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Why the Gym Isn't Just for Skinny People

Jes Baker

We often think that quality exercise in our society happens at a gym, but for me, this has always been a traumatizing experience. Zero joy. Every time I’ve gone to the gym in my lifetime (there were points when I was there every single day), it has been a form of punishment: a place I needed to go because the current me wasn’t good enough, and I needed to run on that treadmill UNTIL I BECAME OKAY, DAMMIT! The gym became a torture chamber, no matter which one I tried (dozens), so gym-related exercise will most likely NOT be pleasurable for me.

But one day I transcended my sordid/ugly/angry/punishing relationship with exercise; it was the day, a couple of years ago, that I had a meltdown. A legit, sobbing, unable-to-fully-understand-what-was-going-on, shaky-body kind of meltdown . . . and it was all over a dance class. (Check out these tips to Banish Gym-timidation.)

A friend had invited me to Jade Beall’s African dance class, and I agreed to go with her; no problemo! But an hour before, my system suddenly realized that I had just signed up for a very new-to-me and very public exercise class, and I went into total shock. Guys, I freaked the fuck out. I felt like I had a momentary break and lost control; it was so unexpected, and at the moment I couldn’t even have told you why. I panic-attacked all over my friend’s Facebook message box, and our messages back and forth went something like this:

Me, typing, at home in tears:
Nope. I’m not going.
Goddamnit dude, I’m too fucking scared to go.
This body stuff is so HARD.
Nskjdgfsbhkassdfjwsbvgfudjsc.
And I feel totally guilty.
I’m the worst fat person ever.
I’m having a panic attack. Like crying and shit. 
ALL OF THE CRISES. 

Friend:
Okay, so what’s going on here? What are you really struggling with?

Me:
Lots of things.
I haven’t been in a dance class since college and I’m positive it will be harder than then and I’m already a physical failure
and I’m positive I’ll fail in this class and I don’t love my body today
and I feel like I’m supposed to go and my brain keeps telling me I have to or else I’m the worst fatty ever
and when I see you I’m just going to regret not going
and then I’ll have to sit on my fat ass all night knowing I didn’t do it
when I should have but I can’t.
I just can’t.

Friend:
Here’s the thing.
You’re not gonna be the only one. Last time I was there, the people were all different. There were kids and even an older man who couldn’t move as quickly as everyone else.
It was challenging for everyone.
You’re totally not gonna be alone.
And it was challenging for me too! At a certain point I had to decide that I was either gonna stick through it or get the fuck out. But I decided to stay and it was amazing and after I finished I totally felt like I had a dozen orgasms.

Me:
I hate being fat.
I hate everything about it.
I hate how hard it makes daily living
and how many mental barriers I have to fight through just to do what others do.
And I hate having to justify everything to myself because I feel like I owe the world to lose weight or at least try and lose weight
or eat differently and lose weight . . . or something.
It’s just really hard and sounds crazy but it’s so common for me.
THIS IS ALL OF THE HARDS.

Friend:
I get it.
I totally get it.
Body issues are all of the shit and IT IS ALL OF THE HARDS.
But do yourself a favor, okay? Don’t do it for the weight loss. Just go for the orgasms.

So, “for the orgasms” I went. The night turned into a spiritual experience, one that really altered my perspective. Jade is incredible in person. Her infectious energy reminded me that it’s important to love others, and even more important, to love yourself. And you should see her shake that incredible booty on the dance floor. God. Damn. And I would estimate that I doubled my friend’s record of twelve orgasms in a night. It was. Amazing. (P.S. There is a Link Between Happiness and Weight Loss.)

I had to force myself to put on my dance pants while I was talking to my friend so I wouldn’t back out at the last second. I then turned my brain off and focused solely on my promise to just show up for the warm-up, but I of course stayed for the entire thing. I allowed myself to make mistakes, friends, and a fool out of myself. I wasn’t worried about the steps, for the most part, because I had triumphed over my biggest insecurity just by being there.

Now, today, I think back on those Facebook messages without any trace of that emotion. It’s hard for me to understand how something as simple as going to a movement class could shake my world so much that I would lose my ability to function. But it did. And it was real. And that sort of freakout is so common.

So often, we fat ladies feel the social pressure to “better ourselves” by losing weight, but then feel ostracized in a workout setting. We feel obligated to join The Perfect Body Factory (okay, maybe you call it a gym), but once there, we feel out of place and pushed into a competition we’ve failed at before even setting foot inside. It’s a mindfuck, and scares a lot of us shitless. The act of combining a fat body and exercise can resurrect a lifetime of shame. One of the most powerful kinds of shame in the world. (Find out How Fat Shaming Could Be Destroying Your Body.)

I was convinced I would fail that night. I would have bet everything I had in my bank account on it. But I DIDN’T FAIL! I finished the entire class and loved every single minute of it. There was one arm move that confused the shit out of me that I couldn’t get down, but that wasn’t because of my weight. It was because my brain was like, “WHATTHEFUCK, COUNTING ON OFF-BEATS IS HARD.” Sweat was never so rewarding, and I had a lot of it. Well, we all did. I am lucky to be able to see my “before” and “after” emotions and realize that none of this is about obligation, weight loss, or skill sets.

It’s about feeling good. 

And feeling good is not exclusive. Endorphins are not just for those who have perfectly toned bodies. I am allowed to move my body in any way I like and not apologize for the way it looks while doing so. I don’t have to be perfect, and I don’t have to go for the purpose of changing my body. I can go because I want to. Because I like to work the machine I live in. Because I want to feel amazing. Because I deserve to feel amazing.

My advice to every woman who wants to participate in a cycling, aerobics, yoga, Jazzercise, Pilates, swimming, dance, or Zumba class but is scared to try?

Don’t go for the weight loss. Go for the orgasms.

 Excerpted from Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker. Published by Seal Press, members of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015.

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