Excerpt of Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs by Cheryl Peck
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Queen of the Gym
It happened again this morning. I was sitting there half-naked on a bench when a fellow exerciser leaned over and said, "I just wanted to tell you--I admire you for coming here every day. You give me inspiration to keep coming myself."
"Here" is the gym. I have become an inspirational goddess. In a gym.
I grinned at the very image of it, myself: here is this woman who probably imagines herself to be overweight--or perhaps she is overweight, she is just not in my weight division--sitting on the edge of her bed in the morning, thinking to herself, "There is that woman at the gym who is twenty years older than I am and has three extra people tucked under her skin, and she manages to drag herself to the gym every day..."
It is not my goal here to be unkind to myself or to others. Perhaps I am an inspiration to her because I am easily three times her size and I take my clothes off in front of other women. Being fat and naked in front of other women is an act of courage. Perhaps my admirer did not realize that it was exactly when she spoke to me that I was artfully arranging my hairbrush and underwear and bodily potions to cut the buck-naked, ass-exposing mini-towel-hugging moments of my gym experience to the absolute minimum. She wears a pretty little lace-edged towel-thing to the shower and back. I don't, but I understand the desire.
It was not that long ago that she bent over to pick up something as Miss Tri Athlete walked into the locker room and whistled, "Boy did I get a moon!" Junior high gym, revisited: I can't swear that particular exchange was the reason, but I did not see my admirer again for the next month. To Miss Tri Athlete she answered, "Just when I had forgotten for half a second that I was totally naked. . ." I doubt that she forgets that often. Almost none of us do.
Nor do I: which is why, the first time someone in the locker room said to me, "I have to give you credit just for coming here," I smiled politely and thought ugly thoughts for some time afterwards.
Up yours thrummed through my mind. Nobody asked you for credit zinged along on its tail, followed closely by Who died and left you queen of the gym?
"Like it takes any more for me to go the gym than it does any other woman there," I seethed to my Beloved.
"Well it does," my Beloved returned sedately, "and you know it. How many other women our size have you seen at our gym?"
The answer is--none.
There are women of all shapes and sizes--up to a point--from Miss Tri Athlete, who runs in the 20-25-year-old pack, wears Victoria's Secret underthings and is self-effacing about her own physical prowess to women who are probably in their sixties, perhaps even seventies. There are chubby women and postpartum moms and stocky women and lumpy women. . . but there are very few truly fat women.
Exercise, you might advise me solemnly, is hard for fat women. Exercise is hard for everyone. Exercise is as hard as you make it.
Miss Tri Athlete shared a conversation with me the other morning. She said, "It feels really good to get this out of the way first thing in the morning, doesn't it? I think when you plan to exercise in the evening it just hangs over you like a bad cloud all day."
She can't be more than twenty-five, she can't be carrying more than six ounces of unnecessary body fat and I've never seen her move like anything hurts. Her joints don't creak. Her back doesn't ache. She sweats and turns pink just like everybody else. She trains like an iron woman, but she's relieved when it's over.
I don't believe it's exercise that keeps fat women out of the gym. I think it's the distance from the bench in front of the locker to the shower and back. I think it's years and years of standing in grocery lines and idly staring at the anorexic women on the cover of Cosmo, I think it's four-year-olds in restaurants who stage-whisper, "Mommy--look at that FAT lady," I think it's years of watching American films where famous actresses never have pimples on their butts or stretch marks where they had kids.
Copyright © 2002, 2004 by Cheryl Peck.