It will surprise exactly no one to learn I dislike going to a gym. Any gym. But, lately I’ve been going to more exercise classes, and looking for a gym, because I’ve missed the feeling of having practice, like you did after school. That muscle-fatigue feeling I’d get in my bones after swim practice, the softness of slipping into sweats after a hot post-workout shower. I’ve missed having a third place, a place that isn’t work or school, but another place to spend my time and build community. I’ve found a yoga class specifically for larger bodies I really like, at a very chill studio close to my house, and building on that practice, today I decided to try aerial yoga.
I had heard good things about this type of yoga, where with the assistance of silks hanging from the ceiling you can do inversions (read: upside down-y things) and deepen stretches while taking the pressure off your low back. My low back having been bothering me since I was approximately 7 years old, I thought this was a good idea. Plus, I loved the thought of being able to fly through the air with the greatest of ease, suspended on my light hammock of silk.
Cut to my short, squat body having trouble even getting in the hammock, getting stuck upside down, watching in growing frustration and anger as the other participants pretzeled themselves around like fucking cirque du soleil acrobats (this of course was not the case, but in the midst of my struggle, it certainly seemed accurate). I knew I was in trouble the minute I walked in the studio, lined with mirrors like all the dance classes of my youth. I wasn’t any good at those either. The silk cut into my hips, thighs, and butt, and I couldn’t get comfortable even in the “rest” positions. By the second time we were attempting an inversion a could feel tears coming to my eyes, staring at the floor, willing myself to be a goddamn grown up and not cry in a yoga class.
But it wasn’t just frustration welling up inside of me. It was shame. Hot, salty, Brene Brown bestseller shame. I looked at myself upside down in that mirror, a pear-shaped plus-sized glob of Oompa Loompa, and I couldn’t even process the fact that I was doing it, I was doing the thing upside down hanging from the ceiling. All I could see was body, fat chunks of body suspended in space. The tape in my head started immediately. “You’re too fat to do this, you were fooling yourself. You should just give up, you have to lose weight before you can even try this. Look at yourself, can’t you see how fat and dumb you look? You have to lose weight before you can even think about having this sort of a life.”
From there it was a hop, skip, and mental jump to the dark place I like to call: “You’re fat, so you can’t have nice things.” It starts simply enough: “you’re fat, so you can’t have that piece of pizza.” Then it goes to “you’re fat, so you can’t have that dress.” “You’re fat, so you can’t do this fun activity (in this case, aerial yoga).” And then the whopper, the place I always get to eventually: “You’re fat, so you will always be alone and no man will ever love you.”
Fun, right? It was at about that point in my mid-yoga breakdown that I excused myself from the class to go ugly cry in the hallway.
Look, I do a good job of keeping that voice at bay most days. Usually I can go weeks at a time without letting that bitch have her say. But sometimes she sneaks up on me when I least expect her, when I let my guard down, when I try something new I’ve never done before. She doesn’t like new. She doesn’t like change. She likes me right where I am. But in this one area of my life, weight and fitness, I’ve started to realize that I have let her take almost totally over. I’ve carefully curated my life to avoid challenge. To avoid facing the reality that something needs to change. To admit that I can be body positive and still admit to being deeply unhappy in this body. Because I know what happens when I admit that. In the past, when I’ve lost weight before, I’ve had to go to a very dark, self loathing place, where facing myself honestly leads to hating myself. It’s just next door to where the voice lives. The voice is really strong there.
I’ve avoided it because I don’t have an answer for her. I don’t have evidence yet to prove her wrong. And now, as I step out boldly, trying new things, trying to be the brave person I am in every other facet of life, that bitch is SCREAMING. She is screaming that the moment I walk in the door, I’m the fattest girl in the gym. I’m the fattest girl almost anywhere. And that makes me unlovable. My inability to right-off-the-bat, never-tried-it-before fly through the air like a goddamn bird is just one paragraph in her dissertation entitled “How You Will Die Alone Eaten by Your Cats Because You are a Fat Ungraceful Moron.”
She’s impossible, this voice. How can I ever learn anything, if I have to already be good at it? How can I change myself if I don’t challenge myself? I realized as I was getting so upset with myself for not being able to do an inversion-as I was actually doing the inversion-that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be progress. The perfectionist in me, that voice, hates progress. Progress means you have to work at it, that people can see you sweat. And today I was really sweating. Red faced, puffy, sweating. She hated it. But I want to fly like a bird. I want to be better. No matter what that bitch says. So I’m focusing on that. That I challenged myself. That I showed up. That I cried in a yoga class, but I was in a yoga class. I was the fattest girl in the gym. But I was in the fucking gym.