On fat, exercise and anxiety

In my moments of drifting off to sleep, I like to imagine that I’m running. I run all over my neighbourhood, up the hills and through the streets without regard for any body looking at me. In my reality, I am faced with many Australians who not only wish ill on me, simply because I’m fat, but wish not to see me. On nights like tonight my imaginings turn to anxiety and I am kept awake with panic, so I’m turning to blogging to express a few things on this particular topic. Hear my rage internet, indeed!

Any online news story on fat issues, or the “OMGbesity crisis” (thanks Fat Nutritionist for that one) will have a herd of representatives from the hive mind piling crap on fat people. “What about your health?” “What about my health care premiums?!!” “TRY A DIET, FATTY!” (As if we HAVEN’T!) This abuse extends beyond the URL into the IRL – many of my fat friends have experienced abuse hurled at them from automobiles while they are literally treading the footpath. Uh, hello… is there a supplement for irony deficiency?

Right now, the issue of exercise is something I’m battling with. I can’t afford a gym membership (nor am I sure I want one), home exercise equipment is too bulky for my unit, but worst of all I’m developing a severe phobia of exercising outside by myself. If I’m honest with myself, I can admit that I have never been abused while out exercising. I’ve had beeps and yells of appreciation (at least, that’s what my self esteem registered them as!) but I’ve never experienced the horrid displays of abuse that some of my friends have experienced. Yet… I fear them.

When I was trialling the services of a personal trainer (something I don’t have access to any more, much to my sadness) I felt like it was totally ok for me to be running in public. Because someone was there instructing me, someone I trusted to back me up if I did encounter that special brand of arsehole who doesn’t want people to focus on themselves and their fitness. Now and then when my husband and I can match up schedules we’ll go out together and have a clandestine run… through patches of footpath that are heavily shaded from view of the very busy main road.

But wait – that isn’t fair. It’s not fair that, in the act of doing something perfectly normal and healthy, I feel I have to shield myself from public view. It’s not fair that I’m afraid of exercising for fear of abuse. It’s not fair that making fun of fatties is acceptable, and it’s completely screwed up that people feel they are justified in making fun of a fat person when they are exercising.



Beth Ditto is on the cover of Italian Rolling Stone this month, licking her toes in a pose that requires an incredible amount of flexibility. Regardless, the Perez Hilton post is full of half-wits bleating on about how fat people are disgusting (as well as how unladylike the pose is – which is ANOTHER rant for me!) If you are honestly offended by someone exercising, stretching or using their body in any matter of ways – please GTFO off my planet. What kind of sensitive snowflake are you that you feel another person’s body should modify itself to fit your worldview?

I want to reclaim my world, my body and my health. I want to trot down the main street wearing skins (i.e: tights) and not give a shit. I know my body can do amazing things, but somehow… sometimes… I feel the world doesn’t want to see me doing them. And that’s really unfair and harmful to my mental and physical wellbeing.

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  • nycivan

    I just posted on my blog about what people think of me as I walk around nyc on my walker. I am trying to incorporate movement that I find fun. While my lung capacity keeps me from dance class and riding a two wheel bicycle I did find a dance class that aslo has somethign called a drum circle. I bought a little african drum and I am heading off to my first class this coming Saturday. I had to pre arrange with the dance studio and the instructor for a chair that is okay to bring into the dance studio because I am too big to sit on the floor. I am so excited. I have been dancing at home in a chair and walking as much as I can using my rolling 'walker' to sit on when I get winded. I don't ever hear abuse in the streets but I do see the people stare at me when i go about town. I want so much to ride my bike again, but it might mean purchasing an adult trycycle since I would be able to handle that with my current level of fitness.

    I have to find moement I love to do. I also have to battle the stigma of my size as I walk about town doing this movement. It is fair but it is necessary. If I am truly going to live a live of Fat Acceptance I think part of that is me accepting that many people are mean spirited and/or ignorant or just scared of getting fat themselves… so they stare rudely at me as I take care of myself by doing the movement that I love.

