So this happened the other day

If you follow along in my journey to fitness, you may remember that in addition to running 3x a week, and biking 2x a week, I’ve added 2x a week of strength training.  I’m using the book “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” to guide my strength training because I keep reading that heavy weight lifting is a great way to (1) improve your health (2) improve the likelihood that you’ll be able to be active as you age (3) lose weight and (4) be able to do activities like running, hiking, carrying groceries and kids and other daily life activities with less risk of injury. newrulesofliftingI’ve dabbled in strength training before with circuit training classes, body weight workouts, the machines in the gym and exercise videos but this is the first time I’ve done things like deadlifts and cuban presses.  I started with this book over two months ago and this week I progressed from the Stage 1 workout to the Stage 2 workout, which introduced a lot of new maneuvers/exercises.  I took the book with me to the gym so I could look up each new exercise before I did it to make sure I had the details of the technique correct.

So, after half an hour on the exercise bike, I spent close to 45 minutes going through the new series of strength training moves.  I was feeling pretty accomplished because my legs were still sore from the weight training two days before and the three mile run the day before.  As I was packing up my stuff, this young guy says to me “Great job on not waiting until January to get started working out.”  I said, yep and walked off.

As I made my way back to the locker room in a bit of an endorphin fog, what he said suddenly struck me.  Clearly he assumed that I was just getting started on getting fit.  I tried to decide that it was the fact that I had the book with me, and maybe that was the case, but the big non-skinny person chip that I have on my shoulder told me that despite running for over two years (including five half marathons) and despite losing over 50 pounds and despite doing serious and focused  heavy weight training in that gym for over two months, I still looked like I had just gotten off the couch and wiped the cheetoes dust off my hands that week.

I’ll fully admit that he was really trying to be encouraging.  His tone was kind and positive and if you asked him I bet he’d say “yeah, good for her getting fit”.  He had no ill intention at all.  But I have to wonder if he would have said the same thing if I was a size 6.  Even with the book.  And I should mention that I’ve had similar comments throughout my weight loss journey.  Like on a treadmill having a fit man tell me “good for you, getting moving” just out of the blue.

So when is it encouragement and when is it condescending?  I sometimes see a very heavy person struggling to exercise/power walk and I want to say “way to go, I’m proud of you” because I am proud of them.  But I don’t.  Because while I do feel proud of them, I know that I wouldn’t say the same thing to a thin person who was doing the same thing, and that thin person might be just as out of shape and working just as hard.

I did have a couple of ladies in my neighborhood tell me on a run “Great job, you inspire us” and while I think there was still some implied…because you’re not thin and you’re still getting out there, it felt like a different message and it felt more positive.  manytinyefforts

In the end, while it stung a bit to have the young, buff guy in the gym assume that I was just getting started, I do acknowledge that his intentions were positive.  But even with good intentions, sometimes comments that you mean to be supportive can be hurtful just because of the subtext “for a fat person” or “since you’re so fat”.  So his positive comment ended up making me feel discouraged, like all this work over the last two years was just invisible, even though I KNOW it isn’t.

While this may be rambling and just my way of processing it, I was wondering if anyone else felt this way?  Maybe it’s just my introvert personality not liking to be noticed by strangers…  Has anyone ever genuinely tried to be supportive with a comment but it felt condescending?  If you’re heavy, do comments like “way to go” or “awesome job getting out there” or “good for you” (especially from complete strangers) energize you and make you proud or do they feel like they have and unspoken subtext (with the best of intentions)?

Comments

So this happened the other day — 22 Comments

  1. I know exactly what you mean. When I was thin and unathletic, no one ever made those comments when I worked out or played sports. Size 4 and all, I was out of breath, sweating profusely, and obviously struggling. Now, much stronger than I was then, I get those comments all the time. The assumption must be that this is the first time I ever laced on running shoes. I could never explain that to anyone – but when DG ran the Enchanted 10K with me this year (all the way at the back of the pack) – he saw it. By the end of the race, he was annoyed by all the “Good Job”, “Good for you”, “You are doing awesome”. It felt like pity. It felt like the spectators were really saying – “Aww, look at that poor guy. So out of shape. Sweating so bad – obviously exhausted. He is really brave to even attempt to run this race.” And you are right. The well-meaning ‘encouraging’ remarks can be anything but. I occasionally wear race shirts out, and complete strangers will come up and ask me: “oh, did you volunteer at ‘Space Coast’ or ‘insert name of Half Marathon’ race? ” Then I say, no – I ran it. And I get the inevitable look of disbelief. So then I find myself saying I do Galloway’s ‘Run-Walk’ method, and then they nod and go ‘ahhh… okay.’ Then they feel okay for ‘almost’ offending me, because obviously I didn’t ‘really’ run it, but rather ‘walked’ it.
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    • I know. I guess we all take things differently. But while there is a lot of being supportive, there is sometimes a bit of pity, condescension and the unspoken “because you’re not thin and fit”. And if I’m asked if I ran a race, I say yes, regardless of whether I ran the whole thing or if I did run/walk intervals. Because I did run it regardless of the method. I think the only half I’ve run without any intervals was Space Coast (I’m too lazy to look up my W&D recap to figure out that one), but I DID run four half marathons in four months, intervals or not.

