As my knees hit the black asphalt, which could fry an egg thanks to the California summer sun, I didn’t know what burned the most—the skin that peeled away from my kneecaps, or the layer of pride that peeled away from my humiliated eleven year-old heart.
Two boys snickered as they ran past me. To my utter despair, I heard one of them say, “She’s like a cow. No wonder she’s so slow.”
I knew three things then.
- I was getting picked last for teams yet again.
- I would never, ever, EVER like P.E.
- I absolutely hated boys, and I would never be friends with them.
Ah, those awkward middle school years. A time when I was a chubby, coke bottle glasses wearing, greasy-haired, pizza-faced FREAK. My self-esteem back then was truly non-existent.
It’s no wonder that even when I turned sixteen, grew a couple of inches, lost that baby fat, and started wearing contact lenses, I mentally still thought of myself as an ugly, fat freak.
It’s really thanks to my mother that I didn’t harm myself the way many girls do at that sensitive age. My mother never said one word about my weight. She taught me to focus on my kindness instead, and emphasized that I was a daughter of God, who loved me the way I was.
But that didn’t change the fact that I inwardly believed I would always be overweight, that I would never be able to lose that inferiority complex. And I think that’s why I was always so shy, choosing to hang in the background. I lacked the confidence to initiate conversations with strangers, to get myself to go to social gatherings, to really put myself out there.
In college, I made the decision to start going to the gym. I’m not sure what exactly triggered that decision, but there I was, an exercise-hating introvert to the tenth degree, suddenly in the gym, surrounded by fit people. Skinny girls running six miles on the treadmills like they were taking a casual stroll in the park. Buff guys grunting as they lifted hundred-pound weights. I felt like a cow who just set foot on a planet inhabited by beautiful long-legged horses.
Somehow, I remained persistent, until it was a habit, and not a chore.
But I chose to exercise alone. Although I always wanted to try an exercise class, I couldn’t bring myself to go. I just pictured those mean kids in middle school, jeering at my failures, and I feared that if I put myself in one of these classes, it would be the same. It was better…safer to stay away from people who might judge me.
In terms of exercise, for ten years, I played it safe. I didn’t push myself. I continued to do the same routine, just enough to maintain my weight.
And then…everything changed.
When my gym decided to close its doors this past March, I was forced to find another place to go. Having been at a private-owned gym for a decade, I was used to being able to exercise in a more secluded setting. Suddenly I was thrown into one of the evil corporate gyms, where hundreds of cardio machines were displayed in claustrophobic rows, with everyone pumping their arms back and forth like mechanical robots.
It just wasn’t for me.
Thankfully, I had another option. A friend of mine told me to join her gym. Not only was it closer to my house, but it was a lot less crowded. However, the main plus of this gym was the variety of group exercise classes they provided. If I was to join, I had to take advantage of those classes. But I was still hesitant, my middle school days still haunting in the back of my mind.
I told myself, though, that things were different now. I was no longer eleven. Many years had passed since that awkward phase, and I’d gone through enough experiences to develop a thicker skin.
And so that was how I found myself at the front door of the class that Tuesday night a few weeks ago, stepping through the threshold…