It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for Whimsy Soul and to be completely honest, I could’ve never imagined my first article back would be about the gym.
I’ve been going to the gym for almost a year now. It started as a means to stop looking at my body and hating it. This might come as a surprise since I preach body positivity but I have my own days or weeks of feeling less than positive about myself.
In college, I would move my body every day by walking to classes. Since the dreaded year of 2020, I’ve been generally stuck inside the house. I saw those two years starting to reflect in my body. It brought my already minimal exercise level down. The gym provided me the space I needed to move.
You know how some people bring their laptop to a cafe to work just to get away from their house and feel productive? That’s essentially the same space the gym provided me. Of course I could’ve worked out at home but being in the gym allows my brain to be in that “exercise” mindset.
Misconceptions About The Gym
Growing up the gym was always a place to lose weight for women. I specify for women because there was this idea that men go to the gym to bulk up like Arnold Swarzenager and women go to run on the treadmill to lose their “flabby arms” or stomach.
As with most things, tabloids, society and peers further solidified this toxic mindset. It’s one of the biggest reasons I was hesitant to go to the gym. I didn’t want people to think I was going just to lose weight. Going to the gym was always seen as a place for me to move my body whether that was through cardio or strength training.
It’s safe to say after being in the gym for months, I don’t care how people view me and my journey. There’s so many other things to focus on, how others view you should be the last thing on a very long list.
In the beginning, I got a lot of “you look good” comments which were immediately followed by questions of how much weight I’ve lost.
Have I lost weight since starting the gym? Yes. However, have I gained muscle, endurance and overall happiness since I started exercising? Yes, and I would argue those achievements are worth celebrating more than losing weight.
Am I Betraying My Morals By Going To The Gym?
One of the biggest challenges I had to deal with when I first started going to the gym was my own mindset about it. For a solid week I kept asking myself “am I no longer a fat activist because I’m working out?” or “is everything I’ve ever written or preached about body positivity a lie?”
Everyone is entitled to their opinions and own answers. However, personally, I don’t think I’m any less of an activist because I decided to exercise. To be a fat activist is to point out the societal stigmas directed towards fat people and to show the obstacles fat people go through. Nowhere does it say how one must live their own lives.
Fat People are People, Not Your Body Positive Idol
This will be a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people. I never promised anyone body positivity content or to be their body positive idol.
It’s really easy to see someone in a big body speaking up about society’s hatred towards fat people and equate them to being a body positive idol. We’re more than that though. Our hobbies, talents and personalities often get pushed to the side and what gets brought into focus is our bodies.
Since we are fat, we MUST be constantly fighting against the diet industry. Since we are fat, we MUST be someone others look up to and draw inspiration from. Since we are fat, we MUST act accordingly or else all hell breaks loose.
This isn’t an imaginary concept I’ve just pulled out of thin air. It’s something many people who are vocal about their experiences as fat people have to deal with.
A very public example of this is when Lizzo decided to go on a smoothie detox near December 2020. People were canceling her as a fat activist. They were crying about how she betrayed them and how she went against all the body positivity she was talking about.
Here’s the thing: Lizzo speaking up about the people that hate her because of her body, her making songs about how beautiful her body is, hell, even showing off her fat body on social media—none of that was a promise from her to us about being our fat idol.
She was simply existing. People took it upon themselves to look up to her. People choose to label her something she never promised. There are so many unrealistic standards placed on fat women even by those claiming to love us.
Kendra Austin, model, writer and content creator, went on Tiktok to express this weird cycle fat people are forced into. In all honesty, I couldn’t have said anything better myself. I am more than my body. I am more than the activism and positivity I bring to plus-size and fat people.
What Does The Gym Provide Me?
Earlier I mentioned that I gained muscle and endurance along with happiness since I started exercising. I completely understand how some people might read that and think “I’m perfectly happy without working out.” To that I say–great!
This article isn’t meant to sway anyone into going to the gym. It’s a (very public) reflection of what makes me feel good and happy. To me, this shows me a growth of character.
I was so avidly against exercising for a majority of my life because people always suggested it to me as a means to lose weight. It took a lot of time and the support of my best friend to see it as something else.
“Fitness newbie” is an overused term that describes someone who is new at the gym. As overused as it is, I’ve found it to be a true statement. Everything about the gym was new to me in November 2021. From what to wear, what machines to use…the overall gym etiquette was something completely new to me.
