It was my first class back at *THAT* gym in years.
The gym in question was close to my house and offered a state-of-the-art facility with a variety of different classes. I was a member there years ago but struggled to actually step foot inside the door on a regular basis.
Eventually I cancelled my membership because I was lucky enough to stumble upon a different gym that I actually LOVED! (If you are in the NYC area, I encourage you to check out Mark Fisher Fitness.) It boasts a friendly, knowledgeable staff, fun-filled classes and a supportive, inclusive community. Some of my biggest “A-HA” moments during my personal health transformation happened at this magical place. Some of my most precious friendships were started within those walls.
( This is me after a class at MFF. Yes there is confetti all over the floor. Yes our trainer is holding a lightsaber. Yes we are standing in front of a graffiti unicorn mural. Seriously. markfisherfitness.com Check it out!)
Unfortunately the magical gym was an hour away from my home (on a good day when the MTA was cooperating.) After three years of training at MFF exclusively, my work schedule changed making it difficult to get there consistently.
I begrudgingly decided to go back to *THAT *gym. I could get there more easily, it was affordable and I figured it was “better than nothing.”
It was about five minutes into the class. I was standing in the back row, close to the corner, trying to be as invisible as possible. The trainer was calling out instructions and then suddenly added, “summer is just around the corner! Do you want to be in a two-piece or a one-piece and a sarong?”
“Oh, right…” I thought to myself. “This is why I stopped coming here.”
The trainer continued, “Come on ladies! The competition is younger and hotter! There are new 19 year olds on the beach every summer looking for the same men you are!”
WHAT THE F**K????
It’s nothing short of a miracle that I actually stayed until the end of that class. It took all of my self-control not to storm out, march over to the front desk and demand all of my money back.
I looked around at the other women in class with me. There were women of different ages, shapes and sizes, from many different walks of life. I refused to believe that all of these beautiful creatures had signed up for this class simply to look good enough in a bikini to “compete” with a fit 19 year old for the attention of some dude on the beach.
My mind started to spin. In my head I got up on my little soapbox and started an internal monologue protesting against the absurdity that was being spewed.
First of all, who decides what kind of body is “allowed” to wear a bikini? Who says that only young scantily clad bodies are the ones that are desirable? Why are we assuming that the best reason to exercise is to attract a man? Why would we want to snare someone who was that superficial anyway? Can’t we do better than that?
Yes we can!
I felt tears stinging my eyes. Yes, I thought her remarks were incredibly insensitive and insulting. I was pissed on behalf of the entire room. I was also hurt.
I was hurt because those remarks rubbed up on an old wound for me. A few years ago, that trainer would have been inspiring to me. She would have been speaking to my exact motives. And that made me sad.
For years the only reason I did go to the gym was because I wanted to LOOK different. I was desperate for love, attention and ultimately, acceptance. I believed that the lack of any of those things in my life was due to my body not looking a certain way.
I believed very deeply that I WASN’T good enough, worthy enough, desirable enough as I was. I believed that my body was a problem that needed to be fixed in order to have the things I most wanted. Exercise was a punishment. I would work and sweat and suffer until I was closer to what I thought I was “supposed to be” to finally feel enough.
“People are somehow hypnotized with this belief that if we somehow shame ourselves enough we will end up to be happy, loving, self-accepting people. I ask them, ‘How does that work for you?’” – Geneen Roth
It DIDN’T work for me. For most of my life I had shamed myself into exercise. Being in the gym was a constant reminder that I wasn’t good enough the way I was. It’s no wonder I resented being there. It’s no wonder I hated it. It’s no wonder I stopped going.
According to bestselling author, Geneen Roth, who is an expert in compulsive eating and body image, “If you shame and deprive yourself into losing weight you will end up as a shame and deprived person who may have thin hips for about 10 minutes.”
It took me a LONG time to learn that lesson and release the ideas of shame, punishment and guilt around my body. It was INFURIATING to me that a complete stranger was using ALL of those ideas to *motivate* me in her class. To add insult to injury, I was PAYING for it! I wanted to scream!
Instead, I took a breath. I let go of my anger and hostility. I stayed in the class. I stayed because I knew why I WAS there now. I felt relief that I didn’t care about the bathing suit. I didn’t care about the imaginary guy on the beach approving of my physique or not.
I was there because I finally learned that I actually FEEL better if I exercise, regardless of how I LOOK.
The release of endorphins improves my mood. Consistent activity helps me to manage my anxiety, helps me to sleep better and have more energy throughout the day. Under the right circumstances and with the right people, exercise can actually be fun. It can be an opportunity to be social. I enjoy trying new things, taking on different challenges and setting personal records.
After years of hating the gym, I was able to find a form of training that felt empowering and inspiring.
(Me learning the kettlebell snatch for the first time and feeling like a badass)
Once I found the right activity, the right community, the right support and connected to EMPOWERED, COMPASSIONATE, LOVING motivation, exercise no longer felt like a chore. It was no longer a punishment for not being good enough.
Exercise is now a gift I give myself because I finally believe that I DESERVE to feel good now!
What gets you excited to get up and move? What feels fun, engaging and keeps you coming back? Share your favorite activity in the comments below. Why do you love it and how does it make you FEEL?
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!