“Look how fat she is!” The loud whisper was intentional as the woman passed their table in the Chicago restaurant. “I bet she’ll order a large Diet Coke – they all do!” The girls giggle, drop their cash on the table and leave. My heart sinks.
I look over at the woman who is sitting uncomfortably in a booth. She is a large woman, sure, but when she walked in, it was her beautiful brown hair and fashion sense that caught my attention. She looks amazing. Fierce, actually. But I notice her eyes. She heard the loud whisper. She’s trying to shake it off.
The woman orders from the waiter with a great smile: tea and a salad. She gazes out the window with each bite. She’s hurting. I can tell, I’ve been in her shoes too many times.
I’ve held a posture that feigns confidence as if to say, “I will not let them get to me.” Deep breaths, holding back frustrated tears, wondering if this fat body is the only truth I will ever know. Then the wave of loneliness starts to set in. Their mean words, another validation why you feel so alone most of the time. Because fat isn’t attractive, it’s ugly. There’s a desire to shout, “I’m the smallest I’ve been in a long time!!” And on the day you feel your best, glancing in the mirror, saying to yourself, I look damn good today, strangers stab right through you with disparaging words.
A few months back a friend suggested, “put exercise in your calendar, do it the same time everyday.” Believe me, if it were that simple my 300-pound body would not exist. But, I get the point. I need more than a time on a calendar. I need someone somewhere expecting me to show up. So, I went to a Crossfit gym to see what it was all about.
“Expect to sweat,” one person said to me. And sweat I did! My white t-shirt was transparent, and the tattoo on my chest was visible as if I wasn’t wearing anything!
Lunges and burpees, things with barbells, something called thrusters, pull ups and… One of the trainers was impressed with my hustle. Another complimented my form and asked if I was a former athlete. I have no idea if these were real compliments or a ploy to sign-up new members, but it worked. The positive reinforcement motivated me.
“I think you could do this,” one guy said. “You were really trying, and for a guy your size, it was inspiring to see. Just believe in yourself, man!” His eyes saw past my insecurities. I see a fat man struggling. He saw someone willing to work hard. In that one hour of sweat, a stranger saw more than my crazy dichotomy of persistence and determination wrapped up in a veil of low self-worth.
I find myself staring out the window in this Chicago restaurant. There’s a book in my hand; summer reading for a paper I’m writing. The book is boring. Or I’m distracted. Or both. The lady in the booth makes a move to leave. As she walks by I stop her, “Excuse me, ma’am?”
“Love what you’re wearing.” I say this with sassy attitude; it’s my usual way when it comes to complimenting a woman. And from her it brings about a smile.
“I’ve lost 30 pounds! I feel great!” We give each other a high five, but she grabs my hand. “You keep it up, too!” She acknowledges my half-sandwich and leafy green salad.
Losing weight. For me, it’s like a rhinoceros wanting to be a unicorn. It seems out of reach and unimaginable. The reflection in the mirror of my naked body is discouraging. There is so much of me to lose! And it happens at a snail’s pace, which is not quick enough. I can’t wear a sign announcing the strides I’ve made. Unfortunately, fat is fat until you’re not.
But, I’m working hard to reconcile myself with my body. It’s something I’m doing for my own dignity. And weight loss is the added benefit. And I’m not giving up.
Strangers at the gym. The woman in the restaurant. People in my life. They check-in on me. They are witnesses to my struggle. These strangers and friends influence me to randomly decide to Crossfit. They help me face the mirror and sit on that rowing machine. Throughout this life-long battle with my body, it has been the encouragements and unwavering love I’ve received, right when I’ve needed it the most. It’s what keeps me going.