Recently, a very close friend of mine was bullied at the gym. She was in a workout class, and the woman behind her insisted that she move aside because “you’re too tall and I can’t see over you”. And of course, having someone twice her age calling attention to her size really bothered my friend. When I found out about it, I was pissed off and could barely keep myself from marching over to that woman and telling her off. I didn’t find out until later that this had been going on for awhile, and it both enraged me and made me sad. When class started, I planted myself smack in the middle of the front row, my friend next to me. The woman urged us to move to the side, whispering over and over “Scoot down, scoot down!”
“No,” I said flatly. “We’re not ‘scooting down’.”
Why is this kind of thing still happening? I felt like I was back in middle school, being ordered to leave a certain lunch table because that was where all the popular girls sat (I was new to the school and had no clue where it was and was not acceptable to sit). I’ll never forget the shame I felt as the cool clique tried to force me to sit on the steps with the only girl less popular than I was, saying to me, “We think you should be friends with her, since nobody likes her either.” Thanks, you little twats. Scarred for life, I commenced eating lunch in the library every day until I made some friends and felt safe eating with the masses again. My only crime was being the new girl, but that single incident set me up for all sorts of teenage insecurities that I could have very well done without.
I was twelve when the lunch incident happened. At twelve, I was certainly not confident enough to tell an entire table of my peers to go fuck themselves. But I’m twenty-nine now, and I won’t put up with being bullied – and I won’t stand by when it happens to my friends, either.
Maybe I was wrong, but I seriously thought things had changed. I’ve seen all these Anti-Bullying campaigns and harsh penalties for kids that pick on their peers., and I thought that it was more or less socially unacceptable to be a jackhole to someone simply because they’re different than you. So I have no idea why the incident at the gym occurred, or how that woman felt that there was nothing wrong with bashing my friend for her height. I don’t understand every time one of my thin friends is told to skip the gym and eat a cheeseburger. I don’t understand why some anonymous person commented on my friend Kate’s blog and asked her whether she was too fat to write a fashion blog. I’m not saying I’m a saint and that I’m never critical of anyone, but I really try to refrain from making ANY judgments based on appearance. And that goes twofold at the gym, where people are coming to improve themselves. The last thing someone needs when they’re trying to make healthy changes is to feel like they’re unwelcome or judged when they go to the gym. I remember when I used to work out at Curves, and there was a woman who must have weighed at least 500 pounds. Every evening when I got to the gym, she was there, doing her workout. I remember how hard it was for her to settle herself at the machines, how she had to go much more slowly than the rest of us. But mostly I remember her because she was there, doing it. She was making an effort to be healthier. I don’t know what in her life caused her to be that heavy, but I do know that I had nothing but admiration for her because she was trying to change things. She could have easily gone and had weight-loss surgery, but she didn’t, she chose instead to go to the gym and do it on her own. She was amazing. If anyone had ever made fun of her or said something cruel to her, I would have been outraged.
To anyone who reads this, I hope nothing like this ever happens to you. I hope no one ever makes an unkind remark to you about your looks, at a gym or anywhere else. If it does happen at the gym, my advice would be to let the instructor know what’s going on. You deserve to be comfortable and to have a good time with your workout. And if it happens out on the street, I would say the best course of action would be to trip the asshole that said something mean to you. Just make sure it looks like an accident.

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