Laughter, Fear & Weight Loss: Taking a Stand

Humans are bit of a paradox: we like to think we stand out as individuals in a crowd, but at the same time, we don’t want to stand out too much. We don’t like to think we are just ordinary but then we don’t want to be “that weirdo” either.

This is especially true when it comes to our weight: being as plump or chubby as everyone else is okay, but being really big? Not okay.  This idea of being too far outside the norm becomes a real problem just at a time when we think we’d be getting over it. I’m talking about going to the gym.

We’ve either started losing weight or we’ve made the decision to be more active so we head to the gym, and once we’re there, we realize it’s full of athletic, toned sweaty people in tight fitting clothes who know what they are doing.  Our first thought: “holy sh**! what did I sign up for?” It’s bad enough not being familiar with the gym itself, where things are, and how to use the equipment, but we’re also aware that we look a lot different from everyone else.  Now when we fumble with the equipment or get lost trying to find the weight room, it’s obvious that we’re chubbos who’ve never been in a gym before! This is pretty much why Planet Fitness’s slogans are “No Gymtimidation” and “The Judgment Free Zone.” They’re marketing to all the chubby gym newbies who are scared of sticking out!  (Planet Fitness was the first gym I joined, although their motto had nothing to do with my reasons: they were cheap and they were close to my house.  The gym I belong to now (In-Shape) is also close, though twice as much but it’s got a pool. If Planet Fitness had had a pool, I would still be there!)

There’s really not much you can do about learning how to use the equipment and where things are in your gym except experience and asking for help when you need it. The more you are there, the more you do, the more at home it becomes.  In this respect, everyone at one time or another was new to your gym and was wandering through the locker room looking for the showers or the towel bin.  It’s that being so much bigger, so ‘out of shape,’ that makes us feel even more self-conscious. It feels like everyone is looking at us and laughing.

As I mentioned before, I had been a Planet Fitness member and had gotten relatively comfortable with the treadmill, but when my doctor and physical therapist recommended a pool for me, I moved to In-Shape (the therapist’s suggestion). So about the time I was feeling pretty comfortable with my old gym, I had to start all over with new one, and on top of that, I had to wear a swimsuit in a public area, where everyone could see me!

It’s bad enough feeling like an idiot trying to figure out where everything is in the gym and then feeling like a fat lazy blob when you walk in and now you’ve got to wear a swimsuit so all your chubby parts and muffin top are visible to anyone who walks by the big glass walls of the pool. Ugh! Talk about torture! Isn’t this one of the top five nightmares that terrify most people?

In all honesty, being unfamiliar with the equipment bothers me the most.  I’m afraid of breaking equipment or injuring myself because I am doing the move incorrectly. As for wearing a swimsuit in public or a tank top or shorts? Not a problem! I remember years ago, I went by a weight loss company (something like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers) to check it out and the ‘counselor’ asked me if I wore shorts or tank tops in public. I remember telling her yes and being a little confused: “am I not supposed to wear them because of my weight?” She appeared equally confused because at the time I was easily about 375+ and apparently people “my weight” normally don’t wear revealing clothes in public out of fear of ridicule and embarrassment.

What this counselor didn’t know was that when I walked into her office sometime in the late 1990’s, I had already spent a lifetime being laughed at in public.  I went to a private grade school full of thin affluent white/ Anglo kids with ‘normal’ names like Jimmy, Molly, Kathy and Scott.  I, by contrast, was a poor overweight Mexican girl with a weird first name! In fact, outside of being overweight since grammar school, my name was the biggest target: Koren. (It really didn’t help that the teachers and administrators couldn’t spell or pronounce it either!)  Since childhood, I’ve been Karen, Koran, Korean, Korine and Koreen until the boys in the class finally settled on Korndog.  The teachers were completely aware of this appalling nickname bestowed upon me, but since it was the poor fat Mexican kid with the name no one could spell or pronounce– meh! whaddaya gonna do?

As I said, the teachers and administrators were completely unconcerned and neither my sister nor I mentioned this humiliation to my parents who would probably have raised a huge embarrassing stink with the principal (whose son was in my class and one of the offenders) so it went on for several years. My choices were either let the nickname bother me or go on with my life. In this day and age, this would be called bullying and harassment, neither of which would be tolerated at the school for fear of a lawsuit, but in the late 1970’s & early ’80’s, bullying and harassment were a part of every day life in grade school.  It’s just the way it was!

So when I walked into that weight loss center, I was pretty much over the whole ‘fear of being laughed at,’ at least for my weight. Being laughed at for doing something stupid was– and still is– a much bigger fear, and in these days of names like Jaeden, Brookline, Hadley and Genesis for little girls, having a different name at my age just puts me ahead of the curve!  The idea of changing what I wear so I won’t ‘look fat’ was a total non-starter.

All of us who are overweight know you can’t hide obesity.  Yes, you can wear clothes that minimize the pudgy parts and hold in that muffin top.  You can wear colors, patterns and designs that are more flattering and I think we should, because the better you feel about yourself,  the more confident you are.  Feeling bad about yourself because you are overweight is not a requirement for obesity or weight loss!

The problem is that’s what happens when you slink around the gym trying to be invisible!  When you try to hide how you look or that you’re uncomfortable in the weight room or you wear baggy t-shirts and shorts into the pool to hide your belly and thighs, you are shaming yourself.  You are telling everyone who sees you that you are not proud of yourself or that you are ashamed to be at the gym.  When I first started using the pool, the swimsuit I had was a tankini: shorts and a long tank-style top.  I had gotten it at Target in the plus size department and all they had were tankinis, so I had two of them.  Once those wore out, I went online and bought a regular two-piece with shorts and a bikini top– NOT a tankini!  Yes, they hide the muffin top and some of the pudgy thighs but overall, they get in the way of the workout! So when I walk out of the locker room headed to the pool area, going right by the weights and the sauna and the steam room and tanning beds, everyone can see me in my two piece: there’s the muffin belly, the saggy skin on my legs, thighs, bingo wings and my great big butt.  I don’t wrap my towel around myself on the way to the pool (on the way back, hell yes! It’s cold in that hallway!) I’m there to get some exercise and have some fun, just like everyone else in my class and everyone else in the gym.

Having been a regular at gyms for a while now, I’ve noticed a few things: those toned athletic young people are just about out-numbered by the older chubby less-toned members.  For every shirtless young guy in shorts is an older guy with a belly, age spots and cut off sweats.  For every tanned young woman with sculpted arms and legs is an older grey haired woman with chubby thighs and a double chin. No one points at anyone else and most members are happy to help someone new by pointing out the locker room or how to use the equipment. I admit the first time I walked into a gym, I was nervous. I didn’t know where anything was or how anything worked, and it took a little time before I got comfortable with everything.  Being nervous is okay but being afraid isn’t.  If you let your fear of being laughed at dictate what you do and where you go, you will have a very narrow and lonely life. Being overweight isn’t a crime any more than being poor, Mexican or having a different first name. Being afraid of being laughed at or being ashamed of who you are has no place in the gym or in our lives.  I learned that in grade school.

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