I grow to like his smile, his laugh. He usually dresses in various shades of blacks, his tee-shirts containing graphics from heavy metal bands I’d never heard of (and, generally, don’t want to listen to). I, an overweight and insecure girl, know I will never ask him out–that isn’t my style. But, if I manage to go to the gym at the same time as him, catch him alone for a few moments, I think that maybe, just maybe, he might start to like me back. I vaguely entertain the notion that I might lose weight, but it isn’t at the forefront of my mind. I just want to talk to him. I just want him to like me.
The gym is small with stark white walls and grey exercise equipment lined up neatly row by row. I hesitatingly sign in, giving the guy working the front desk a small smile. He probably wonders why I’m even here; it’s clear I don’t work out. It’s clear I don’t belong here. This is stupid.
I look around, wondering if he’s here. He isn’t. But, that’s okay. He might show up. I walk over to the only equipment I recognize: a treadmill. Stepping up, I set a towel in the water cup holder and start the machine. I walk for roughly twenty minutes. He never shows. I decide to come back the day after tomorrow.
A month passes. Without planning it, I’ve set a schedule for myself. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I go to the gym after my last class. I’m starting to recognize the rotation of front desk people. I’ve moved from the treadmill to the bike, which I enjoy a lot more. I still look for him, but somewhere along the way, I’ve come to enjoy myself here. I still look around me nervously, wondering what everyone around me thinks of the fat girl on the stationary bike. I worry that they judge me. I still feel like an impostor.
He leaves campus the following year. In his duration at my university, I saw him at the gym twice. Both of those times, he took me by complete surprise. I hadn’t been looking for him.
13 January 2015.
The gym has been (unsurprisingly enough) dead over break. It’s slightly busier today. After a brief chat with someone I know, I slide onto the bike and prepare myself for my work out. Music’s on, feet are firmly on the pedals, and I’ve taken a quick swig of water. I tug my shirt down a hair; while I love it, it likes to slightly gather around the waist, which is uncomfortable when you’re working out and tends to snag on runaway fingers.
The time seems to fly past. I’ve gotten lost in the feel of muscles expanding, my legs pushing themselves over and over again. It’s a great feeling. Endorphins bubble around my core, floating up to my lungs, riding out on my exhales. My body tingles in a way I’ve grown to recognize. My body needed this. I tend to get more lax with my schedule during winter break. I always have.
While biking, I reflect on my first days working out. The thought comes to me randomly, probably brought on by a song I’m listening to. I’m sure I listened to The Killers to exercise to back then. I worried so much about what the people around me thought; I don’t give them a second thought now. I’m there with the intention of getting sweaty and disgusting. So are they. We’re not different, in that regard.
I put so much pressure on myself then. Don’t bend a certain way, you’ll emphasize your weight. Don’t work out too hard, you might jiggle. Who wants to see that? I had so much fear stored inside of me. Fear brought on by years of being bullied, of being shown through the media that I wasn’t good enough because of the body I had. As I shed weight, I shed the fear, too. Not because I was smaller. Because my fitness goals shifted from being aimed towards others (I just want him to like me; I just want to like myself) to myself. I just want to take care of my body. I just want to be strong, capable.
It’s been almost five years since I started my fitness journey. At times, it feels like it’s been that long. Other times, it feels like I started just yesterday. Here we are. Here I am.
I wish I could go back and see myself the way I used to be. I didn’t look in mirrors too much back then. I wish I could have grabbed myself, and hugged her until she believed she was good enough. Because that girl I was then put herself through way too much shit; she didn’t deserve that. I still feel the residual weight of her burdens on my shoulders sometimes. She wouldn’t believe that the person standing in front of her was her. She wouldn’t have believed it possible. And yet, and yet.
I make it a point to look in mirrors more often now. And I smile.