their kids are in school full-time, and many feel a bit of a respite from the relentlessness of parenting as their kids become more independent and capable of doing things on their own. It's not that older kids don't need their parents, but their needs are different. Physical parenting gives way to more complex emotional parenting as kids get older, and for a while, those emotional challenges are somewhat simple.

Then the tween years come along. Then the teens. And for some parents, a realization hits that parenting kids through puberty takes almost as much time, attention and energy, as toddlers do. Only now, those needs are much more complicated and consequential.

Keep ReadingShow less

"The Carol Burnett Show" had one of the funniest outtakes in TV history.

"The Carol Burnett Show" ran from 1967 to 1978 and has been touted as one of the best television series of all time. The cast and guest stars of the show included comedic greats such as Tim Conway, Betty White, Steve Martin, Vicki Lawrence, Dick Van Dyke, Lyle Waggoner, Harvey Korman and others who went on to have long, successful comedy careers.

One firm rule Carol Burnett had on her show was that the actors stay in character. She felt it was especially important not to break character during the "Family" scenes, in which the characters Ed and Eunice Higgins (a married couple) and Mama (Eunice's mother) would play host to various colorful characters in their home.

"I never wanted to stop and do a retake, because I like our show to be ‘live,’" she wrote in her memoir, as reported by Showbiz Cheat Sheet. "So when the ‘Family’ sketches came along, I was adamant that we never break up in those scenes, because Eunice, Ed, and Mama were, in an odd way, sacred to me. They were real people in real situations, some of which were as sad and pitiful as they were funny, and I didn’t want any of us to break the fourth wall and be out of character.”

It was a noble goal, and one that went right out the window—with Burnett leading the way—in a "Family" sketch during the show's final season that ended with the entire cast rolling with laughter.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

People are debating the merits of a 24-hour daycare and the discussion is eye-opening

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the need for this.

StableDiffusion

Are 24-hour daycares a good idea?

Millions of American parents utilize daycare centers while they work. Since most people work during the day, most daycare center hours fall somewhere between 7:30am and 5:30pm. It's rare to find a daycare that's open after normal working hours.

But one "24-hour" daycare in Houston captured people's attention—and sparked a debate—when a mom posted about it on TikTok.

Adventure Kids Playcare in Houston isn't actually open 24 hours a day but it does offer childcare up to 10:00pm during the week and until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. In the video, the mom drops her daughter off and we hear the employee tell her they close at midnight. The mom later says she picked her daughter up at 11:55pm.

Reactions to the video rand the gamut from "24-hour daycares are a brilliant idea for parents who work odd shifts" to "Moms shouldn't be leaving their kids at a daycare late at night just so they can go out," sparking a fascinating and eye-opening discussion.

Keep ReadingShow less

A dad is looking for a little more respect at home.

The title of dad or father is a sweet and respectful way to acknowledge a child's special bond with their male parent. It signifies love and respect and shows appreciation for his role in their life. But the title works both ways. The term dad reminds fathers of the responsibility to guide and protect their kids.

The importance of the unique role dads play in their kids’ lives is why a father named Steve was upset with his wife for repeatedly using his first name when referring to him with their preteen children.

The father vented about the situation and asked if he was wrong in a Reddit post with over 10,000 responses.

“My wife recently started using my first name when referring to me to our preteen kids, as in ‘Steve's gonna pick you up from school tomorrow,’” the father wrote on Reddit’s AITA forum. “I asked her not to when I first heard it, saying I don't really like when you use my first name to the kids. Can you say ‘your dad’ or ‘dad’?”

Keep ReadingShow less

Husband's portrait of wife is so bad that she nearly stops breathing

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but what if what your eyes behold is objectively...not good? In what appears to be a creative way to spend quality time together for a married couple, things go hilariously wrong. Ted Slaughter, uploaded a video to his TikTok page of an activity he and his wife did together.

Slaughter's wife seems to be holding the phone so you can clearly see what appears to be a painting of Slaughter, who is sitting at the other end of the table in front of an easel. The text overlay on the video says, "husband and wife paint portraits of each other (gone wrong). But what could possibly be wrong, sure his wife's attempt isn't art gallery ready just yet but it's not bad.

Based on the critiques the man had of his wife's painting, surely his looks much closer to professional level work. Right?...Right?

Keep ReadingShow less