To the people staring at me while I lift weights, and the girls who glance over at my treadmill trying to inconspicuously see how hard I’m going, or even the guys watching through the window of my training room as I run my kickboxing program, this is for you.

I, like many American women, am overweight. I won’t lie – I’m decently overweight too, and it’s probably because I love pasta and carbs way more than I probably should. Sugar is fantastic. Pizza accompanies me to the living room to watch one too many Sylvester Stallone movies or another marathon of Star Wars, quite frequently. I love iced tea and miss soda every day.

 It’s not unusual for girls like me, who spend a majority of their life writing at the computer or watching movies alone (ahem), to put on a few pounds. I gained weight all throughout college because I was dedicated to my studies and commuted an hour and worked two jobs, so I couldn’t afford a gym membership. I’ve been heavy my whole life and am not ashamed to admit it drove me to consider suicide. I’ve been body conscious at the beach and have cried in the fitting rooms like many women my age and size do daily.

Despite all of this, I workout. I go to the gym four times a week, sometimes five, depending my schedule, to indulge in kickboxing, weights, and treadmills. I set goals for myself (“Five more, Miriam, just five more!”) and keep track of my progress by taking selfies and storing them on my phone. So far, since joining almost two months ago, I’ve lost roughly fifteen pounds. While I cannot entirely break my love of carbs and sugar, I’ve cut my portions in half and eat small snacks through the day and skip the three heavy meals a day. I opt for water just about everywhere, and chew a lot of gum, and I am not too ashamed to admit I have those one pair of really hot jeans I’m trying to get back into (which, by the way, I'm back in!).

When I wake up and decide to go to the gym roughly around 11AM, I mentally psych myself up, telling myself it will be a great workout and you’re going to sweat and get that SWOL body you’ve always wanted. You’re going to feel your abs and push yourself harder than you have before, girl. You’re going to pretend that assailant is right in front of you and punch his lights out like you’re something out of a Stallone movie. You’re going to walk that extra mile or stair-step those extra five minutes, and you’re going to do it well. You can do forty sit ups and fifteen pushups. You. Can. Do. This.

While this mental pep-talk isn’t unusual, I find myself also reminding me of the onlookers at the gym as I check my watch and the clock on my cell phone. “Is anyone else going to be at the gym today?” I ask myself as I step out the door to my car, dressed in my athletic gear that fits a little bit better every day. In my bag is that cute checkered shirt I bought at the store last week that didn’t fit the week before when I tried it on, and a cute pair of shorts that I’m not afraid to show some leg in. I have a playlist and my Stallone movies selected on Hulu for my twenty-five minute walk on the treadmill, as well as a protein bar for after the gym. But, as I slip into my car, I briefly wonder if that weightlifting class is scheduled for today, or if those yogis are going to be doing a session.

I arrive at the gym, and much to my dismay, I see a cars there. I again take another few minutes to, to the wandering eye, mess around my cell phone, while silently I’m instead reminding myself that hundreds of thousands of people go to the gym. That they join gyms to get in shape and be healthy, like me. It’s the reasons gyms exist. “Don’t worry about what other people think,” I remind myself as I pop open the door and grab my bag, “They only have the right to judge you if you sit at home and do nothing about your health.”

As I walk in and slip into my shoes, I notice the woman beside me. She is in shape and tan, and has the perfect exercise gear. She has a bright smile and perfect hair, and a perfect smoothie and protein snack. She lifts weights, given the training belt around her waist, and also is a yogi. As she slips out of her sneakers beside me to put on designer flip flops, she ever so briefly gives me a once over and doesn’t say a word. She gathers her things and leaves.

I can’t help but notice as I warm up for my kickboxing regiment that the weightlifters watch me. The one guy is curiously staring as if he’s unsure of what I’m doing, but when he catches me, he goes back to his bench-press. The other guys don’t seem to care that I can see them staring, they’re instead focused on my top-half as I work the ab machine. By this time my face is red and I’m starting to sweat, and as I go for a drink of water, they’re hardly phased.

And once it’s time to begin my kickboxing class, I make sure the door is closed behind me. If there were curtains, I’d draw them, because I don’t want anyone looking in when I know they would anyway. As I start imaging myself against an opponent and begin the jabs and uppercuts (and feeling a lot like Ronda Rousey!), I glance over my shoulder and see two women with yoga mats glancing inside, watching briefly. I wonder if I’m interrupting a glass, but remember theirs isn’t until 12:30. I still have an hour.

After my fifteen minute warm up of kickboxing combos, I decide against lifting weights. I focus instead on the treadmill and my Stallone movies. The woman beside me is working hard too, and she’s about my size, but she’s older and looks like, by her cell-phone case, that she has kids. As I start my routine, I can periodically feel her glancing at me, and by the look on her face, she’s comparing us. She ups her resistance a few clicks after looking inconspicuously at mine.

By this time, the weightlifters have left, so I can have the section to myself. I begin and work twenty pound weights over my head, building my shoulders and forearms. There’s a woman on a spinning bike watching me from the corner, and by the look on her face, she seems to be cheering me on. Soon, she finishes her cycle and comes over to the weights with me and smiles, nods, and begins her own bench-press. We exchange smiles and talk about the weather during rests. “It’s hot out there,” she says. I nod and say, “Sure is,” as if it’s the reason I’m dripping with sweat.

Then there’s the woman who approaches me after I’m done on the elliptical. By this time it’s 12:15, and I’m ready to go home and make it to a hair appointment. As I emerge from the bathroom, dressed for an appointment, she catches up with me as we begin to change shoes and asks me how my workout was. I recognize her as one of the runners who work the treadmill regularly, but don’t know her name. I tell her it was fine. She asks me how long I’ve been here.

“An hour and fifteen minutes,” I reply casually, tying my hair back in a bandanna. I begin to check over my athletic clothes to make sure I didn’t leave anything, because I wouldn’t want anyone finding my sweaty, plus-size clothes in the bathroom. She looks surprised and smiles at me.

“That’s great,” she chimes, “Good for you! I saw you working really hard in your kickboxing session. That looks fun!” She’s bright and bubbly, despite being red-faced and dripping with sweat of her own. She’s a little more trim than I am, and she’s about my age. “I hope you don’t mind.”

I shrug, “Not really,” I lie, and add on, “You’re not the first person who’s seen me kickboxing.”

She nods. “I know,” she shrugs and rolls her eyes, adding in disgust, “People are so creepy. They watch me workout and I’m just like: ‘Hello? Ever seen a woman workout before? What’s the big deal?’. I just brush them off and don’t pay them any attention – I’m here to get fit and take care of myself, not to be some sideshow.” She grabs her bag and slings it over her shoulder, “And if they don’t have better things to do than watch a fat woman workout, they are pathetic.” She rolls her eyes, “And you know they’re judging you because of the sad look they have in their eye.”

I, flummoxed, don’t reply. Instead, she smiles at my and giggles, “Have a good rest of your day, girl! I’ll see you around sometime!” And leaves. She gets into her beat-up car and leaves me standing on the sidewalk outside the gym, to stare at the car that just pulled up and is packed with four very in-shape guys coming to work out together. They exit their car and I march by them, suddenly feeling empowered.

My chin is held high, and I’m pretty sure they’re checking out the butt I just worked out in a kickboxing session. And, as I get into my car and check the clock on my cell phone, I wonder if there’ll be people at the gym tomorrow.

 

Published by Miriam R. Orr