To All the Judgmental Jerks at the Gym (Including Me)

To All the Judgmental Jerks at the Gym (Including Me)

Slim Chance
Weight: 218 pounds

Weight Lost in 2 Weeks: 1 pound

Total Lost: 35 pounds

Any time I go into a gym or a new exercise class, I’m nervous: Will I be able to do the workout? Are people looking at me because I’m fat? Are they looking at me while I’m unable to do the workout? Why am I sweating so much? Can they see that I’m sweating? Seriously, it seems medically impossible that I produce this much sweat. All of that and a litany of other low self-esteem thoughts cross my mind before my workout is done.

I used to think that all of these other judgmental people in the gym were the problem. But that’s not the case.

I Will Beat That Skinny Bitch

About six years ago, I took tough boot camp classes 4-5 times a week. Though I was about 30 pounds lighter than I am today, I was not in great shape and was always one of the biggest girls in the class. But I worked hard and felt happy every time I got through the hour without nearly passing out and praying for death.

After attending this class for about six months, the gym had a big open house, so a bunch of new people showed up to get their butts kicked on a Saturday morning. And one girl immediately became my enemy.

This tiny, beautiful redhead waltzed into class without a care in the world. She tugged at her adorable knee-high socks and perfectly plaited braids as she began her personal warm-up in the middle of the room. To me, her warm-up seemed to serve two purposes: prepare her muscles for exercise and constantly draw attention to how much cuter she was than everyone else. Each hamstring stretch cried out, “Why, yes, I look this good. How do I do it?” She seemed completely at ease. And that infuriated me.

“I will beat you, Little Red,” I vowed. “Even if I have to die during this workout, I will destroy you.”

To be clear, there was no competition. It wasn’t like Flywheel, where everyone kept score, and the winning name came up in lights for everyone to see. There were no points. There was certainly no “winner.” But in my mind, this 105-pound 25-year-old thought she could breeze through this workout, while my 190-pound body would suffer. I wanted to prove that I could do every push-up, battle rope, and jump squat right along with her. Of course, this person never said anything to me and probably didn’t even know I was there. But I was set: I would beat this skinny bitch.

As we began, Little Red seemed confident, but it didn’t last. We did burpees into jumping jacks into high knees then back into burpees. Then came the deadlifts and wall sits and sprints across the floor. And slowly but surely, all of Red’s cocky confidence slipped away. She was sweating. She was having a hard time. And my fat self was gliding through. Okay, maybe not gliding—I was suffering just as much as anyone—but I did it with a smile, thrilled by the fact that I could keep up with the tiny newcomer.

By the end of the class, Red slumped to the floor. Class had clearly been harder than she’d expected, and she was happy to be done. And me? Sure, I was covered in sweat, my face was the color of a cooked lobster, and I had to do the push-ups on my knees. But I was victorious.

Little Red came back the next week, looking like a woman heading into battle—she knew it was going to be hard. After that painful session, she never came back. I, on the other hand, kept going for another six months.

Judgment Day

At the time, I felt triumphant: I’d overcome a judgmental, skinny lady and showed that a big girl can do anything a tiny girl can. Hooray for me! But now I can see that this is a perfect example of how exceptionally judgmental I can be.

Did Little Red do anything to me? No. Did she say something mean to me? No. Did she give me a weird look? No! Yes, this girl showed up with a bit of a cocky attitude, but I had no reason to make her my gym enemy. Because she was so skinny, I assumed she thought I was gross, which made me assume she was a bitch, which, in turn, led me to concoct an entire competition out of thin air.

And I still do this all the time! Way too often, I think, Ugh, that skinny bitch, why is she even here, when I go to a gym. No wonder I assume that everybody I work out with is judging me since I’m sitting in the corner judging everyone in the room.

In the past few months, I’ve really tried to work on my negative self-talk. Now, I need to work on my negative other-people talk. Just this week, I saw a picture of the manager at a gym I’m going to join and thought, She’s so skinny and pretty, she probably won’t get me. What the hell is that?

I need to get over these snap judgments because they feed my self-consciousness. The cycle goes like this: I think bad things about strangers, so I assume they’re thinking bad about me, so I act weird to them, which makes them act weird to me, which proves to me that they were jerks all along, so I go on judging them.

This week, I’ll be going to the gym regularly again, and the term “skinny bitch” is getting erased from my vocabulary. Maybe if I go in with a positive attitude and the idea that every person there is just a decent human trying to get into shape, I won’t end up in a self-conscious spiral. Maybe the impossible will happen: I’ll make friends with the skinny girls and complete one not-on-my-knees push-up.

… don’t hold your breath for the push-up.

Amber Petty is an L.A.-based writer and a regular contributor to Greatist. Follow along as she shares her weight-loss journey in her new bi-monthly column, Slim Chance. Take singing lessons from her via Sing a Different Tune and follow her on Instagram @ambernpetty.

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