Yoga teacher and positive body image advocate Jessamyn Stanley.
The anxiety associated with traversing the workout industry is enough to make the most motivated among us to stick to the comfort of our routines (i.e. binge-watching Love Island and having a go at a few stretches now and then).
For those who are plus sized or self-identify as fat, the apprehension over public exercise can be debilitating — feeling as though everyone is gawking at you as you make your way over to the mat. And the platitude that “no one is paying attention to you, because they're too busy with their own workout” doesn't help those dealing with trauma brought on by discrimination, and years of abuse.
A study published in May by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals that “experiencing… social rejection and physical exclusion tend to promote feelings of worthlessness and thus psychological distress in forms relevant to worsening depression or social anxiety”.
While there is no ironclad formula that will ward off the anxiety bogeyman, there are still ways to manage these stressors if you want to work out while avoiding the toxicity of weight loss culture.
From inclusive spaces like Fat Yoga to Body Positive Health and Fitness, those who use these services have described them as both accommodating and judgement free.
Samantha Puc, editor in chief of Fatventure Mag, says she created the publication “as a direct response to how exclusionary the active world can be toward fat people, particularly fat women and gender-nonconforming people”.
In Puc’s own experience as a cyclist, she has had to face discrimination and abuse from those unwilling to believe that she is a cyclist because she's fat.
“The fact is, as often as people tell us that we should lose weight, they also don't want to see us in their spaces, which includes basically anywhere other than the privacy of our own homes."
"When fat people dare to work out in public, we're ridiculed at best and violently harassed at worst. There's a bizarre dichotomy between fatphobia that manifests in people telling us to shed pounds and go to the gym, and fatphobia that manifests in those same people being disgusted by our presence in those spaces.”
Puc’s advice for fat people who want to be active but are anxious about the prospect of engaging in something out of their comfort zone is to find something that you enjoy.
“Whether it’s dance or biking or just going for walks (perhaps with your pet), then channel your energy into doing that thing until you feel comfortable trying something new!
"You don’t have to exercise in public if it makes you uncomfortable. Try something at home first, or with friends you trust. Better yet, try taking a class with another fat friend so you can enjoy it together. Having allies and strength in numbers is a significant help in getting past the fear.”
If you're dealing with discrimination for working out, Puc has choice words that come from yoga teacher, and body positivity advocate Jessamyn Stanley, who was interviewed for the first issue of Fatventure Mag. “Jessamyn told me that the best thing you can do, as a fat person, is to say, "F— you!" to anyone who makes you feel like you don't belong in an active space, regardless of what or where that space is.
"In my own experience, calling people out on their fatphobia or telling them to f— off is the best way to make them leave you alone so you can enjoy your workout in peace.”
UK-based plus-size style blogger Stephanie Yeboah is another yoga enthusiast who describes the baffling cycle that fat people are confronted with when they are seen at the gym. “I was one of those people who would feel embarrassed going to the gym for fear of people laughing and pointing at me, both of which has happened previously,” Yeboah writes. “You are teased for being fat and are told to lose weight, but when you go to work out, you are teased for being fat and working out.”
This lead to a decision to end her gym membership, which then brought about an interest in practising yoga, which has since helped Yeboah celebrate her body and relax her mind.
“You don’t have to work out in public, you don’t have to have a gym subscription, and you are not obligated to share your journey or justify your weight to anyone.”
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