If your parents are anything like mine, you grew up learning not to point at kids who walked with arm crutches/braces because it’s impolite to stare or make fun of those who are seemingly less fortunate. As an adult, when you come upon someone who is disfigured or maybe missing a limb, the best version of you musters a smile and tries not to make them feel out of place.
When did we amend the social contract and declare open season on people who don’t fit our ideal aesthetic?
Let me tell you about a time I felt attacked: I was on a business trip in the hotel gym doing the workout my fitness trainer (The Balancer) put together for me. It had already been a stressful morning after a long travel evening and I decided that in addition to my arms/back workout, I would get in some cardio to really sweat out my negative emotions. The treadmill I chose wouldn’t power up so I asked the only other hotel guest in there if I was doing something wrong. He jumped off his treadmill, tried to help and after a few futile pokes at the equipment, he offered up his machine. After assuring me that I wasn’t causing him to cut his workout short and that he would simply move over to the weights, I thanked him and took out my frustrations on the belt moving beneath my feet.
After about 10 minutes, he excused himself and then returned to the gym, but not to his workout. Surprisingly, he was at my side with a bright red book where the cover was illustrated with people at different stages of weight loss. He began to ask questions and offer unsolicited information about how to maximize the benefits of my workout. I did my best to be engaging and kind, (mind you I am a mostly out-of-shape chick who was RUNNING full throttle), to be interested in what he was sharing but how I really felt was, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”
I can’t think of another time/place where it would be acceptable for people to approach someone with a seeming deficiency and offer advice and suggestions for them to “fix” whatever we decide is wrong with them. Why is it and when did it become ok for people to do just that for those who have round or squishy physiques? I have rarely gotten blemishes or worn ANY makeup other than mascara and eyeshadow (that includes the Creative Team photo shoot for our website - yep, that’s my everyday skin on display there) but I would NEVER consider my genetic good fortune as license to advise someone with acne on what to do so they might look like me.
I’m not suggesting that we should remain silent when we see someone about to make a catastrophic move that will injure them and set back their efforts to improve their health. What I am suggesting is an exhortation for the effort and not education about the perceived deficiency.
It’s no wonder that we have created a society where people hide in their homes, eating their feelings and ballooning to a size where the Fire Department has to be called to transport them to the hospital. (Don’t get me started on why/how this has been deemed “entertainment” in the age of reality TV). The world has become such an inhospitable place for those who are different. It seems as if the more we like, thumbs up and follow the Instagram Famous, the harder it is for “regular folk” to feel ok about themselves.
The sad truth of the exchange with this “holier than thou gym companion” is that I went to my room and cried probably more than I have in the last 3 years. For a few days, it brought me pretty low, reinforcing the worst stories I believe about myself. In the 2 weeks since I have worked out maybe twice. I mean, how do you keep doing the thing that puts you in a place that highlights your deficiencies and leaves you open to criticism? For someone who didn’t miss a workout for the whole month of June, it has been a catastrophic blow to the sustained progress I was proudly making.
However, I refuse to let this situation or how others view me become a blocker to the life I am desperate to create for myself. No one knows my struggles, my efforts or from whence I came so please don’t cast judgment on who you think I am when our paths cross. With the love and encouragement of friends that feel like family, I will try to block out the noise and keep my priorities in front of me.
Yep, I even packed workout clothes in my suitcase this morning and hopefully I won’t run into any “helpful” folks in the hotel gym on this next trip.
If this piece resonates with you, then you'll love...
the podcast episode: "The First 5K Challenge: A Learning Journey" in which The Voice reflects how she approached her first 5K, what her challenges were, and what she learned.