I travel around the country giving talks about body positivity, size acceptance, and Health at Every Size. In many of my talks, either in my introduction or during the talk, the fact that I am and have been involved in the fitness world – as a certified group fitness instructor, as a dancer, as a marathoner, and now training to be an IRONMAN – comes up. Whenever I talk about fitness, people of all sizes tell me about the horrible experiences they’ve had that led them to decide not to be involved in the fitness world. Some even tell me that just the word exercise is triggering or sends them down a shame spiral.
Before we get too far into this, let me be clear: fitness, or involvement in fitness or movement of any kind, is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness. The choice of whether or not to participate in fitness is personal, participating in fitness is completely optional, and those who choose to participate in fitness are not in any way better or more laudable than those who choose other hobbies.
There are people who aren’t interested in exercising for whatever reason and that’s completely ok. The people I’m talking about are those who tell me that they would like to engage in movement for whatever reason, but they feel stuck or blocked about it because they had a messy break-up with exercise, because exercise was used as a way to mistreat them, to punish them for their body size, because they were forced to do exercise that they didn’t like, or were shamed because they weren’t “good enough” at the exercise (Junior high school gym class, I am looking at you).
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I didn’t like her. I didn’t think anyone would. Who would like a woman with a self-destructive drinking problem and special talent for hurting people? When I wrote Kiana, the main character of my novel, she disgusted me – the way she lied, the way she spoke to people, a sharpness to her comments that cut to the quick anyone who threatened to get too close. I shook my head in disappointment with every decision she made, and I rolled my eyes with impatience every time she stumbled over her own lies.
I was approximately twenty pages into Kiana’s story when I got stuck. The scene I was writing was a particularly important one, and I didn’t know what Kiana needed to do, but it had to be something despicable, and I didn’t know what she needed to say, but it needed to be hurtful – selfish, shameful, and overflowing with guilt.
So, like I always do when I get stuck in a narrative, I took to my journal.
The first time I had an anxiety attack I was at a talk being given by humorist Roy Blount, Jr. I was sitting in the front row of the auditorium, listening and laughing as Roy talked about his latest book–which was on the oddities of language–when I suddenly began to feel as though I couldn’t breathe.