  2. WOW! Awesome post and such great things to think about! When I’m not running, I teach group exercise classes at the gym and I hear things all the time like “Wow, you’re really looking good, what are you doing? You must have lost close to 30-40 pounds” (even when we are talking about 10 pounds at the most), or if I make a comment about putting on a few pounds, people readily tell me “Yes, I can tell, especially in your _______” (thanks, I obviously can tell…I don’t need you to point it out too and let me know where my pants are a little too snug). Stay positive; I guarantee that guy was trying to build you up. I have to tell myself that all the time! 🙂
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    • I wonder if being an exercise instructor makes people feel like they can comment on your appearance more? That would drive me nuts! I agree he was trying to build me up for sure, it just bothered me that he thought I needed building up more than anyone else in the gym.

  3. I agree with your whole blogpost. It’s a tough subject, and a sensitive topic for me. As an overweight runner, who has completed lots of half marathons (I don’t count them, but it is more than 10) and 3 marathons, I get the “way to go, good for you” comments that are well-meaning but they sting. And if I’m talking with the ‘encourager’ I find myself putting down my efforts by adding that I know I’m slow, heavy, etc. *Heavy Sigh* Not an easy topic to discuss or read, but I’m glad to know I’m not alone!

    • It’s strange I feel the need to say “well I’m not fast” and “I’d be a lot faster if I lost this weight” and similar when people discuss my running with me. And while I’m not breaking the tape, I’m really not super slow. I wonder why we need to append that info onto the discussion? Because I still do it…

  4. April,
    As a former PT and Figure competitor, I lived at the gym. Now I run (remember, you are my inspiration!). I can see how that comment would make you feel like you did. I also agree that he meant it as a compliment. Not to defend him, but I think that for someone who’s at the gym a lot, you see the “New Rez ” crowd. January comes along and everyone is at the gym, by the time June comes along, heck, March comes along, the crowd is long gone. He doesn’t see the miles you put in on the great wide somewhere. He probably noticed that you weren’t a regular. You will be!

    I always say “It’s so great that you are taking control of your health!” and this would be a great response. “Thank you! I’m taking control of my health!” You go girl!

    • Thanks, Lisa. I know he was trying to be positive. I think I need to find a way to work on my self-acceptance and not be so obsessed with looking like a size 6. I can still work towards health and weight loss while finding acceptance and pride of where I am now too (I’m definitely not good at that right now!)

  5. I feel like guys are kind of overwhelmed when they see a female in the weight training area. They just don’t know what to do and they spin out. Should I talk to her? Should I offer her assistance with those heavy weights? Should I encourage her? Don’t overthink it. Clearly, he didn’t.
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    • You always make me laugh! I’ve seen him in there a few times and he is VERY chatty, so maybe his mouth just works independently of his brain! But he was trying to be helpful and kind, I’m sure of that.

  6. I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I totally understand where you are coming from.

    I happened to be at a conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas the same weekend as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon in 2010 and I had never run even a 5k. The finish line was at Mandalay and I very clearly remember thinking to myself, “those are runners?! Wow, they look just like me! Maybe I could run a half marathon.”

    I try not to beat myself up too much when people make comments like that because I was guilty of the very same sort of thinking before I started running even though I’m a chunky girl, too. I guess I always imagined that runners all looked like the elites I saw at the Olympics and it was exciting to think average to over weight people could be runners, too.

    It’s hard not to put a negative spin on things, especially if (like me) you have some body image issues. I’ve had so many friends tell me I inspire them to run and now several have started racing, too, just because they know someone who was ripped that finished a bunch of half marathons and a full.

    Great post! 🙂

    • I do think that someone who was more self-confident or less sensitive wouldn’t have taken it as negative, and maybe if he’d been heavy or not super buff I wouldn’t have taken it as negative either (I’m just not sure). I know when I saw the photos from PHM and saw runners who looked like me, it did inspire me and make me think that maybe I could do it too!

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  8. <3 I very much appreciate this post. When it comes to fitness/working out/eating anything I'm very sensitive and therefore when I speak to others, I try to be aware of my word choices and phraseology. For example, I'll ask people when they started running or about their first race if we're having a conversation regarding that. If I'm running and I see someone running toward me I'll make a conversation like "The heat is brutal today!" Sort of a "we're all in this together" comment, because we really are. 🙂
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    • I am really sensitive too, and I’m sure a thicker skinned person would have just laughed it off and not felt discouraged at all. I love the examples you gave about how to show encouragement in an “all in it together” way! Just love it!

    • You are so sweet! I hate feeling like my posts are kind of negative lately, but I use my blog for processing things that happen to me and this post was no exception. As soon as I pressed publish, the shame/embarrassment and other negative stuff from that just kind of went away. 🙂

  9. I am never sure if the pity/condescension is really there in someone’s voice when this kind of thing happens or if I’m just hearing it that way. I try to tell myself to always take it in the best possible light, but that little voice in my head never goes away wondering if they’d say the same or the same way if I looked differently. Good to know I’m not the only one who wonders . . .
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    • I know, so much of it is in my own head, but still…

  10. I think that Brian Tracy quote you posted totally hit the nail on the head. He didn’t know you or your journey and maybe he struggled with wondering if he should say anything at all and in the end hoped that his comment would prove to be motivating. I think tone of voice also has a lot to do with it as well. You said he sounded upbeat so that tells me he wasn’t trying to be mean. Back to the quote though, it is true that all those little choices you make aren’t seen by anyone else, just you and maybe those very close to you. No matter what anyone looks like, it is always awesome to see them out there getting healthy and working out!

    • He really was trying to be nice, but I also think because I wasn’t thin and buff he assumed I was “new” at working out. One of the beautiful things about blogging is that I’m actually at peace with it now, just writing about stuff like that seems to exorcise the negative feelings. While he did make some assumptions based on my appearance, all the negative stuff was all in my own head! I do need to work on my “fitness” self-confidence and to seriously stop caring what other people may or may not think of how fit I am!