I am often the fattest girl at yoga. It’s hard not to notice, when, out of my half-closed eyes to see dozens of slender women balancing on their forearms or hands, skinny butts aloft, with a look of serenity on their faces. Meanwhile, I am slowly building up the muscle strength to do a full push-up, and trying desperately to keep my eyes on the prize — which is a calmer mind and a firmer physique.
It’s difficult when you’re a curvy girl. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain to my lithe instructors that no matter how much I concentrate on breathing and believe that I am capable of hoisting my ass in the air, sometimes gravity and body mass win out. And that’s okay. It just makes it more of an uphill battle to stay fit when you are working against Eastern European genes that are designed for eating root vegetables and building homesteads.
I have never resented my curves. My opinions on food and fitness exist squarely between the misogynist diet industry and the burgeoning fat activist movement, which has adopted the mantra of “no lose.” While, in my heart, I will always identify as a fat girl, I know that I am not at my best when I am not watching what I eat.
Don’t get me wrong — I love food. The scents of my childhood include Friday night dinner at my Bubbie’s house, every corner of it permeated with the rich, salty broth of her chicken soup. I also remember my father making bread, throwing the dough in the air and pounding it with his fists on the brown linoleum counter. Or the smell of sesame oil in a wok, bok choy and oyster mushroom sauce. Sweet meringues with peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips. And my grandmother’s apple cake — tart apples and powdered sugar and shortening-laden pastry.
Food has always represented comfort and family to me, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s my favourite emotional crutch. But for me and many queers, taking care of my health feels like an uphill battle. I hit the gym as often as I can tolerate it, but there are days when I just can’t walk in the door. For many of my trans friends, the gym is a danger zone, filled with gender expectations, awkward or potentially dangerous change room encounters and the feeling that they just don’t fit in. The environment can be equally hazardous to gay men. One friend of mine continues to pay for a membership at the YMCA, which he refers to as his “penance.” He hasn’t set foot in the door in years. The last time he went, he could feel the other gym bunnies sizing him up, glaring disapprovingly at the weight he’d gained during his absence.
What I find most offensive is the notion that fitness and wellness are individual responsibilities that just require enough willpower. It’s like health is this capitalist rat race where only the strong and slender survive. The health food and fitness industries seemed to be designed to either play on the insecurities of fat people or reinforce the moral superiority of those without any gym-related trauma.
We need more radical spaces to get healthy. Gyms and basketball courts filled with body hair and big butts. Team sports where everyone can choose their own uniform, banish body shame and get fit without the sting of fatphobia, homophobia or gender-based oppression.
This year’s Toronto Dyke March honoured the Newsgirls Boxing Club, a boxing gym for women and trans people that encourages people to fight for their rights as hard as they fight with their fists. The club’s boxers represent a plethora of genders and sizes, and the space has become a lifeline to queers who have a hard time fitting into other workout spaces. The Newsgirls offer boxing lessons to survivors of domestic violence, and the club recently served as a haven to a trans friend of mine who was experiencing discrimination at work.
Physical health should not just be the domain of straight, white skinny people who can afford $90 yoga pants. My years of community work have taught me that that you have to reach people where they are. Gay men’s health workers know this and regularly spread sexual health information and safer sex supplies in bars and bathhouses. Now the gay community is expanding the concept of health promotion beyond the prevention of HIV/AIDS. In Ottawa, the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative is focussing on issues such as emotional health, physical fitness and social integration. It would be amazing if we could expand this concept to include the broader queer and trans community.
I spent one week on a miserable elimination diet prescribed by my naturopath before I ditched the rules and started to figure out what worked for me. Queers shouldn’t have to go it alone, as we figure out how to kick bad habits and increase our life expectancies. This shouldn’t come from a place of weight-obsessed self-hatred, but instead from a place of resistance and resilience. Health at any size? Now that’s radical concept.
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