I think my tolerance for body critiquing has finally reached its breaking point. Seriously. I don’t think I can take anymore. Whether you are fit or fat or round or stick thin, it is none of my business. Just as my size is no one else’s.
My weight fluctuates like most women and it seems to be an incessant topic of conversation. There is no escape and there is no winning. A couple years ago I dropped down to 100 lbs. I was in a deep depression suffering from daily unbearable migraines toward the end of my marriage, which caused constant nausea and made it hard to eat. Some asked what I was doing because I “looked great,” while others told me I needed to eat because I looked “sick,” “gaunt” and “too skinny,” as if I wasn’t well aware of my current struggle. I’m happy to say that I have come back from that period. I feel healthier and stronger than ever, and now that seems to be a new topic of discussion from friends, clients, and strangers alike.
Typically, I just brush it off because I realize that as a personal trainer my body is part of my business. It comes with the territory. Like celebrities living in Hollywood who get annoyed by the paparazzi – it’s kind of a package deal.
Just the other day I was triggered like I haven’t been in a very long time. I went to talk to a financial advisor to come up with a plan moving forward with my business and one of her first comments before she even shook my hand or introduced herself was about my body. She said something about how fit I was, and I said thank you and took it as a compliment. We proceeded to chat for a couple minutes about why I was there and then she joked about wearing sweats that day just for me (it was actually Lululemon, and I don’t really care what she wore that day). I laughed it off and continued talking about the business at hand.
A few minutes later she said that I was really in some shape. I said, “thanks, though its kind of part of the job description as a personal trainer,” trying to make light of her awkward repeated comments about my body. I tried to hide my frustration. Then, within minutes she paused again and said that I was “so tiny.” Are you freaking kidding me lady?! I said nothing and could not wait to get out of her office.
I get that this may seem like a silly thing to be annoyed about. But, when it is a persistent theme of a conversation it’s hard not to feel objectified and on display. It felt like she was taking my being fit as an aggressive attack on her level of fitness. Though, I having been dealing with inappropriate, uncomfortable commentary about my body for a long time and know that it is something that many people deal with, at all shapes and sizes.
I don’t hold it against people because I know they usually mean no harm, and it is pervasive in our culture. Our bodies are compared, critiqued, complimented or criticized on a regular basis and most of us have been guilty of it, myself included. However, the word “tiny” was a trigger for me. I felt defensive and insecure and sad. I have worked VERY hard for a lot of years to get away from being “tiny.”
After I left I knew that I wasn’t going to hire her, but didn’t think much about the body comments. That night I drank four beers and ate several servings of pasta for dinner. I felt sick, and the next morning felt awful and disappointed in myself. That type of binging is way out of character for me though it used to be the norm when I was younger. Turns out that it doesn’t take much to regress back to feeling like the skinny child who was bullied.
I spent my adolescence and teens binging in an effort to gain weight. I was a popular “cool” kid until all my friends hit puberty and I was still the “skinny” “flat-chested” “butch” girl, as I was often reminded. I was 8 years old in this photo, helping with yard work in my swimsuit. It wasn’t long after that I only swam in baggy t-shirts or avoided swimming all together until my 20’s… still not a fan.
In middle school I asked the boy I liked if he wanted to go to the dance with me. He said no, and that he was surprised I had asked because thought I was a lesbian. In 9th grade I vividly remember hanging out with a group in the school courtyard and the boy I had a crush on proclaimed in front of everyone, “ you would be mad hot if you weren’t so anorexically-skinny.” Had I been more witty back then I probably would have told him that he’d be “mad hot” if he didn’t have such bad grammar. Instead, I sat on the picnic bench stunned and embarrassed with those words permanently seared in my head.
My sophomore year I began strength training with heavy weights in an effort to add bulk, since the years of eating thousands of calories each day had not been working. It would be years before I was able to put on more than a few pounds and have any sort of feminine curves.
I could give countless examples of being harassed about my size, like when a man I had never met approached me in the free-weight area of 24 Fitness and told me that my body looked good, but I needed to do more squats because my butt was droopy. Or, when another man told me I had the body of a 12-year old boy. Or, just recently I ran into an old client who loudly observed how narrow my hips were as I poured my morning coffee in a crowded café. It goes on and on.
I am by no means looking for sympathy. Simply trying to explain that bullying happens at all sizes, and outward confidence does not mean that there are not deep-rooted insecurities. Body commentary is pervasive in our conversations — It begins when we’re young and is a tough habit to break. But, I would like to challenge us all to do our part to break this destructive habit.
My “fit” body is simply a result of trying to undo years of bullying. So, I beg of you, if you see me please don’t comment on it. I will do my best to practice what I preach and say nothing more than “it’s great to see you.”