There’s More to Fit Than Meets the Eye

There’s this stereotypical image of what a fit person is supposed to be.

If you are fit, you are athletic. You are picked first for every team.

All fit people run for many miles, and they like it. When they do not run outside, they run on the treadmill, and do not complain or call it the “dreadmill.”

Fit people only eat grilled or poached chicken breast on an undressed spinach salad. They eat this for five small meals a day out of Tupperware containers.

Sometimes they drink a smoothie, in which case fit people swap out the chicken breast for protein powder, but there is always spinach or kale.

Fit people work out early in the morning. Everyone knows you can’t even really be fit if you don’t exercise before dawn – unless you are a bodybuilder, that is, then you spend all day at the gym.

Fit people are very judgy. They judge themselves compared to other fit people, and they most certainly judge the unfit among us.

I’ve dealt with a lot of judgment in my life. Women especially grapple with judgment on one thing or another.

But the strangest thing I have experienced is that by getting in better shape, all of a sudden it’s assumed I’m one of them – the fit people.

I’m not. Honestly, I kind of wish I was. Maybe I’d kill it at kickball now, I don’t know. I haven’t tried. But I’m pretty sure my brain just isn’t wired that way.

I was never athletic. I was the last kid picked for teams. I tried track and came in last every race. I tried field hockey and was only allowed to play once when the team was a good 10 points ahead. Softball was a legit sh*tshow. I would get hit with the ball more than I could get the bat to connect with it.

So imagine my surprise when people treat me like a fit person.

Sometimes they say things like, “Oh, are you doing the (insert whatever upcoming) 5K?” I look around, assuming that they are speaking to someone else. But they aren’t. Because I am in good shape now, people assume that I run many miles. The truth is I don’t think I could run one without stopping.

People also like to tell me why they don’t exercise or work out, because, as mentioned above, fit people are judgy, and I’m now a fit person.

“I just can’t get myself up in the morning,” they tell me. “I really don’t have time.” Or, “I have a terrible shoulder injury that prevents me from lifting any weights.” I don’t understand this. I have never gone up to someone and said, “I can only knit straight things and hats because I always lose track of what stitch I’m on in a pattern.”

People throw things at me now and expect me to catch them. Just because I have muscles doesn’t mean I can catch. I wish I could. I would love to be that super cool catching person. But it’s not looking good so far.

I don’t even feel like I’m in great shape. I have terrible asthma, and I sometimes struggle with workouts, stopping often. When my asthma is really bad, I wonder if it’s me just giving up.

I cycle between muscling through workouts and making my asthmatic breathing worse and explaining to the actual fit people around me how it’s a high allergen day. They probably nod their heads and inwardly shrug, unsure of why I feel the need to say anything at all.

Really, I’m just giving voice to my own judgments and insecurities.

Becoming fit doesn’t change who you are or how you’re wired. If you become more physically fit, you do not suddenly have an ability to wake up early. It doesn’t make you automatically able to catch or run, or score goals.

You can work at specific activities and become better at them. Being in good shape certainly makes it easier to accomplish physical goals. But it doesn’t create talent where there wasn’t any before. Nor does not being in great physical shape take your talents, likes, or dislikes away.

Becoming fit shouldn’t make you judge other people any differently than you did before you were fit. Judging someone has very little to do with fitness level and everything to do with a lack of kindness and respect.

Most importantly, and sometimes most devastatingly, becoming fit doesn’t make you judge yourself any less. You still question yourself and your abilities, still feel uncomfortable in the same situations and spaces.

Getting in shape made me physically healthier, but it did not change who I am or what my real strengths or weaknesses are as a person.

Getting to know what weights are and what to do with them did make me more confident in the gym, but that had more to do with experience than fitness. It was the mental process of finding comfort in a space that I never felt comfortable in before that most benefitted me.

Becoming more fit has forced me to confront some of my own deepest insecurities. That is a real win, and, unlike muscles, it isn’t visible.

Photo credit: Genine Gullickson.

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