  • JLopezCostume

    I exercise a lot in public. And by a lot, I mean I get my 350 recommended minutes of exercise a week in a gym (some of that can be at home with DVDs but usually I go to the gym). In the beginning, I was very anxious. In high school, I had people taunt me…at a size 12…that I was just too fat to be running. When I first got to a trainer, this anxiety actually made it harder for me to work out. But I began to do something that I had never really understood. When I first started designing, I was under the tutelage of an irate patternmaker who took my inexperience as a personal insult. She would constantly say to me, “I'm not a bitch, you MAKE me a bitch.” In her instance, it was wrong. But now, I'm a bitch when it comes to exercise. I LIKE to move, and to hell with anyone, ANYONE, who casts me so much as a dirty glare. In a way, “they” ask for it. I've dealt with everyone from peers to my own mother being antagonistic towards me concerning my weight and exercise, and I realize that I just put too much effort into it for anyone to tell me to work harder or try something different. I just came back from a 3 mile run with my dad…who I smoked on the treadmill. With all things, respect is hard to earn, but I've learned that if people are going to bite, you need to bite back and leave them in the dust broken and bleeding. I mean, I'm still 210 pounds, but I can outrun any member of my family and most of my friends. I have a right to be here and do what I want, and so do you. It's time to bitch back.

  • VivZilla!

    Is there anyway that there could be a brisbane fat running group set up for people in the same boat? Surely people are less likely to attack a group, plus being in a group usually gives people the courage to bite back. I guess another benefit is that if the location is altered depending on where members live/work you get workout variety, another bonus.

    Although, that being said, why would you need to set it up, why can't people just NOT be douchebags :/

    (ah disclaimer, I wouldn't want to be part of this group, I think that running is icky hahaha but more power to you and anyone else that likes it :) )

  • VivZilla!

    P.S: That Beth Ditto cover is HOT!

  • 1Sonya1

    Sucks. I would say “Fuck them”, but I know that's not exactly helpful or productive. I don't go outside and exercise because I don't like running in public. But I have a treadmill. If I were closer to you, I would go and run with you.

  • fic_kitty

    Wow. Reading through those comments on the Perez Hilton post has literally made me nauseous. I don't know if it makes me feel better or worse to imagine that people really do think this way and just have the good sense not to say it in a public, non-anonymous forum. No, never mind, it makes me feel worse.

  • tonipeed

    Beautiful article. Witty and heartachingly true. There are many many things that trouble me in this world, the least of which is other peoples comments and thoughts about me or my physique. I have experienced great
    love in my life and know that while I am not 'to everyone's tastes' I am satisfied that I am the best person I can be. I do have days where I think “holy shit, I'm an enormous pile 'o jelly”. Everyone has insecurities. But I try, and now it comes quite naturally, to love myself and write off anyone who makes a judgement about me before they have even bothered to get to know the incredibly awesome person that is me. Absolutely, their loss.
    Love your work Natalie. Keep going.
    tonipeed :)
    ps. I am feeling particularly strong and pretty today!

  • dashing_but_not

    Personally, I've only ever liked combat sports, and as long as you don't have aspirations to professional fighting, people tend to keep quiet about your weight in that kind of activity. Especially if they are smaller than you and you are doing some kind of grappling art.

    Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu equal win when you're heavy if you learn how to use your weight effectively. I find it rare that someone will be rude about your weight if they are about to participate in a sport that could see said weight making them very uncomfortable in just a few minutes. Martial artists also tend to be polite in general.

  • the fat nutritionist

    “In my moments of drifting off to sleep, I like to imagine that I'm running.”

    I do this exact same thing. I think it's because my body genuinely wants more exercise, and it's trying to tell me in the nicest possible way.

    But you know one large reason why I don't get that kind of vigorous, intentional exercise? You guessed it — the risk of public censure.

    I have a touch of social anxiety (thank you, random street harassers who've been in my face since childhood!) and that makes it hard for me to just go out and walk. Because I already face quite a bit of harassment from just doing what I need to do each day. Can you imagine what it would be like if I went running? I live in the middle of downtown of the biggest city in my country, for Christ's sake. It's constantly full of people. It's not like I can find a nice, peaceful street where I won't likely be bothered.

