On Saturday I stood in a department store, exasperated, looking at their large selection of active wear. Nothing went up beyond a size XL. I held up the object of my desire - a running skirt - and realized that unless I wore one on each leg, there was no way it would fit.
I flagged down a staff member and asked her if they had any plus sized active wear. She thought for a moment, lifted her arm to point toward the plus sized section (which I'd already checked over with a fine toothed comb), then said, "Darn. No, we don't." Suddenly I was surrounded by staff members that were totally offended on my behalf that I couldn't find what I wanted.
Getting fit as a fat person is, on the surface, simple: you get off your butt and go do something with your body. Easy as that, right? But you have to get past some hurdles - some personal, and some logistical.
First, you have to deal with your own body shame. I look like crap when I work out; I sweat and turn red, my boobs bounce all over the place, my belly jiggles (and I don't feel jolly) - you get the idea. In order to work out in public at a gym or doing outdoor activities, you have to let that go, and it is really hard to do. Of course you can work out at home, alone, but… for me, well, I found that it was easy to "forget" to do it. Going to the gym or hiking have become habits (and exercise is now something I crave), and I like seeing people from my neighborhood there.
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Secondly, there are actual logistical issues with gyms. I find many weight machines impossible because of my body size and can't squeeze into them because the brace for your chest is too close to the brace for your back. There are alternatives, of course, but still - not fitting on a machine is shame inducing. Some machines have a weight limit that makes it actually dangerous for a fat person to use a machine. Luckily I don't have that problem (right now), and my gym actually has a branch-wide culture that makes me feel much more comfortable exercising there, and as a result I see plenty of other big bodied folks there.
Lastly, there is a weird thing that I've found only happened to me at a gym after I reached a certain big body size: I get a lot of "advice". Meaning people walk up to me and tell me what I should be doing. "You should be going much faster!" a man said to me while I was on the treadmill finishing up a 30 minute power walk and in the "cool down" phase. "Have you tried eating smaller portions?" said a woman much my senior that was using the weight machine incorrectly. "You need to incorporate more weight lifting!" said a young man as I was kicking it hard on the arc trainer. "Oh, honey, don't do weights, you'll bulk up!" said a woman while I was doing some light weight lifting. My favorite was the gentleman that tried to tell me what to do on the treadmill while he was using his at the highest elevation possible but holding on tight to the front of the machine, thus eliminating the benefits of the elevation. I've asked many skinny people I know, and this doesn't happen to them, not even on their first day at a gym, but other fat people tell me that this happens to them all the time.
But probably the most annoying thing about working out - particularly as you get in shape and want to do more - is the lack of access to good active wear. Sure, you can get sweatpants or even yoga pants and big t-shirts no problem, and yes, you can work out with those clothes. But I want the high-tech stuff - the wicking materials and the compression shorts and the supportive sports bras. Because when it comes to exercise, there are are physical things - like sweat and the evil, dreaded chub rub on the inner thighs - that good active wear combats.
All I want, personally, is a pair of lightweight non-cotton shorts made from a wicking fabric, and a running skirt that offers both flattering coverage and prevents that awful chub rub. Sure, I'd like a couple of shirts too and a sports bra (there are some good sports bras for big boobs out there, but they are $$$), but those two items are the ones I want most. I've hunted and found a few places that offer them at very high prices online, but they often feature a "modest" lengths (meaning to the knee or below the knee) which, while fine, is very hot in Philly summer heat and humidity. But I have yet to find a store where I can walk in and physically try stuff on, and it annoys the crap out of me.
With all the crowing about the obesity epidemic, you'd think that someone would have spotted the need for reasonably priced active wear for fat people. This is all I'm saying. Plus sized fitness DOES exist. What do you think? Am I wrong? Have I missed a great place to find good active wear for my body size?
-By Cecily Kellogg
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