I was on an early morning run at the park this past weekend, appreciating the chill in the air with the heat of summer on the horizon. As a girl born and raised in the midwest, the subtle smile and wave as I pass by others at the park is second nature. So as I encountered an elderly gentleman walking in the opposite direction, I made eye contact, smiled and waved as I said, "Good morning!" What happened next still bothers me.
As I passed by he said, "I'm out here working on weight loss." I slowed and looked back over my shoulder to acknowledge him. "You don't need to be out here because you're already thin." I gave a polite smile and kept going.
There were several things that bothered me about this interaction. The first was that he commented on my body, which felt like a violation of my boundaries as a woman. I don't need, or want, men to comment on the size or shape of my body. Nor do I want women to comment about my appearance, but there's something about a comment from a male stranger in a park that made me feel uneasy.
The second thing that bothered me is the underlying assumption that a person only chooses to exercise for weight loss, and therefore someone who presumably doesn't need to lose weight would have no reason to engage in physical activity. Comedian Jim Gaffigan captures this attitude saying, "The most annoying are those people in exceptionally good shape at the gym. I'm like, 'What are you doing here? You're done.'" Just because the man's motivation for walking was to lose weight doesn't mean that my reason for running was the same. I run because it invigorates me and makes me feel connected to my body. It is also a spiritual experience, a time in which I can talk to God. And the primary reason I was at the park that morning was to meet up with some friends to run together and socialize. It had nothing to do with weight loss.
The third thing that bothered me was that he reported he was walking to lose weight. I hate to break it to him, but if that's his only reason for walking he's wasting his time. Many people only exercise because they believe they need to do so in order to lose weight or prevent weight gain. Exercise isn't an effective means of inducing weight loss. (In fact, we don't really have any effective ways to help people lose weight and keep it off long-term, but that's a topic for another day.) So if a person's motive for exercise is weight loss, discouragement is soon to follow when the pounds refuse to shed, and bye-bye exercise. Now, there are many many other reasons to exercise, some of which I shared above as part of my personal experience. However, we each must find our own life-enhancing reasons.
It's funny how such a small interaction can have such an impact. I'm not mad at this guy who I presume was just trying to be friendly. It was just such a prime example of how distorted our view on weight and exercise has become. I challenge you to consider, what are your motives for exercise? Can you find reasons that aren't about controlling your weight?
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