I take a strength training class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at my local gym. Every time I walk into the studio, I’m greeted with smiling faces and chatter.
Except none of them are smiling at or chatting with me.
Admittedly, it’s a little cliquey in there, and takes me way back to the dreaded high school cafeteria. But instead of trying to figure out where to sit, I’m figuring out where to set up my weights. Very fit-looking people, who have likely been going for years, have their established groups of friends in just about every corner of the studio. There’s the group of gorgeous stay-at-home-moms over there, the dedicated retirees over that way, and in the summer, a large clump of young teachers can be found in the far-right, chatting excitedly between exercises.
And me? Well, I’m the new kid. No one says hello to me unless I do so first. And sometimes I’m merely greeted with a polite smile, or nothing at all, before they go back to their conversations. It can be a little... awkward. I’m a very social person and have no shortage of friendly people in my life outside of the gym. It’s a whole new experience for me within those walls.
I’d love to tell you it never bothers me on account of being super confident or whatever, but I'd be lying. It does get to me a little at times. Whenever I enter a new and uncomfortable place, I’m still that grade 7 girl being relentlessly bullied. (That particularly disastrous year ended with me being set on fire in front of the school by a couple of girls who thought it would be hilarious. Because setting people on fire is super funny, obvi.)
The problem with the gym is it’s perpetually a new and sometimes uncomfortable place. That’s because I’m always pushing myself to try new things – this class being one of them. One of my friends, who only goes to the weekend classes, encouraged me to try it out. My first attempt was exhausting, but challenging in a way that made me want to try it again. And again. And again. And now I go twice per week (three times if I join her on the weekend and we form our own little clique.)
But physically, I stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a high-intensity class, not for the faint of heart, and many of the people who go are fit-looking in that way society expects fit people to look: slim and toned. I’m toned, but not slim. I have great muscles under the roundness. I never will be slim because my genetics are all about that bass (and I like chocolate).
I used to think the best version of me was a skinnier version. But a little less than two years ago, I decided to try something I had never attempted: To stop making health exclusively about weight loss, and instead focus on becoming my best self – whoever that was. No deprivation, no self-hate, no expectations other than to evolve into a better version of me.
I had no idea what that was going to look like, and little did I know how surprised I would be when I found out.
I made this decision about a year after my daughter came out. I needed to take better care of myself so I could have the energy and mental health to support her through transition. I joined a gym, started seeing a specialized doctor, a nutritionist and a trainer. I saw a psychologist to deal with my anxiety. I worked my ass off to learn new ways of eating, new ways of coping with stress that didn’t involve eating, and new ways to fit exercise into my life.
It's the best thing I've ever done for myself.
Even though I started this journey in my child’s best interest, the best version of me finally sees herself as a person worthy of self-care.
In my case, weight loss ended up being a part of that journey. I lost a little over 50 pounds in the first year, which took pressure off my cardiovascular system and my joints. This past year, I’ve kept off the weight, and replaced more of the fat with muscle (in that awkward strength training class). I’ve never felt stronger or healthier.
Three months into this journey towards a better me, my spouse also came out as trans. The night she told me was awful for both of us; so much fear and uncertainty. I felt shaken the core. I didn’t know if our marriage was going to survive or what the future held for our family. I felt gutted and numb.
But the following morning, as tired and depleted as I was, I woke up to my alarm and went off to my scheduled workout. What drove me was anger and determination.
Oh, and my car. That also helped.
I was angry that life had thrown this curveball when I was just starting to find some balance. What was it trying to do, knock me off track?
Hell, no. Not this time, life.
The best version of me knows she can’t control what’s going on around her, but is still in control of herself.
I threw myself into that workout like a mother. For 45 minutes, I did nothing but focus on push-ups, squats and chest flies. I burned all the adrenaline off that had been sitting inside me since the night before. And when it was all over, I went back to my car, tired and sweaty, and had my first real, heartfelt sob in the parking lot.
I didn’t miss a single workout for weeks. They became my lifesaver. My therapy. They were a constant reminder to put me first.
Much has changed since then. My marriage is incredible. My wife remains the love of my life. And, if you didn’t read the blog post before this one, I’ve finally come to a place where I can acknowledge who I really am: My name is Amanda, and I'm a lesbian. Giant. Lesbo. Always have been, always will be.
There, I said it again. It gets less weird every time.
That awareness was buried for many years, stuffed down among many other painful things I didn’t want to look at by self-medicating with food. Now that I’m not doing that anymore, I’m truly free for the first time in my life.
Because the best version of me is an honest version of me.
As it turns out, the best version of me isn’t nearly as thin as I thought she was going to be. Surprise! Still delightfully chubby. But she’s more authentic, more aware, and much happier than I ever thought possible.
So yes, it bothers me sometimes when the gym folks make like I’m invisible. But I still grab my weights and strut my lioness self to the front of the class. I then proceed to lift more weight than virtually everyone in there (including the menz!) and I have a proud smile on myself while I do it.
Huh. Actually, maybe they just think I'm an asshole.
As often as she can, the best version of me holds her head high - even when no one wants to sit with her.
She recognizes they simply don’t know what they’re missing.