    That said — I did finally discover a wonderful opportunity to get the movement my body craves, just a day or two ago. The beach. The lake.

    There aren't too many people, and something about being at the beach makes everyone less image-conscious. People are very chill, relaxing with their dogs. And there are some beautiful spots to go swimming. Unexpected bonus: no chlorine. (I grew up swimming in sketchy swimming holes and ponds, so I prefer natural bodies of water to swimming pools anyday.)

    I love swimming so much I can hardly express my excitement at finding this opportunity. I hope you'll find one too.

  • garconniere

    fuck yeah!

  • linda

    I've never experienced any verbal abuse on my running trips but I used to worry about it a lot as well. For me it changed when I got the courage to wear a “real” runners outfit, which includes tights and often pretty fitted shirts. I was training a lot and I had reached a point where I just wanted what is most comfortable in terms of material and fit. The first few times were hard and I was convinced everybody would laugh at me but they didn't and it has actually helped me become more confident about exercising in public. It makes me feel more like an athlete that I look like I know what I'm doing because of what I'm wearing. It also makes me look more like the other “serious” runners out there like I belong to some sort of unspoken community. I know it might sound incredibly shallow but whatever works. I used to go for the more secluded routes as well but now I focus more on what I'm in the mood for and other factors such as the level of traffic (because of the pollution) and the surface (e.g. not running on asphalt for 10 km straight).

    Sometimes I run by the National Broadcast Corporation (I'm not from Australia). It's a glass building and everytime I do it I mentally flip the bird at how the media portray fat people as lazy and inactive. I like to think that if they look out the window they'll have a second look at the fat girl running in tights :)

  • namae

    have you thought about joining group training? There are loads of different ones around town, and usually no commitment (unlike a gym membership) so if you think it sux, you can quit/join another one.

  • Margo

    I have been to several gyms, and post-Uni have pretty much always felt like I was in a safe space; I've also run in public, for some reason my brain (usually willing to go after my anxieties like a heat-seeking missile) thought, if people see me, they will think: Fat girl running = she's doing something positive and healthy. Now, I am trying to get rid of the constant body-policing gaze (internal and external), but exercise is one area I've always been fairly content in performing in public.

    Incidentally – I went to a gym (NHS subsidised program) yesterday for an assessment, and was prepared to give the instructor all kinds of HAES hell. Turned out, he was in agreement with me about BMI & the Obesity scare-mongering. We had a really productive chat, and he's going to help me on reducing my back pain and increasing my strength.

  • audreydc1983

    I dream about running, too…except, I can't.
    I would love to run again, but the damage done to my knees by serving in the Marines is too great. I am, according to the VA, 20% disabled because of my knees. And not only that…the doctor shook his head and said “You never should have been running.” In other words, the Marines ordered me to run miles and miles…when it was tearing my knees apart from the inside out. My body type, joint size (namely ankles), and Q-angle(s) predisposed me to joint damage. And no one caught it BEFORE I went in, so as to head off permanent damage.
    Ever since the Marines, I have hated the gym. And, ever since being an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, I have hated personal trainers, too.
    Run, girl. Run like the wind. If anyone yells at you, give 'em the finger! And, Oh- you might want to carry something for personal protection, like a stun gun or pepper spray. This is what I carry when I am walking the dog at night:

  • Naomi

    Anyone who is crass enough to hurl abuse at ANYONE for doing what they want, and have every right to (its still fucking legal to walk/run/whatever in public…well maybe not ALL whatevers, there was this time, under a stair well in town hall…..ummmm yeah I digress!) needs to have themselves locked up with a shrink to discuss what it is that they are so bloody insecure about in themselves that they feel the need to attack someone for enjoying their life. That and beaten with something suitably painful.

  • garyrigg

    I do believe there is growing anxiety about how we look. It is a reason why home gym equipment is becoming ever more popular. Not having to worry about the big intimidating blokes glaring over as you struggle to pick the bar up without the weights even on it. Just trying to do some workout eh.

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