Warning: This post contains statements that may be triggering for those recovering from eating disorders.
I had a mini-epiphany on the elliptical this week.
For most of my adult life I have blamed most of my insecurities on my weight. I do realize and acknowledge that some of the weight related blame is justified. Some people judge fat people harshly and have no issue bleating loudly about their dislike. But here’s the thing, the more I accept and love myself, the less their opinions matter. It wasn’t really my weight that was holding me back; it was my fear about what others thought about my weight.
But I already knew that. This wasn’t the epiphany.
I’m pretty in my head during workout and generally see it as “me time”. I try to balance this with paying attention to my breath, my muscle sensations, etc. but honestly, thinking about how I’m breathing gets boring and my mind wanders. On epiphany day I was very much in my head. I realized that I’d felt less self-conscious on that day in the gym than I had previously. This thought was rumbling around for a bit and I was thinking about all the ways this was true:
- The receptionist was busy when I walked in so I simply scanned my card and walked in without worrying about social niceties.
- I placed my small bag in one of the cubbies in the corner of the room before working out without mentally debating if this was okay or newbie behavior. I hadn’t debated about cubbies vs. lockers either, wondering if perhaps I should use the locker room to store my stuff- or was that newbie behavior?
- I was less awkward about eye contact with fellow exercisers.
- I chose a machine facing the room when previously I chose the TVs even though I find them distracting because facing the room made me feel too exposed.
- I began to take notice of the diversity of the people around me and felt less isolated. People of all ages, levels of fitness, apparent goals and various sizes where there. (Though I did still notice I was the largest person there- something I still mentally check in most places but am trying to overcome. Baby steps, folks.)
So, what had changed from the first day when I was internally struggling, wanting to run from the place? I’d been so sure everyone was staring at me with pity, disgust, condescension, judgement. I realized that the only thing that was different was experience. It wasn’t my weight that made the first few days at the gym awkward. It was the fact that it was the first few days. Most people are apprehensive in new situations and there’s no way around it, only through it. It’s so easy to believe that everyone else has it all together, that things come easily to others because they have things all figured out. But I’m trying to remind myself that this is only because they did the work to figure it out.
As so often happens with epiphanies this realization opened the flood gates and I began thinking about all of the other uncomfortable situations which I’d blamed on my weight. When I feel embarrassed in a social situation, frustrated when learning a new physical skill, annoyed while shopping for clothes, judged by others or just generally awkward I’ve had a tendency to blame my weight and convince myself that I wouldn’t feel these things if I were thin. Which is ridiculous. Many thin people experience these same things. Heck, I felt them myself when I was thin. But it’s easier to blame my weight than admit I’m just awkward. Weight can (theoretically) be fixed. Socially inept, that’s a whole other ballgame. Or so I’d convinced myself.
As I was nearing the end of my workout I couldn’t help but wonder why I had always convinced myself that my ineptitude was unique. If my weight wasn’t to blame, what was? I began thinking back to when I first felt this way. As more and more memories flashed through my mind it occurred to me that perhaps this was a byproduct of coping with a dysfunctional childhood. I don’t really have a great desire to go into detail about that but I’ll just say, I never felt “normal” as a child. My family didn’t look or behave like the families on TV or even the families I encountered in real life. My own experiences felt so far removed from the norm that I convinced myself that I couldn’t possibly be normal either. As a coping mechanism I began to observe and emulate the behaviors of others. I don’t necessarily think this was completely bad or wrong but along with learning how to behave in a functional manner I also learned to constantly second guess myself. Now, I’m trying to relearn to trust myself.
As I stepped off of the elliptical I felt strong, both physically and emotionally. I knew something important had shifted. I knew that the days of fat blaming were over. So are the days of childhood blaming because this realization wasn’t about blame, it was about understanding. And I do understand- I did what I had to do to do at the time and that meant emulating others. It was strength that allowed me to find a way through my circumstances and that same strength will bring me back to myself.