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. I’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.
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)?