In Praise of Gym Trolls

Why we should love the folks who shame us where we are most vulnerable

This morning I read a piece by one of my favorite Medium writers, traceybyfire. In it she describes how a gym lowlife made an unsolicited and hugely unhelpful comment to her as she was going through a routine. I am quite familiar with the exercise, it does wonders for the glutes, as well as strengthens the back. I do it myself, in public, on our own dirty gym floor.

The comment hurt. They always do. Doesn’t matter that it’s none of their beeswax. Here we are with everything hanging out, all our perfect imperfections, doing our level best to negotiate with what God gave us and what we’ve done with it for good, bad or worse. The last thing we need is a nasty peanut gallery.

However.

We should thank these cretins. Really. No. We should.

Because people like this, along with the female fitness trainers who photograph, post and shame those of us who head to the gym to deal with what life has dealt us, remind us of why we’re there.

To NOT be like them. To rise. Stay with me here.

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Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

In June of 2017, I wrote the following about this very thing:

Shaming a Shamer

A few minutes ago I walked in from running about 2400 steps at Red Rocks Amphitheater here in Colorado. I wasn’t alone. Lots of folks do that every day. Old folks, young folks, men, women, people with pets.

And fat folks.

Today as I was heading down the northern steps I watched a woman whose body much resembled mine some thirty years ago head up the stairs. She was much shorter, but she was large.

Man that woman has GUTS.

She was with a friend. Taking her time. The 9 am sun was getting warm out there. I can attest.

I can guarantee you that a few folks were probably making fun of this brave woman. Taking photos to do a group-mock.

Like Brit bodybuilder Diana Andrews did at her gym when she took an unflattering photo of a fellow gym goer on a treadmill and posted it online with some vicious comments.

Ms. Andrews, with her fake lashes, fake eyebrows, fake cheekbones, fake lips and fake boobs got summarily blasted on Twitter, to the point where she had to take her social media accounts private.

Not before she protested that she “hadn’t meant to harm or insult anyone.”

Yah, you did, Diana. And so do all the other so-called fitness gurus who take to social media and post photos of those of us- and that includes me because I was once a fatty who put the cracks in the sidewalk when I ran -who do our damnedest to work with what we have to get in better shape. This kind of terror is what keeps a whole lot of folks out of the gym in the first place.

Who can blame them? I remember spending years at the gym being terrorized by folks who would point out my double-wide. That double-wide was what I was working on, you fools.

Where are we headed, that now nobody is allowed to leave the house unless they look like Chris Hemsworth or Gisele?

A friend of mine on Linked In commented recently that courage is in short supply lately.

I beg to differ. I see it everywhere. That woman pushing herself up 600 tough mudder stairs at 6200′ altitude in the heat of early summer sure has courage.

Any overweight, aging or out-of shape person who has the fortitude and guts to face potential criticism and jeering, fat shaming and laughter to get out and try to get it done, is, as far as I’m concerned, a hometown hero in this world of people like Diana Andrews. She of surgical procedures and backbiting.

It is hard enough to get out the door. When we are mocked for our efforts, precisely what do you expect us to do? That’s like expecting us to clean the house before the housekeeper shows up.

Every chance I get, I do my best to encourage. Nothing but nothing inspires me more than seeing someone who has a long road ahead, taking on that journey. If nothing else, I have walked that road, and every day still battle my aging body’s desire to expand to previous territory. It’s hard work. The less fit we are, the harder it is. Which is why all folks who put in the time deserve our respect and encouragement.

That, as JFK used to say, is a profile in courage.

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Deposit photos

And then there was this.

Not long ago the Internet nearly broke itself over the appearance of Nike’s plus-sized mannequins focusing on the larger female athlete. This piece shows just how vicious this conversation can get as well as how ugly our own gender can be when it comes to including plus-sized folks in the fitness conversation. I might point out that one plus-sized woman of 300 pounds summitted Kilimanjaro twice out of three attempts.

When we turn on our own, it’s even worse than when men do it. That, sadly, is all too common. But women shaming women?

How is that any different from Maria Sharapova’s low-brow digs at Serena Williams about her body?

Shame on us. How dare we buy into that ugly, abusive narrative.

As well, there are increasingly more amazing plus-sized women who are doing endurance races. Here in Colorado, the outdoor industry has been inundated with demands from real women of real size who are unapologetically doing all the same things everyone else is. They are tired of turning to Carhartt. The industry is listening. They responded. So help me understand how it helps us women when our own gender carves canoes in the hearts of our sisters who have every single right to be outside and play in well-designed clothing that fits?

The Outdoor Industry Association, whose membership includes such heavy hitters as VF Corporation, Patagonia, REI and many others, have recognized where the market is headed. It’s not headed exclusively towards lean 20 yo white males. That said, these manufacturers are starting to cater to the kinds of clothing that we hard-core and hobby athletes of all genders, sizes and persuasion want and need: stuff that fits, stuff that performs, and please will you STOP with the pink already.

We all belong in the wild, on the road, in the gym. If there are those who can’t deal with real, let THEM hide out in their basements, scrolling through perfection porn, in the only place perfection exists: online, on screen, and in airbrushed magazines.

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

And to the trolls? Just because you or someone else might have a great body, or have been successful at re-sculpting, doesn’t mean that in a year or ten years or thirty years you don’t lose that battle again. Through injury, illness, or just plain KARMA, dude.

Many are athletes who find themselves in fitness centers late in life, struggling to get rid of the same extra weight the rest of us mere mortals have to manage while some asshole photographs them and posts their shame for the world to mock.

It’s like castigating Brigitte Bardot for being in her eighties.

So for all the Traceys and the rest of us everyday muggles who struggle with the pounds, the eating disorders, the aging bellies and burgeoning hips and creaking joints, this is my shout out to all of you: We see you. And we also admire you for showing up, putting in the time, and putting up with the mindless, ignorant trolls whose self-hate is so heinous that they would attack anyone for honest effort.

Don’t give them permission to hound you out of where you belong. You own your space at the gym, and you have every right to inform said troll that s/he knows where they can stick the dumb bell.

See you at the gym, Tracey.

Written by

Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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