The first few weeks I was in the gym I would be wearing an oversized long sleeve shirt. The most comfortable thing for me mentally were those shirts. I eventually moved to short sleeved graphic tees. Does what someone wears while working out matter? No. However to me, what I wore directly reflected where I was mentally with my confidence and comfortability.
There’s a Tiktok trend of girls tucking the back of their shirts into their sports bras. I remember seeing that and thinking “that could never be me.” It still isn’t me. Instead, I tuck the front of my shirt into my sports bra.
I don’t quite remember when I started doing this but once I started, I didn’t really stop. My stomach, that is anything but flat, is shown like a badge of honor. To me, tucking that shirt meant I’m comfortable with others knowing I have a stomach that isn’t flat. It sounds ridiculous but anything I wore for years had me hiding my stomach in any way I could.
I thought that the tucking of shirts would be peak confidence. I couldn’t fathom wearing only a sports bra…until it happened.
I was doing a different form of cardio one day and I was sweating through the shirt I was wearing. In a moment of frustration with how the shirt was clinging to my body, I took off my shirt and there I was—in front of the whole gym—with my sports bra.
I didn’t realize what I just did until I finished my cardio. I looked around. No one really noticed or cared, except for me. The overwhelming sense of joy and “I made it” feeling is something I still can’t describe months later.
Walking up stairs was my enemy, I really mean that. I would see stairs and find another way to get to where I was going. It was about 3-4 months in the gym when one of my goals materialized. I wanted to run a mile. I didn’t care about how long it took me to run the mile, I just wanted to run a mile.
I was doing cardio—walking—every day. One day I decided I was going to run for a minute straight. I got to that one minute and every day I would add a minute of running amidst my hot girl walk.
Eventually, I found myself running a mile. Elated would be an understatement. As with my clothes, I thought that nothing would top this happiness I felt achieving this goal. It was a few weeks ago when I actually realized how far I’ve come.
I decided that I was going to walk from my house to Marshall’s Beach in San Francisco and back. For those that don’t know Marshall’s Beach, it’s further down Baker’s Beach and can give you a pretty great view of the Golden Gate Bridge on a day when Karl the Fog isn’t visiting.
It was about a 6-mile walk for me. Obviously, the ability to walk six miles was an amazing feat in and of itself. What was an even bigger feat was the—what felt like—20 flights of stairs I had to climb to get out of the Marshall’s Beach area.
I made sure to take some time enjoying the view when I was going down and coming back up from the beach. That day I was shown my own endurance but was also taught what taking a moment to myself and enjoying my accomplishments looked like.
Single-handedly the thing I am most proud of are my muscles. Who knew being absolutely jacked would bring me this much joy? Not me.
Now, “jacked” is an overstatement. However, I have gained a lot more muscle than I originally had. I remember taking a picture of me flexing my arm when I first started working out just as a joke. I didn’t think I’d actually develop anything but low and behold, I actually have something to show off.
The Tiktok of a woman saying she wants to fight a bear came to mind when I saw my muscle progress. I see my body everyday so it’s difficult to see the progress I actually made over the months I’ve been going to the gym. These photos really helped me see something I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Things To Keep In Mind
It wouldn’t be an article written by me if I didn’t have some type of advice—I can only hope it’s helpful.
Something I tell anyone who asks for advice when they first start going to the gym is: don’t be ashamed of what weight you are using a machine at. If you can only do a shoulder press at 15lbs, then do that. Over time, you’ll get to the point where you can get to 30lbs.
Another important piece of advice that I learned after a few months of being in the gym is that no one is looking. As much as it seems like someone is looking at you, I promise they are more focused on their own workout than judging you on how you do yours.
Remember that everyone was, at one point, new to the gym. Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand how a machine works or you don’t know how to move the seat to make it fit your height. Please ask for help from someone near you.
I can’t speak for everyone but for me, it’s a really nice feeling being able to help someone with a machine. A lot of friendships and acquaintanceships start from a small gesture of kindness.
If you can workout with someone—do it. Being able to have someone there with you while you workout helps a lot mentally. My best friend lives out of state but we still found a way to Facetime while we were working out.
It provided us both the motivation to continue going, even on days we both wanted to give up. If I didn’t have him there with me on Facetime when I first started, I genuinely wouldn’t have been going for as long as I have.
Lastly, if your body is telling you to take a break and rest…listen. It’s very easy to get sucked into a routine and even easier to ignore signs from your body that you need to rest.
I had to stop going to the gym for a while because my body was physically not letting me maintain the routine I was on. Take it from me, either give yourself some time to rest or your body will physically force you to take that break.