All Bodies are Goofy; All Bodies are Beautiful
I'm not a dedicated gym goer. A lot of the things you can do at the gym are too regimented for my taste. Many gyms - and many people who go to gyms - are focused on appearance rather than functionality or health. When your appearance is never going to meet their standards, there's no point in subjecting yourself to their reality.
Luckily, not all gyms are like that. I already knew that, but yesterday I was reminded of it. A friend and I went to the YMCA for an Aquafit class. She'd never been to a gym before. She talked about her experience with me a little bit afterwards, but just going there with someone new to gyms made me reexamine how I've experienced them over the years.
Things I like about gyms:
First, the social aspect of being there at a regular time or for a particular group activity.
The people at the gym can be a really nice casual social group to be part of. They're people that you get to know a little bit, like the Friday evening crowd at the local bar, the parents in your kid's play group, or your coworkers. I'm all for comfortable, friendly, diverse groups of people with whom to chat or joke around; nice people who I can have a superficial, no stakes relationship with. Close friends and family are more important, but friendly acquaintances make life a lot more pleasant.
Second, the openness.
You're around other people who are wearing swimsuits, or are taking a shower, or changing clothes. You're exposed to other people's bodies, and you realize is that the bodies that are closer to perfect by society's standards aren't always the most beautiful, the most graceful, or the most fit. You realize how few people have bodies that approach that ideal, and how little it matters. And, you realize that thinner doesn't equal more perfect. Bodies of all sizes come in all kinds of shapes. People's bodies change as they age. People have visible veins, floppy bits, scars, hair in unexpected places, exaggeratedly protruding parts, wrinkles, and spotty skin. Oh yeah. And many are fatter or thinner than average.
It's all okay. Human beings are a funny looking bunch, no doubt, and it can be a joyful thing. You might feel self conscious about your body. Other people might feel self conscious about theirs. But, everyone inhabits their body a little differently. The people who are furthest from our media enforced ideal can be beautifully powerful and self-aware; all there, physically and mentally. They can be glowingly alive and engaged with the world. That's real beauty. Seriously, that is what it's all about. It's good to be reminded of it.
Seeing other's bodies can strengthen your connection with your own body.
A lot of fat people really hate gyms or are intimidated by them. They bring back bad memories of school locker rooms and the horror of showering in public when you're 14. They bring on fears of being judged, because your body is right out there. Your focus is on your body. You're in a swimsuit or in some kind of workout clothing that's meant to let you move rather than let you hide. Sometimes there are mirrors, and you're pretty much forced to watch yourself.
If you've looked around and you've felt happy about all the interesting people around you and all their interesting bodies, then sometimes you find that you can look at yourself with the same kind of affection and lack of judgment. I used to like watching myself and the rest of the class in the big mirror covering the front wall of the exercise studio I went to in the mid-nineties. It was mostly aerobic dance and step in those days. I loved being part of this funny, beautiful chorus line of people; all different sizes, ages, and backgrounds. I learned to like the way I look - the way I look bouncing around in spandex, no less... and I was almost always the largest person in those classes. To this day, I can deal with being the largest person in a dance class. I'm okay with the fact that I might look silly sometimes, and that I might be surrounded by people who would be terrified to look like me. Because, I think that I can influence them through sheer attitude, as other people have influenced me.
I remember what it felt like the first time I really felt at home in my own body. I'd been living with a sort of reverse body dismorphia since childhood. I knew I was fat, but I didn't really feel it. At some point, it all clicked together. I'm fat, and I like to keep my body functioning well, and I like to wear nice clothes, I like to eat - and I'm IN HERE. This is really me. Not fat-me, just me.
This post is a somewhat late addition to the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival and was originally published on my Livejournal blog in 2007.