Becoming a Plus-Sized Athlete

by | June 28, 2012
filed under Can-Con

by Alicia Costa

I’ve been involved in something very special for the past year and half. Something that is having a positive impact on my life and the lives of the others. A movement that is making my mind and body healthier and stronger than ever before. And that something is the ability to be active and fit in a safe environment.  I’ve dedicated time to myself and made it a priority. I’ve done things I didn’t think I’d be able to do.  I’ve climbed mountains. I’ve run a 5k race (and will be running 10k in the fall). I now consider myself an athlete and a plus-sized one at that.

Almost two years ago I was looking for more challenging activities to be involved in. I liked to swim and walk but I was ready to take on something more physically demanding. However, I didn’t want to do one of those scary Survivor boot camps either.  I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable and that there was a good chance I’d get left in the dust.

And that was when I stumbled on small fitness organization called Body Exchange. Boot camps specifically designed for people who are plus-sized or are beginners to fitness. With a focus on fitness opposed to weight loss. It took me weeks and a co-worker’s support before I actually decided to take the plunge and give it a try.

I was pleasantly surprised how much I actually enjoyed going to the boot camps. After years of joining gyms and hating them (I strongly believe gyms for the most part are a breeding ground for bad body image) I finally found something I liked to do. And that was challenging and most importantly was a comfortable and safe environment for me and my big body to work out.

Recently, Body Exchange was featured in The Province in what was supposed to be exposure for what this company is doing for plus-sized clients. However, instead of highlighting what great changes Body Exchange has made in the in lives of its clients the article instead decided to highlight the exclusivity of Body Exchange. Instead of being something positive and safe for big people it turned was portrayed as something discriminatory against ‘skinny’ bodies. 

Since that article was published there has been a flurry of news articles from all over the world about this ‘gym’ in Canada that hates and bans skinny people, including comments on a local radio show by a male personal trainer who said he did not think that a bunch of overweight people could inspire each other.

My initial reaction was one of disappointment that something that has helped me and has the potential to help so many others is being cast in such a negative light. And why do they care anyway? Who cares if a bunch of overweight women get together and exercise and create something inclusive and body-positive? Did anyone bother to ask the participants of this program what inspires them?

Lesley at xojane said it perfectly:

“This strikes me as rather like complaining that wheelchair users get to use a ramp when able-bodied people have to climb stairs. We’re talking about a reasonable accommodation to get people with physical disabilities into the building; it’s not a special treat the able-bodied are being cruelly denied.”

This kind of hysterical outcry and accusation of being discriminatory when a group tries to carve out and reclaim space is not a new one. I feel that as a feminist I have had this same argument over and over. I am tired of justifying why there is a need for safe exclusive space for people who are othered by society.  Women, gay people, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities etc all need and deserve safe space. Period.

Similarly this is why $30,000 is being spent to build a ‘Men’s Centre’ at Simon Fraser University.  Because hey it’s not fair that the women and the LGBT community get a centre the men don’t (insert foot stomp). And just as I firmly believe that university is a young white man’s playground, fitness facilities are often a thin and able-bodied dominated space.

The bottom line is Body Exchange is about banning those pesky skinny folks. It’s about creating a non-judgmental place for people who don’t feel comfortable working out at other gyms and who want to be active. In fact, I think most people who are surprised at how diverse the body types are of the women I work out with.  It’s reflective of the actual demographic of North American women. You know real bodies opposed to those airbrushed ideals we all tryto attain.

I can’t begin to express how humbling it is to be getting so much positive feedback from other people about my journey. People who have told me I’ve inspired them to work out or start running. Positive ripples that I never in a million years thought I would be responsible for.

And hey – if I can do it anyone can.

(picture by LocalFitness via Wikimedia Commons)


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