The Pilates isnâ€™t new. Itâ€™s just been on hiatus since December. Between the sudden onset of extended periods, moving to a new house and a pair of pinched nerves I felt forced to let the practice lapse since January. Until then Iâ€™d logged two years. At the end of that two years, on an especially good day, I could keep my legs in full table top for the full length of the exercise called â€œThe 100.â€ Most days I didn’t make it all the way to 100, stopping around 80. The need for CPR ended after the first three months of practice.
This came with only doing Pilates once a week, surrounded by other exercises on different days.
Because itâ€™s a YWCA membership and I persist in attending the same class at the same time, Pilates instructors come and go. Some of the full time Pilates teachers give me nightmares. While the usual Downtown YWCA teachers are great, too often when we get a sub from one of the other clubs, if I go it becomes a giant pain as I become the target of someoneâ€™s weight prejudice. It’s subtle. They try to be encouraging. But these instructors just can’t parse someone of my size making the effort more than once – let alone with my degree of persistence.
Sometimes I snap back. I know a lot of it is forgivable ignorance – the word on the very real possibility of fit fatness isn’t well-known yet. Once, in a fit of pique, I told a well-intentioned instructor, “If there’s a nuclear holocaust, my chances of survival are way better than yours!”
The male instructors back off more after a comeback; the younger women have a fresher take on body diversity so rarely need a talking to. But itâ€™s gotten to the point where if I see a middle aged female instructor, I just walk the hell out. I can almost guarantee she wonâ€™t be updating her knowledge about exercise and diet at my word â€“ and that outdated information will get taken out on me.
One such person immediately assumed my size meant I had knee trouble. â€œUse the block!â€ she insisted. I didnâ€™t need the block. The block got in my way.Â While Iâ€™ve lost some flexibility over the years when injury forced inactivity, it has yet to reach my joints.Â My pinched nerves are a muscle issue, not a bone cartilage one.I kept rolling the bolster away. She kept putting it back.
I finally said, flat out: â€œI donâ€™t have knee problems!â€ I kicked the bolster back to her with a ferocious glare.
â€œAre you sure?â€
Someone once asked me if I was sure that my last name is Rajchel. Another person asked me if I was sure a dog that was most certainly not my dog wasn’t.
These people are assholes. (One was my first grade teacher, my second experience with deep-seated institutional prejudice towards me.)
Amazingly, despite my fondness for the F word I didn’t use it on any of these people, despite the meritorious use of the F word in such situations.
Knees generally affect the ability to walk. If I had knee problems I would know. I say this. She sets her jaw â€“ it had become about forcing me to fit her inner picture, rather than teaching me proper form â€“ but she does give up on the damn thing.
There are fat women at the gym that do have knee problems. Iâ€™ve been in other exercise classes with them. Many are easy to spot just by watching them as they walk in the door.
When I see the same teacher subbing for the class the next week I walk past her and go straight to the treadmills. She sees me. I make sure of it.
This new guy gets that I exercise but he still has the idea locked in his head that fat = doesn’t exercise. He also has the next assumption that not exercising = laziness/non-motivation/lack of commitment. I work with him in one or two sessions. Then my outer life happens. I have a poetry reading to go to, or an organizing meetup for the Minneapolis Doctor Who 50th celebration. I still exercise on those dates – but I have to move my schedule around.
He does not know this. When he sees me again, he makes a big deal out of it. “You come back!” he says. He emphasizes how I haven’t been in awhile. He means well. He hasn’t asked me if I have knee problems.
People that rattle off the schedules of their lives to strangers are a huge turnoff. Of course I’m busy. We’re all busy. But to rattle off that I had that meeting or had to pick up that kid from practice to someone I might never call a friend – it’s a turnoff. Narcissistic. I’m sure as hell not telling him, not when we only see each other once a week.
But I can see his assumptions: that because he doesn’t see me in his class, I’m not working out. Nevermind that I am on the treadmill twice a week, in water aerobics 1-2 times a week. Or he assumes that if I’m not exercising, the reason is that I am unmotivated to do so. I’m not going to make an honor appearance when I’m working out not just the kinks from two pinched nerves but an additional hip misalignment that has caused severe cramping in my calves and feet for more than a decade. I want to get back into the deep end of the pool during water aerobics and to do so I must make my body safe for it.
He’s also seen my legs. My legs are muscular – so muscular that they belie the girth of my belly. There are other fat women like me. There are fat women who work just as hard as I do at the gym, sometimes harder, who have the soft, fleshy legs, the cankles, have flat bellies but jiggly hips, small breasts but sagging back fat.
The arrangement of this flesh on bone? Nearly all genetic. My dad was a linebacker. I take after him almost wholly. He had the muscular legs and the gut. Me too.
None of the fat arrangement is an accurate tell.
I keep going back. The Pilates does wonders for my back and has improved not just my core strength but my strength throughout my body. I’m giving the instructor a chance – and I am resisting the urge to tell him to just be quiet and look pretty.
I plan to give a deep stretch yoga class a try on Friday. The rapid fire Hatha and Vinyasa frustrates me and gives me little opportunity to build flexibility so I’m looking forward to giving it a try.