The gym is dead except for the usual Midnight Posse: Intense Weightlifter Man, Treadmill Lady, Lap Pool Guy, and Old German Woman with Red Rimmed Glasses, who I affectionately call O.G.Red. The Beijing Olympics are underway and a previously recorded volleyball game plays on all the monitors. As a former volleyball player any televised game activates my adrenaline. I need this adrenaline because I hate working out.
I’m fat. Morbidly obese, actually. Undergoing a routine physical two weeks ago, it’s the phrase that appeared when my doctor entered a numerical code into my chart. Weighing in at 318 wasn’t much of a surprise. Neither was the pre-diabetic diagnosis. Walking on the heavier side of life has been my normal for as long as I can remember. I’ve been larger, and I’ve weighed less, but always big. My plumpness is the result of slow metabolism, genetics, and choosing carrot cake over carrots.
So, I complete my elliptical routine and head towards the stairmaster. Somewhere between cardio machines O.G.Red stops me. She doesn’t really use any of the equipment as much as she just walks briskly around them. Her face looks 80 from wrinkles and grey hair, but she seems very fit. I’m 30 with a round face and breathing heavily.
“You look sad always, you know this?” Her thick German accent sounds like a child reciting a nursery rhyme.
“Oh, well I’m not.” I’m defensive and rushed, there’s a volleyball game on. “Just tired. Long day.” I attempt to move passed but she’s not letting me evade her easily.
“You looking good, keep up work, okay?”
“I will, thank you.” Her affirmation energizes me, her acknowledgement terrifies me. I come to the gym late at night so I can be anonymous. It’s easier to be a struggling fat man when no one is looking than a fat man struggling with everyone noticing.
It wasn’t easy being constantly teased as a kid, and adults can be quite mean. Coming of age, I learned that self-deprecating humor was the best way to survive, and smiling worked well to mask humiliation. Being bombarded with images of the ideal looking man I quickly learned how normal should appear, and none of them resembled me. So, achieving any bit of normalcy absorbed my thoughts. Every attempted diet and program, all the weight lost and gained, the money spent for startup fees and membership dues went towards that objective. And I would hold my breath and try.
I look down and notice my sweat soaked shirt sticking to every lump and curve of my body, while O.G.Red continues to thwart my stealth plans by asking, “Who you do this for?” I don’t want to be rude but motivation to stairmaster is fading, so I respond with a lopsided, tight lipped smile. “You will fail if not for you.” I assure O.G.Red working out is a personal endeavor, but her eyes see the lie. I’m doing this to look normal. I’m doing this for everyone else. I am doing this because I hate myself.
Being my size has never translated into settling for the status quo. I’ve always been agile and active. Overweight does not mean lazy just like skinny does not equal marathon runner. I also really like being a big guy, it suits me. Still, it would be great to not die from something I could’ve prevented. To do that I must treat myself like I deserve to live, which is to love myself as well as I can. And to accomplish this I must be some form of healthy and less influenced by societal images of normal. The challenge is putting these pieces together. If only it wasn’t like two opposing magnets trying to join; the persistent struggle leads to frustration, lots of awkward motions on a treadmill, with the often regrettable binge of everything sweet and savory.
To say I’m a work in progress is not correct because that suggests there’s an end to all of this. Achieving a clean bill of health doesn’t mean I’ve won the battle of the bulge, and unless I become a recluse the effects of culture will invariably invade my mind. Instead I say I’m evolving. This kind of evolution embraces imperfections, in fact it demands them! And eventually it rewards them.
But this process takes time; this process takes gentleness, subtlety, patience; this process takes a lot of effort. Accepting my reflection as a true gift from God…IS NOT EASY! I have to constantly step back and remember how I had once detested looking in the mirror. Now I’m able to see how far I’ve come towards loving myself. When that happens I can slowly exhale, step off the scale, and begin again.