When you exercise, the cunning machinery of your body gets to work. The process is as slow and as steady as a train. It’s rapacious, ingenious, and something that never fails to impress me. It’s not unlike that opening number from the Music Man:
Or maybe it isn’t and I just like the Music Man. Whatever. The Music Man is awesome. Also maybe do not starting looking up videos from it online unless you’ve got roughly eleven hours to spare and an unending love of the offerings of international community theatre. I know, right?
The point is, when we exercise we produce endorphins. The endorphins make us feel like our brains are being tickled with happy. But if you want to get scientific about it, endorphins are peptides that work as neurotransmitters, and in any brain-havin’ spine-enjoyin’ creature they send a message pretty similar to only vaguely expired baby Tylenol and also heroin. It is juice that tells your brain to tell your body to feel good. Or so my combination of rudimentary knowledge of biology, Trainspotting, and Wikipedia would have me believe.
It is something you don’t have to be an ultra marathon participant to have experienced. (Hey ultra marathoner reading this, don’t you have gels to be eating as food and water substitutes or something? JK! FITNESS FOR LIFE! THROMBOSIS. I’m sorry I don’t know why I said Thrombosis. Or anything really.) Getting laid, dancing too bad oldies, eating spicy food (APPARENTLY!), these are all just a couple of things that get your happy juice running!
While I have been known to enjoy a spicy dish, I definitely chase the endorphins in the form of exercise. As a fat woman, it is fascinating to me the way in which other exercisers – skinny or otherwise – react to working out with a fat person. To be fair, and I feel like this is an important caveat here and in general as a rule for all of life:
No One Gives A Hot Damn About You.
I don’t mean this in a bitchy nihilistic way, I just mean that odds are, when you walk into a gym being fat, people aren’t going to pause between squat sets to hurl nalgenes and ire your way. 90% of the time, the people in the gym are there —JUST TO WORK OUT! I know! It’s pretty baffling, right?
But 90% of the time is not 100%, and there will be instances when you are fat and working out that you will run up against some ‘tude. In my opinion it always comes from the people I least expect – and vice versa. When I first moved from using nautilus machines to lifting free-weights, I quaked in terror at the folks I perceived to be total meatheads. I worried that my bad form would have them snarling at me like tigers. But on my very first day in their jungle, all it took was a look of confusion on my face as I stared down a wall of unfamiliar equipment for the kindest most enormous woman I had ever seen to stop and ask if I needed help.
You’d think being the age I am now and having what I like to think is a remotely reasonable sense of the complexity of humanity I would have been less shocked to see that people are always what they seem. But just like some folks wear their prejudices against me for being fat as a certain kind of armor, I’ve got my own in the fierce snap judgements I can make about them when I’m scared or out of my element.
The people who treat me differently because I’m fat and working out sometimes surprise me in just the same way. It’s not because they judge me or think I’m not capable of doing things, it’s because they don’t have any sense for how a body like mine is shaped or how it works. One of my favorite, favorite, favorite things in the world is Pilates. Three months of practice have made me feel stronger, more nimble, and weirdly more centered in my own body. My instructor is great. She knows when to challenge, and when to encourage. But she doesn’t always know that sometimes when she’s on me for not lifting my head, neck and shoulders up high enough it is the simple fact that I can’t go any higher; there are a lot of boobs in the space that for a lot of others would be empty.
That said, if the biggest complaints I have as a fat person exercising are that there aren’t more instructors with an understanding of how a fat body works in the athletic world than the only real problem I have is within my community of fellow fatties. From the way I’m treated I often wonder if it’s these sort of potentially discouraging encounters that keep other fat people with a craving for endorphins out of organized athletics. Because yes, while going for a walk has its appeal, it makes me vaguely contemplative whenever I try something new and find myself to be the fattest person in the room. A part of me at these times might quietly say, “You can’t do this, you are too fat to do this,” but then I realize it’s this sort of thinking in fat people and skinny alike that keeps fat people on the outside looking in, and it just plain doesn’t have to be that way.