Last Friday morning I agreed to try a new fitness class with a friend at a new-to-me studio in town. I had been looking forward to trying this class for awhile but our schedules hadn't worked out for a couple of months.
When I walked into the studio about 15 minutes early the studio was busy with people coming in for the next class and those that had finished a class and were purchasing apparel. It seemed like a really nice atmosphere. The woman at the desk, the Owner- unbeknownst to me, was very friendly, helpful, and informative. I filled out the demographic, liability waiver, and was perfectly candid on the paperwork that I am an instructor from another local studio and what my certifications are. (Often times questions like that are asked on waivers because they want to be wary of copyright or trademark infringement or competitors.) Its good to be the student every once in a while and let someone else kick your ass.
The Owner showed me where I could put my things, where I could grab equipment needed for the class, and showed me to a spot. We chatted for a couple of moments. I sat down to stretch, warm-up, and wait for my friend to arrive. The moment the Owner left, the woman in front of me started looking me up and down. She said, "Are you new? You aren't going to be able to do this class. If you can even make it through the whole thing today you won't see any improvement for at least 3 months. It takes WORK to take this class. You probably won't even know what muscle to use when she is instructing the moves." Did I mention when she said this I'm surrounded by other students? My initial reaction was to say something back and stick up for myself but I just stood there with my mouth agape. Granted, I am not the cookie cutter image of the typical student at this studio. I am average height, athletic build and I have thighs. I mean, I have THIGHS. And guess what? They aren't going anywhere. No matter what size I am. As I look around the room I swear every other woman in there has at least 4 inches on me; tall, slender, thigh gaps. I could have told this woman I am a fitness instructor just trying out another class. I could have explained to her that I am coming off of a couple injuries and I know I am deconditioned. I could have told her to mind her own effing business. I was so taken off guard. I do a pretty good job with the self-deprecation, and cutting down of my self confidence all on my own lady, I didn't need your help.
The old me would have quietly left before the class had even started with some lame excuse. The new me wouldn't have left my friend hanging, so I stayed. Then it began. The scrutinizing myself in the mirror. Adjusting and fidgeting in my workout clothes, refusing to take off my warm-up jacket; trying to hide myself. I wanted to shrink in the corner, but there I was front and center where the Owner had placed me. (Gee thanks.)
Kicker is- I would have really enjoyed this class if I wasn't so embarrassed and ashamed. It was tough. It engaged muscles that I haven't used in quite awhile. I took it easy, I used light weights or none and concentrated on my form. I modified when I needed to using the knowledge I have gained from instructing my own classes. I took short breaks when I needed to and went down into child's pose. I made it through the whole 55 minutes and for a beginner, I don't think I did so bad. My upper body could use some work, its never been my strong point. My lower body and ab work was pretty great. The worst part about the whole class was me staring at myself in disgust in the mirror the entire time.
I'd like to say that I got into my car feeling accomplished from a great workout and put that horrible woman behind me. But I didn't. I cried. I cried on the way to coffee with my friend. I cried on my way home to shower and change. I cried on the way to work. I was mad. I was mad because I was put into a situation and something happened that was out of my control and I didn't stick up for myself.
The thing is, the lady wasn't wrong. In any fitness class its going to take a few sessions to get the hang of it and then months before you see any actual improvement. But the scrutinizing of my appearance. Telling me I couldn't do something. Implying that I couldn't handle the class because of the way I look. Telling me I probably wouldn't make it through a class. Assuming I wouldn't know my ass from my elbow. As women why do we cut each other down? Shouldn't we be supporting each other? Building each other up? Hoping that we succeed? Or at the very least encouraging someone who is trying to better themselves and get healthy? What did that woman have to gain from cutting me down? She clearly had been taking the class for a couple of months. I mean, shit, did the Owner put me in "her" spot? Maybe I am naive or fortunate enough to have never experienced that kind of treatment in other studios and classes I have taken over the years- even when I was at my heaviest or most out of shape. Maybe that woman just really hates herself and wants others to feel the same way.
Dear Lady Who Publicly Shamed Me at Fitness Class,
People come in all shapes in sizes. Fit comes in all different shapes and sizes too. Shame on you for being the kind of woman that builds yourself up by cutting others down. So I'm going to meal prep. I'm going to continue to eat right. I'm going to get my PCOS under control. I'm going to get my conditioning and tone back now that I am healed from my injuries. Then I am going to come back to class and stand in your spot. I am going to smile at other students when they walk in the room. I'm not going to fidget with my clothes. I'm not going to use the mirror for anything else other than adjusting my form. Not because of you and your words; in SPITE of you and your words. I'll see you soon.
P.S. Should you ever walk into the studio where I teach looking to shake things up and trying something new. Don't worry- I will smile, pleasantly greet you and welcome you, and treat you with respect. Yes, because I am a professional, but also because you are a human being and you should be treated as such.