"Are you a model? Anorexic?" I never expected to have to justify my body to a stranger at the gym.

An odd thing happened to me the other day at the gym. I was sitting on a bench doing leg raises and silently rocking out to Adele (the usual), and a guy walked out of the change room and said, “Are you a model?”

I laughed and said “No… far from it,” entirely unsure where this was going.

Then he said “Anorexic?” I laughed again and said “No, also far from it.”

Then he looked at me as if he was waiting for me to explain myself.  “I’m just… naturally small… I guess,” I stammered. He seemed more or less satisfied with this and walked away.

I really don’t look radically different from any other gal who runs on the track in her Lululemons, so I was pretty shocked and unprepared to explain my appearance to this total stranger. That anyone should have to justify their body at the gym is well, shocking. I mean, would this guy walk up to a larger person and say “emotional eater?” and if she said no, would he then guess “thyroid issue?” It’s essentially the same kind of question.

I’ve been a runner for most of my life and personally, I find it’s the best way to destress, get motivated, and center myself. I think that’s okay, even if I am small. But I feel bad knowing that this kind of question could have totally ruined someone’s day. Anorexia is a really hard topic to talk about, and should be breached with due discretion. It obviously has its physical indicators, but that doesn’t mean everyone would like to be open about it.

When you read about anorexia online or in books, a lot of the literature says that an affected woman will look at herself in the mirror and see herself as obese. This is why she starves herself.  I don’t believe that every person with an eating disorder has to be obsessed with their appearance and can’t see it for what it is, and I don’t think this is the part of the problem that matters – eating disorders are psychological, not superficial, problems.

I’m no expert, but I’ve had friends with eating disorders and judging from what they’ve told me, they would walk by a mirror and be shocked by their bodies. The problem was that they couldn’t see a way out. Being addicted to having complete control was scary and imprisoning. I remember reading a feature story in YM magazine written by a teenage girl who stated she “didn’t have a life, she had an eating disorder.” Like a lot of others who are affected, this girl didn’t want to only subside only on lettuce, but she was too terrified at what might happen if anything changed.  

One of the main reasons my feathers were so ruffled by this whole gym encounter is because the guy assumed that if I wasn’t a model, then I was surely anorexic – there was no chance of me being anything else. Really, in the big world of 2012 there are few absolutes, and they’re getting fewer. Just look at the decreasing population that follows one single religion for example, or identifies with one gender. Reducing a person to an absolute defining trait is impossible, especially if they happen to be a complete stranger.

The gym should be a space where people can get their hearts pumping and do something good for their mind and body, whatever that body looks like, and it certainly shouldn’t be put down. Of course there are times I’d kill to have bangin’ hips like Marilyn Monroe or a crazy rack like Sofia Vergara, but I suppose one person’s junk (in the trunk) is another person’s treasure. Looking on the bright side, sometimes I get to surprise people with a big attitude.

Flaunt what you got, right?

Photo credit by deleted.scenes via Flickr. 

~ Kait Fowlie

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