If you’ve spent any amount of time at the gym, running, in the pool, or on a bike– you probably are well aware that you can’t judge a book (or a runner/biker/swimmer/lifter/cardio-blaster) by its cover. For one, you don’t know the battle someone else is fighting: Do they have an injury? Have they already lost half their body weight? Are they in a less-competitive time of their life? Are they fighting a medical condition? And second, what you look like has little to do with your fitness level. I know plenty of larger women who can easily lap me in the pool, and just as many tiny, skinny women who can lift more than I can.
There are a few blog posts circulating online this week that touch on the topic of fitness bullying.
My personal favorite is this one, “Gym Bullies, Don’t Make Fun of Me,” where the author catches a woman at the gym who is attempting to take a picture of a larger woman… and then shames her into deleting the photo.
And this one, “To the Fatty Running on the Track This Afternoon.“ This one looks like it was originally posted in December and then went viral. In many circles, this writer was applauded for being a cool runner. I disagree. I think it was rude. Here’s a response from this week from the “fatty” they singled out… who might not the the actual runner seen on the track, but who is a prolific blogger and athlete who has lost a lot of weight.) (UPDATE: 3/13/14– here’s the follow up from Tony, the guy who penned the response.)
For the record, I think the “compliment” is HORRIBLE. I’ll explain why after I share text of that Facebook post that got so much media attention:
To the fatty running on the Westview track this afternoon:
You, whose feet barely lift off the ground as you trudge around the track. You, who keeps to the outside lane, footslogging in the wrong direction. You, who stops for water breaks every lap, and who would probably stop twice a lap if there were bleachers on both sides. You, whose gaze drops to your feet every time we pass. You, whose sweat drenches your body after you leave, completing only a single, 20-minute mile.
There’s something you should know: You f**ing rock.
“Every shallow step you take, you carry the weight of more than two of me, clinging to your bones, begging to be shaken off. Each lap you run, you’re paying off the debt of another midnight snack, another desser, another beer. It’s 20 degrees outside, but you haven’t let that stop your regimen. This isn’t your first day out here, and it certainly won’t be your last. You’ve started a journey that lasts a lifetime, and you’ve started it at least 12 days before your New Year’s resolution kicks in. You run without music, and I can only imagine the mantras running through your mind as you heave your ever-shrinking mass around the next lap. Let’s go, feet. Shut up, legs. F**k off, fat. If you’d only look up from your feet the next time we pass, you’d see my gaze has no condescension in it.
“I have nothing but respect for you. You’ve got this.”
So, yeah… they eventually get to the point that this person rocks and they respect them. BUT… do they? In what world do you rip a person apart, judging them by making up your own version of their life story, before giving them a compliment? Not mine.
I’m sure you’ve received an apology before that goes something like, “I’m sorry I got mad at you and yelled and stormed off. But, I did that because you… (and then lists all the things they think you did to deserve being treated that way.)” If you’ve experienced this before, you know it negates the entire apology. It says, “I’m sorry, but I’m not really. It’s still your fault.” To me, that’s how this compliment sounds. “I think you’re fat. And I just made up a story about you that I think is true. Oh, by the way, nice job, Fatty. I respect you.”
I post all of this to say, be careful who you judge. And, stop with the fitness bullying.
This one feels personal to me at this point in my training. As I have mentioned before, I had surgery and a blood transfusion in early February. Before that, I was pretty anemic, so my workouts weren’t going all that great anyway. Basically, I’m not in the shape I was in last summer, and it shows. My doctor allowed me to start swimming at 3 weeks post-op. I was excited to go back to the gym to swim, but that first day back, I sat in the parking lot texting a friend. I couldn’t make myself go inside. I was afraid of seeing people I knew. I was afraid I would be judged by people who didn’t know about the things my body has been through the past few months. And, I was so upset about it, I wasn’t even sure I could have a conversation about it without crying.
I did eventually go inside. I didn’t see anyone I knew that day. I made it through my swim, and I’ve been swimming ever since.
But I still worry about seeing people on the street who know me, or who know I’m a coach, who notice my lack of speed or muscle tone…
I still worry about running my next few races with a timing chip on…
Why? Because people like to judge.
I know I shouldn’t let it get to me. I am following my doctor’s orders. (And I just have 1 1/2 weeks left until I can START running and lifting again!) I have a plan for the come back. I am not jumping in. I have an injury history that tells me I need to ease back into running. And that building core strength and lifting will be key to a successful fall race season. So, yes, while I plan to participate in races this spring and summer, I have my eyes set on fall.
In the gym, at the track, in the pool, elementary school playground rules still apply: Be KIND! You don’t know that athlete’s story… unless they share it with you!