I was well over two hundred pounds when I decided to make a change in lifestyle. I couldn’t walk for very long, I was lethargic, I wasn’t sleeping well at all. I don’t think I wanted the weight to go as badly as I wanted to feel better. I wanted to feel my age. I was only thirty three.
So there I was, a young mother of two, on the first day that both my children were away at school, looking at gym membership plans. I settled on the first fitness centre I visited, either because I was that desperate or because of the size of the biceps of the salesman. With twinkling eyes he smiled as my credit card approval beeped on the machine and the receipt rolled out. Then he winked at me and my podgy knees went weak. “You will lose it. Piece of cake,” he said.
Wait, did he just mention cake?
I fought the sugary creamy demons in my mind, cursed the dirty desires of my tongue, slapped the blubbery fat on my hips and kept walking past the bakery, the donut kiosk, the pretzel place, straight into the elevator. I jumped into the car and heaved a sigh of relief.
I can do this,, I thought. The pregnancies are over, the cravings are over, the nursing is over. There is no excuse to eat wrong.
And so that afternoon, armed with my shiny new gym membership card and enough money in my wallet, I went shopping. This was war and I needed the gear. Loud music played in the background, I think it was Eminem (is that how you spell it?) and I resisted the urge to start dancing. I took a look around. There were cute little pink tops slashed off at the torso (nope, CANNOT wear that), clingy lycra bicycle pants (LYCRA! NO!), colorful shorter-than-my-mother-can-ever-handle shorts. I eyeballed the sizes without touching the clothes, hmmm, I could probably get an arm or maybe a thigh through any one of these sweet little doll clothes.
The shoppers and the sales assistants eyed me. They looked at ALL of me. They stared as though I was a stray cat that had wandered into their home. Ok, maybe I didn’t look fit, and maybe I should not have been holding a scoop of Haagen Daz Belgian Chocolate ice cream on a cone. But my diet was starting the next day. Really.
Anyway, determined to do what I was there to do, after many moments of hesitation, I approached one sales woman, only because she was heavily set too.
Yes, they did sell extra large. Sure, I will bring it out for you, she beamed. Sorry we only display small and medium, it has more “hanging appeal”
I waited nervously, hiding behind racks of caps and bags and bands. She emerged holding a pair of tights. She threw me a gaze, one of regret and perhaps a little compassion. I don’t think it will fit madam. Would you like to try?
I prayed hard that my phone ring that very moment, or that she be summoned by a supervisor, or that the earth open up and swallow me. If I said yes and did try and it didn’t fit, wouldn’t that add to my humiliation? And if I said no and left, wouldn’t that be an acceptance that I was a lost cause?
So I said the only thing I could think of to save the little dignity I had left. “I’ll take it.”
The next morning I slipped on an old pair of tracks and a loose t-shirt, my husband’s. I took in the drabby sight of myself in the mirror.
I can do this. I can make a change.
I had had an apple for breakfast that day, green, no less. And lunch was already planned. Steamed vegetables with a side of brown toast, no butter thank you. This was it. Even though I looked like a bus. I would do this.
So I enter the double story fitness centre, my card rings like it is supposed to when I swipe it at the turnstiles and there I was. In the gym. This was the beginning. I looked around, fear gripped me like the devil in hell. Men and women, young and old, at least five sizes smaller than me (you guessed it, they were ALL in lycra), flooded the cardio machines. Big burly men were lifting barbells the size of a small country, heaving and panting. Skinny young women ran (RAN!) on the treadmills, their slim figures hopping, their elegant little ponytails bobbing up and down.
I stood alone, hypnotized by the techno music and the rotations of the pedals on spinning bikes. Where to start? Shall I go home? Was this even for me? My stomach growled. Perhaps a sandwich would help right about now….No….you can do this.
My trainer appeared, a young man with pep in his step and a smile on his lips.
“Not really” I mumbled.
“Don’t stress, we wont be doing all of this, let’s start with a few stretches. Let’s get you all warmed up.”
I dragged my feet behind him and did everything he said; some light walking, a little bit of weights, some stretching and some deep breathing exercises. All in all, it wasn’t as bad I had anticipated.
I went back the next day, and the next, and the next.
I am happy to report that with the help of my capable trainer and a good diet plan, I lost fifty pounds in six months. Some of that weight has been coming and going in the last ten years, but I have since bought a treadmill and a stairmaster. The treadmill sits in my balcony and the stairmaster is in my living room in front of the TV. I do not use either to hang towels. I use them to exercise, at least four times a week.
And this is why what Ms Dani Mathers did upsets me so much. If people with perfect bodies only understood what it takes for people like me to make that choice, if they only knew what it is to grow up obese and ill informed, if they only knew the kind of courage it takes to take the first step, they would realize that doing what she did is not only mean, it is an insult to every effort and every act of self discipline I have ever undertaken.
I don’t buy cake unless it is an occasion anymore, but even if I did, I don’t see why a woman, just because she is outwardly beautiful feels she has the right to stand in judgment of my body.
I do believe that beauty is more than skin deep. I know so because I have seen beauty in the wrinkles around my mother’s eyes, I have seen it in the laughter of a child, I have seen it in the acts of courage of our heroes, I have seen it in the whispers of prayers in a temple and church, I have seen it in the spirit of the brave, in the intelligence of our inventors, in the perfect words of a beautiful book.
Most of all, I have seen it in myself.
So Miss Playboy or whatever else you may be, please, for the love of God, don’t go around clicking naked pictures of people that may not be as fit as you at the gym, let them be who they are. Because they may just be better than you. After all, no amount of fat can take away what they carry in their souls. And I can bet my bottom dollar that the things they carry are a thousand fold more beautiful than you could ever hope to.