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Reflections on a treadmill.

Gyms are horrible places. Especially if you're not the shape that society expects you to be. There's all these men in baggy trackpants and tight shirts, heaving weights around and grunting as though they're trying to give birth to a watermelon; meanwhile, in the blue corner, all the women are dashing about in lycra and leggings attempting to rid themselves of the few calories they consumed today. And then there's me. I'm wearing trackpants and a tshirt while I walk myself to oblivion on the treadmill. I'm not running, or even jogging (an E-cup bra will do certain things about your conception of what's appropriate by way of movement); just walking. I can almost see the looks I'm getting from the new inductees being shown around by the slim salesgirls from the front counter or the bulky personal trainers; the looks that say "what the hell is she doing here?"

I've no idea how they explain me away. Possibly I'm the token fat chick, allowed in because my money is just the same colour as everyone else's. I'm not a complete fool, of course. I know that my lack of interest in losing weight is somewhat strange. I'm also short and solid, rather than willowy and slender. I don't go all gooey-eyed over the blokes who are busy throwing barbells around like they're nothing at all (I'm too busy wondering whether they need to wear the kidney belt to bed these days, for fear of straining something). I don't look constantly guilty while I'm working out, either. I'm an oddity.

I do my 20 minutes on the treadmill, walking all the way, then switch to the bike for ten minutes. I can feel the eyes of the little girlie girls on me. I've not seen them at the gym before, although I recognise the type immediately. They don't look much over fifteen; their behaviour puts them at younger than that. Both slim, both pretty, neither of them looking as though they'd ever actually need to put in much work at the gym to maintain those figures. They're fluttering their eyelashes at the weightlifters, giggling and being cute. It's me they ask about directions to the toilet, of course. I'm female, as well as not being as intimidating as the other gym jockettes. Plus it gives them a chance to giggle to themselves about how unfit I am, as I gasp out the directions to them. Nice one girls.

I'm invisible. I know it. I'm female, fat and over thirty. The combination makes me invisible, inaudible, and unnoticeable unless I'm doing something that annoys someone else. Especially at the gym. I get to be glared at while I run through my exercise routine, by people who will audibly sneer that walking on the treadmill is something of a waste, in peak periods. Why don't I just do a few laps around the block instead? Beg pardon sweetie, but I did pay my membership fee this month and I'm just as entitled as you are to use the equipment. We all have to begin somewhere - or did you pop out of the womb tanned and taut, ready to run marathons? I ignore the rudeness of the person nearby, carrying on with my walking. I'm going at a fair clip - damn near four miles an hour (I've no idea what that converts to in kilometres, but I do know it's over 5km an hour); a pace which I can keep up for twenty minutes if not more.

Working on the bike is something of a bastard. My tits bounce all over the place, jiggled by the flesh of my belly. I can either keep my arms under them (slightly uncomfortable) or just let them wobble. I choose the latter. After all, I didn't get much of a say in my genetics, so why should I have to apologise for it? I'll live with the jiggles. It's only ten minutes.

So, what am I expecting to get out of this? I'm certainly not expecting to lose weight. I could cope with it if I did, but I'm not expecting the pounds to just drop off. I don't know that I'm wanting to increase my strength by all that much, although the notion of concealling a punch or a kick that could stop a mule in its tracks behind an outwardly flabby body does rather appeal to me, rather like the notion of a beaten-up banger of a car with a V8 engine under the hood. I'm interested in getting my fitness up to the point where I'm not going to get puffed walking to and from the bus stop each day, and also to the point where I can climb the stairs up to work without getting massively puffed by about the first floor. But most of all, I want to get a sense of ownership of my own body, my own brain again. I want to chase out the demons which lurk in my psyche, that tell me that I'm not likeable or loveable because I don't fit the common cultural mould. I figure that it's something I'll have to approach by a process of desensitisation: a gym, full of all the lovely little darlings who society adores, is probably the best place for that. Maybe I'll get to show them all that being female and round isn't a barrier to physical action either. Maybe I'll tear down a layer of illusions within at least one mind. Who knows.

Either way, I've finished my ten minutes on the bike and it's time for me to stretch a bit to cool down, then head off home. Back to my flat, where I can be the size I want to be, without needing to worry about the expectations of anyone else. I've got a bit of a spring in my step as I move on, as well. It's over for another day, I don't have to worry about it. I'll be back tomorrow, for my next installment.

Exercise Bikes at Dawn:

The gym is a bit different if you've got the strength of mind and will to come in at 6am. For starters, it's a lot colder, physically. For seconds, you're just surrounded by the other earlybirds, so there's a sort of kinship there as well. Even though the people are superficially the same as the ones who come in of an evening, there's a bigger sense of cameraderie coming through. There's also the very real factor that if you're using a particular piece of aparatus, you're probably not stopping someone else from using it, which is a big help, too.

Either way, it's a lot more friendly in the early mornings, provided that one can get oneself suitably motivated to get out of bed before dawn. That's always the hardest bit for me, especially when it means that I've got to get myself out of my nice, warm bed and face the cold, cold stairs down the hill, as well as the bitter chill of the wind in my face. It also doesn't help when I'm looking at the gym staff who are all rugged up as though they're planning a single-handed expedition to the Antarctic.

Of course, there are benefits. Thirty minutes of exercise, two cups of coffee, an antidepressant and a dose of thyroxine later and I'm so busy bouncing off the walls that I can barely spare the time to be annoyed with the clients on the phone. Whether this is a good thing is entirely subjective, I suppose, because I'm so hyped on various things (adrenalin, caffeine, thyroxine and SSRI) that I feel as though I'm gabbling the whole damn time. Them's the breaks, I suppose.

Anyway, I shall have to do this again. Probably on Friday morning, when my bra's had enough time to dry out again.

This work is copyright Meg Thornton 2003 - 2005. All rights reserved

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