Joining a gym or committing to a workout regime isn't easy, especially if you've been out of the game for some time. People may assume you're there to lose weight or "tone up" or "get ready for bikini season." This language has been burned into our psyches our entire lives, especially for women. But exercise can be so much more than that and as writer Katie Cloyd recently wrote, when you commit to moving your body more, it shouldn't be about what you lose but instead, what you gain.
On April 27, Cloyd posted on Facebook a gorgeous picture of herself beaming from ear to ear and wrote, "I haven't lost one ounce since I joined the gym a month ago. Not one ounce. In fact, I've gained ... "
I've gained confidence.
I've gained a sense of community in a place I've never felt like I belonged before.
I've gained a friend in my trainer who is literally a bodybuilder but who hasn't been intimidating or judgy or any of the things I always worried about.
I've gained a conversation topic with my husband who is deployed and living in the gym out of sheer boredom.
I've gained the ability to say "screw it" and do things that invigorate me, help me sleep, relieve some of my anxiety disorder, and help me pass the months until my husband comes home.
When you see a fat person in the gym, don't automatically think, "Oh good for them. They're going to be thinner." Thinness is not everyone's goal. There are so many great reasons to use your body in [a] way [that] brings you joy, and none of them involve not feeling good enough just as you are."
Yes, yes, YES. This message needs to be echoed over and over again. Moving your body and feeling strong means many things to many different people. For some, it can mean weight loss - and that's okay - as long as you're doing it for reasons that matter to you. But your exercise goal may be to recover from an illness or injury, to improve your mental health, to spend more time in nature, or for Cloyd, to feel a sense of belonging and community while her husband is deployed in the Armed Services.
Cloyd tells LoveToKnow her post was meant as a reminder that exercise can and should be about empowerment, not weight loss.
"I'm in such a free, content place with my body, and when people assume that all I want in the world is to change it, it's frustrating," she says. "Going to the gym is good for me in so many ways, and the fact that it could possibly make my large body smaller isn't really a benefit I care about."
She also said that finding the right trainer (if a trainer is something you can afford and think may be beneficial to you) makes the whole process more fun.
"To be honest, I was resistant to training at first. I just wanted to go in, pop in some headphones, and sweat my way through my early 2000s hip-hop playlist in peace," she explains. But after one of her friends introduced her to her gym's trainer, it was an experience she looked forward to.
"The thing I love about [my trainer] Chelsea is that she is open to learning from me, too. She helps me build my muscles and train my body to do things I haven't done before, and I introduce her to my experience of fat acceptance and body positivity," she says. "She's kind and encouraging, and we laugh the entire time. She's a competitive bodybuilder, but she knows I'm not. She respects my goals and works with me to achieve things that I feel are important, but recognizes that I am not shooting for the same things that smaller people might be hoping for in the gym."
It only takes women scrolling through social media, opening a magazine, or reading one of the hundreds of advertisements we're inundated with on a daily basis to get the memo that thin is best. It can be hard to feel like you're "enough" when you see headlines about how Kim Kardashian lost 16 pounds in 3 weeks to fit into Marilyn Monroe's dress for the Met Gala. When one of the world's most beautiful women is openly comparing herself - and her body - to another woman's and going to perhaps dangerous lengths to make her already-thin frame smaller, what message does that send to women and girls other than, thin is best?
"It's a well-established fact of life in our culture that women are simply expected to be thin, try hard to be thin, or at least wish they were thin," Cloyd adds. "As a self-identified fat person, I'm acutely aware that I am infinitely more accepted and respected when people assume I'm seeking intentional weight loss. It's almost like people will give me a pass to be outside the ideal as long as I'm desperate to embody it."
While we've come a long way in terms of body inclusivity in mainstream marketing, it will take generations of women, women like Cloyd, to remind us all that feeling good doesn't mean counting calories, working out in excess, or constantly comparing ourselves to others. It can (and should) mean engaging in activities that make us happy and give us time to concentrate on ourselves.