To the sanctimonious thin person who handed me a note at the gym…

A reflection by Sarah

This post has little relevance for the general subject of our blog, but we decided that I should publish it here anyway. Yesterday, I (Sarah) was at the gym doing my usual workout when the woman running on the elliptical next to me finished her own workout, began looking at her phone, scribbled something down on a sheet of notebook paper, folded it, and handed it to me. I waited a bit before reading it, but when I did, I saw that the note was laden with sanctimonious presumptions about people of size. A quick Google search showed me that the woman’s note had very little originality: over half of it was a word-for-word repeat of a Facebook post that had gone viral last month, apparently. Today, I’m using our blog as a medium for responding to the person who gave me the note. Thanks to all our readers who have patiently allowed me the space to process some things related to my eating disorder recovery. The past few weeks have been challenging for me, and I’ve been uplifted by the encouragement I’ve received from readers. After this post, I’ll try to give that topic a rest for a bit, and we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled posts on celibacy, vocation, and LGBT Christian issues.

Dear Sanctimonious thin person who handed me a note at the gym,

It took me about thirty seconds to find the source of your unoriginal note. It’s all over the Internet. I found it here and in several other places. I also found a response it received from another blogger who felt a sense of solidarity with the original note’s target. I have no idea what motivated you to write out parts of it on a sheet of notebook paper and hand it to me yesterday after you had finished your workout on the elliptical next to mine. Presumably, you found something inspiring when you saw the original circulating through social media. Maybe you thought it would inspire me as well. Maybe you were once my size and were trying to give me an “it gets better” sort of message. Maybe you’ve always been the size you are now. I don’t know anything about you, but I’m going to show you a courtesy that you did not show me: I’m going to give you the chance to tell your own story instead of making one up to explain your actions. I waited a couple of minutes to read your note after you handed it to me, but when I did read it I stopped mid-workout and made a run for the locker room in attempt to find you. You were already gone, so I’m using the blog I write with my partner as an opportunity to voice what I didn’t get the chance to in person.

I was not, as your note suggests, at the gym on a noble mission to reduce my body size. At one time I was as thin as you, if not thinner. But I certainly wasn’t healthy. I came to the gym regularly, wearing cute cotton lycra outfits like yours, bearing a large water bottle and an apple or protein bar. I’d alternate between the elliptical and weightlifting, sometimes hitting up the pool for laps instead. Then, I’d go home and consume an extra large pizza, which would ultimately end up down the garbage disposal in my apartment. In those days, I spent more time purging food than eating it in the first place. Eventually, this became the fate of the apple and protein bar as well. After years of this daily routine, I reached a point at which I found myself in the emergency room every other week. My eyes were sunken, my neck was sore from swollen glands, and I spent more than a few days on a potassium drip that month. But to my knowledge, no one at the gym had ever wondered what I was doing or speculated as to why I was there amongst all those thin people—I was one of them.

That was almost seven years ago. Since then, I’ve undergone a significant amount of treatment and devoted certain seasons of life solely to recovering from my eating disorder. I made it a goal to eat normal meals and snacks every day no matter what, and generally I’ve kept to that for the past seven years. I don’t always do perfectly, and I’m not 100% behavior-free, but life is infinitely better than it has been in years past. I’ve also gained a lot of weight since then, and I’m sad to say that I didn’t realize the magnitude of social stigma against fat persons until I became one myself. I like my broccoli, avocados, and flaxseed, and I can’t stand the taste of fast food. Rarely have I exceeded normal portion sizes since my time in eating disorder treatment, yet because of my wonky metabolism I’m the largest I’ve ever been in my life. But you know what? I’ll take my current size—complete with t-shirt and sweatpants instead of cotton lycra gym outfits—over my former, unhealthy, “thin” body any day.

Sure, there are people who think I’ve gone from one extreme to the other where thinness is concerned. Yes, there are medical professionals who don’t care to hear my story and would rather assume incorrectly that I visit McDonald’s on a regular basis. Some people gawk at me for eating ice cream or a cupcake when my partner takes me out for a special treat. Women in my family make ignorant comments about my body size and will probably do so from now to kingdom come. And indeed, there are and will continue to be thin people like you who feel the need to “inspire” the rest of us by presuming to know our stories and playing on size-shaming stereotypes. No matter. I’m happier and healthier as a fat person than I ever was as a thin person. And if my body were to change and suddenly drop a bunch of weight while I’m still eating normal portions, that would be totally cool too. Whatever my body does naturally is fine by me, and I’m not interested in wearing my size—large, small, or anywhere in between—as a badge of honor.

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say this as though you had the best of intentions when passing me that note: you may be unaware, but a person’s body size is not the sole indicator of health. Weight and shape aren’t everything. Weight loss is not the only reason a larger person might be at the gym. It might not be a reason at all—it certainly isn’t for me. Being healthy is not about being in a thin body, and size doesn’t tell you what or how much a person is or is not eating. Commending a larger person for going to the gym as “a step toward a healthier lifestyle” may sound admirable, but in reality that phrase is loaded with assumptions. The fat person you want to praise for “paying off the debt of another midnight snack, another dessert, another beer” could already be living a healthy lifestyle, and may have been doing so for years. For all you know, she might be eating more healthily and getting more balanced physical activity than you are. Please consider the content of my response before offering another unsuspecting gym patron a bit of your poorly contrived inspiration. And next time you have something to say to a total stranger, try speaking from your heart instead of plagiarizing from a Facebook post gone viral.



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