Fit Shaming, Yes It Happens

 fit shaming

FIT SHAMING, AS IT IS EXPERIENCED BY A WOMAN...

Six years ago when I was ready to adopt a fit lifestyle I had no idea just how many people would be opposed to it. I was astonished, how could people truly have an issue with health and fitness? The response I received felt like I'd suddenly one day picked up smoking.

Further, it would be great if I could say that my issues only stemmed from one group of people and that I had a safe space somewhere. Sadly, I cannot say that. I felt criticism at home, at work, and online. You name it.  In time fitness became more trendy, the negativity dialed back, and my confidence in my personal choice grew. That combination helped me get me to a point today where I'm much happier and driven in my own skin. Still, I cannot overlook the path of shame it took to get here.

The shaming presents itself in several ways.  There's the:

Junk food tempting disguised as merely joking around...

Visual examining of your meals disguised as curiosity...

Remarking of how they couldn't give up things they love, under the guise of admiration...

Asking if you miss eating XYZ, all while sounding harmless...

Telling you not to get too bulky or manly, cloaked in faux consideration...

Telling you that fitness can lead to unhealthy behaviors, disguised as genuine concern....

Asking if you're going to become one of "those people..."

Asserting that the only way to love your body is not to want to improve it in any way...

Insisting that your goal is just an unhealthy preoccupation with physical appearance...

Fit shaming is perplexing, but I hesitate to call it jealousy like so many others. I think relegating the behavior to that of envy simplifies it too much. I'm more apt to believe the issue stems from a mix of resistance to change and societal views of womanhood.

Adopting a fit lifestyle sometimes requires an overhaul of your life. Of course, this depends on your previous habits. For example, if you were one to hit the bar several times a week with friends, that sort of socialization becomes a thing of the past. Those friends must quickly adjust to your new lifestyle. It's a general belief that change is inevitable for everyone.  It happens slowly over time which allows those around you to keep in lock-step with your transformation. However, a fitness transformation occurs more quickly; it sometimes necessitates a jarring change and that change can be blaring to those around you. You are no longer entirely the person they came to know and understand, and that can invoke anger that disorients even them.

My second assertion is how a fit lifestyle can sometimes clash with the societal ideals of what it means to be a woman. There are elements of misogyny and patriarchy you will experience. As hard as I worked for my gains, I felt pressured to remain modest in taking pictures. My boyfriend at the time remarked that he didn't want me posting to Instagram because I was his and those pictures were for him. I posted a video of doing glute kickbacks to Facebook, and my uncle told me I was provocative and that he was just looking out for me. I envy the women who feel free enough to post themselves as they choose. I still feel a tinge of anxiety with every post.

More simple examples of misogyny include viewing muscles and strength as manly characteristics. I dated men who would not work out with me because they felt intimidated. Or if they did work out with me they were in this unspoken competition. If I did twelve reps, they had to do fifteen. To not feel emasculated they needed to show me they were faster and stronger than me. I smiled and accepted it as innocent, but it always bothered me. I wanted a partner and not a competitor in my significant other.

The more I experienced push-back from every direction the deeper I dove into myself by either questioning my choices or reinforcing them. What I noticed was that the amount of negativity I received was always in direct proportion to how passionate I felt about fitness at the time. That in and of itself made me wonder if it was me. I had to take a step back and check myself. Was I subconsciously proselytizing? Was it I who was judging others because they didn't have the same beliefs as me? Was it I who left my friends in the dust and not the other way around? I still can't answer those questions with absolute certainty. I must admit that I'm apt to criticize myself and find fault in my own actions as much as others.

Adopting a fit lifestyle is as much a mental transformation as it is a physical one. The relationship is quite delicate to maintain. Anyone can attest to how difficult it can be to stick to your diet at parties or adequately rebound from a cheat meal. Progression is a slow process, and sometimes hard to understand. It can be heartbreaking sometimes to work so hard to achieve a goal and not see the fruits of your labor. The outside negativity only adds to the pressure when you may already be battling your mind, emotions, and even chemical make up to reach those goals.

Once you start seeing progress, there will be those that seek to humble you. There's this unspoken rule that acknowledging a compliment with a simple thank you is improper. You must give others the opportunity to validate you, lest be considered full of yourself. For a quick reference, if someone tells you "wow your body looks amazing" and you reply "thank you!" That is an unacceptable response. However, if someone exclaims "oh my gosh your body looks awesome," and your response is "oh no way," that's an acceptable response.  If you reply "no, you think so? I think I have more work to do" that's an even better response. In reality, a healthy level of narcissism is fine. I argue that a healthy amount of conceit and pride is almost necessary to navigate society.

I think perhaps the most damaging aspect of fit shaming is the assertion that it is not a real thing. It is not tangible. You aren't feeling it. Society perpetuates a beauty standard that aligns with fit goals. Thus drawing attention to it only demonstrates an insecurity in you. The invalidation of your experiences is damning. However, all of the statements above couldn't be further from the truth. Fit shaming happens, it is psychologically damaging, and you do deserve a safe space to explore your passion peacefully.

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