Boxing was my favourite class at the gym. It felt good to get into a rhythm, hear the thumping sound of glove against pad, and work hard. I always went alone, and relied on the numbers in the class to give me a partner. Mostly, this worked. One particular day, it resulted in forfeiting my gym membership.
Four women came to the class regularly. I saw them glance at me, sniggering and laughing at the way that my fat jiggled as I punched, and the way I struggled to get up off the ground during burpees. They were easy enough to ignore when I had a partner.
But, this particular day, only three of the four women were there and one of them was the odd one out of the class. She got asked to pair with me. A snort, a sneer and a snicker later, she had walked out of the class, proclaiming that she’d rather leave than partner with me.
The instructor partnered with me instead. Someone else joined the class, and suddenly, this woman came back and partnered with them. I felt her looking at me. My heart sank, but I kept going until the end of the class.
I stayed for yoga afterwards, thinking that I couldn’t let these women scare me away, determined to prove to myself that I was stronger than their cruelty.
“Look at her.” One of them ‘whispered’, loud enough for me to hear. “It’s a miracle she can do any of these movements. Look at the fat move.”
After yoga, I rushed out of the gym and didn’t go back. Six months later, I started running outside and got over my fear of being seen whilst training.
Not long after, I started running obstacle course races, and fell in love with the sport and community that embraces anyone and everyone who steps up to the start line, and encourages people to keep going until the finish line, and then beyond.
Those four women are still in my mind – voices of shame on the days when I let them creep back in. Those four women were fit, strong and beautiful on the outside… but their actions and words indicated something different.
Strength is displayed in building others up, not tearing them down. Beauty is displayed in humility, not arrogance. Their actions were weak. Their actions were ugly.
If you’ve ever been shamed in a gym, I’m sorry. Please don’t give up because of what happened. Keep going, because the journey is hard and well worth it. Those voices of shame become meek and quiet over time. Those voices, as you find a community that supports one another, become replaced by those who speak courage and determination into you.
Don’t give up. The bullies should never win.