When archaeologists (or aliens) unearth our civilization in a thousand years, they’re going to look at all our celebrity sites and gossip mags and know one thing for sure: We people are a judgey bunch. And nowhere is that more apparent than when it comes to how we look. We shame people (women, mostly) for how they dress, for how they age, if they get plastic surgery and, of course, for how much they weigh. We’re all well acquainted with the horrific phenomenon of fat shaming, but now we can add the corollary to the very long list: fit shaming.
A recent comic comparing First Lady Michelle Obama’s beautiful, strong physique with Melania Trump’s beautiful, model-esque body shows this ridiculous shaming on so many levels. The artist implies that Michelle is a ‘roided out manly hag, while Melania’s more conventional, thin-but-not-muscular look will help “make America great again.” This is total, utter crap. First, because it shouldn’t matter at all what the first lady looks like — she’s a human, not a trophy — but also because people should focus on having a healthy body, and healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes. (And that’s not even touching on the clearly racist undertones of this cartoon.) So why are people shaming Michelle for her fit lifestyle?
Because women’s bodies are never good enough. We’re too old or too young, too light or too dark, too tall or too short, too enhanced or not made up enough, too manly or too curvy, too fat or too thin. Apparently, you can also be too fit, as shown by these 4 stories from real fit ladies.
“My body created a ‘hostile workout environment’”
Jen R., a mother of two, had found healing from her recent divorce in working out at the gym. But while she relished her new muscles and strength, not everyone felt the same way. One day, during a kickboxing class, Jen decided to take off her sweaty tee and finish the class in her sports bra. But before she could even throw a punch, the woman next to her huffed, “Ugh, you make me feel so bad about myself!” and moved across the room from Jen. Afterward, the teacher told her that the woman had complained that Jen was creating a hostile workout environment and that she should tell Jen to put a shirt on to create a more “body positive place” for everyone. “There’s this assumption that if you’re a woman showing skin that you’re showing off,” Jen says. “And yeah, I’m proud of my body — why shouldn’t I be? But that doesn’t mean other women should feel less than me!” She adds that she never returned to that class because she was so embarrassed about what had happened.
“A client told me she didn’t want to look ‘big’ like me”
Being a personal trainer was a lifelong dream for Kirstin D. She’d gone through a lot with her body and had finally learned to love herself through powerlifting, an intense sport that focuses on strength over appearance. But all that was called into question when a client pointed at Kirstin’s super-strong legs and said, “I don’t want to lift weights if it will make me big down there like you are!” She was crushed, as the woman had inadvertently stumbled onto her lifelong insecurity: her curvy frame. She tried not to show her pain at first, but the more she thought about it, the angrier she got. “That kind of attitude is what gives women eating disorders,” she says, adding that the ultra-lean “fitspiration” ideal is just as damaging as the super-skinny “thinspiration” one. “Being strong is empowering, and I wish more women knew that,” she says. “From now on, I am going to own being ‘big down there’ and use it to kick ass in my competition!”
“A man mocked me for doing a lift he didn’t understand”
Videoing anyone in the gym without their permission is a cardinal sin, but it especially shouldn’t happen when the intent is to shame that person, as happened to an anonymous woman earlier this month when a man posted a video online mocking her for apparently sitting on a barbell. He implied she was stupid and didn’t belong on the weight floor — a fear many women already have. But thankfully, the internet schooled him, both on his terrible manners and on the fact she was doing a legitimate lift. “If you were at the gym to work on your body and actually learn, you might recognize that the girl behind you is attempting a Jefferson Squat… and instead of taking out your phone to make her a joke among your Snapchat followers, maybe you could have walked over to help her… but I have a feeling that you have never heard of a Jefferson Squat,” wrote one Instagrammer.
“I fit-shamed myself for years”
I’ve always had a troubled relationship with my thighs. When I was younger I was a gymnast and often when I walked into meets someone would point at my large, muscular legs and say “vault specialist?” in a way that was not complimenting my vault skills. I defied the ideal of the tiny, lean gymnast, but as I got older I held onto that body insecurity along with my cut quads. As an adult, I’ll still try to dress in ways that hide or minimize my thighs. But as I was reading through these stories and talking to fit women, I realized that I’ve been fit-shaming myself. I have amazingly powerful, strong legs. They’ve taken me up 14,000-plus-foot mountains and down into Death Valley. They’ve helped me lift sleeping children and run marathons. They hold me up in complicated yoga poses. So what if they “hulk out” of jeans? Being strong and healthy is far more important than having a thigh gap. Dear thighs, my fit-shaming of you stops right here, right now. Love, Charlotte