fitness

'She looked me up and down.' I was body-shamed by a gym manager.

This article discusses weight and fatphobia, and may be triggering for some readers.

An EDM version of a Katy Perry song blared through the speakers as gym members in coloured lycra lunged in unison with barbells on their upper backs. Left, then right. Perfectly choreographed to the music. It was 2015 and my old friend Nic had invited me along to a BodyPump (weight) class at his local gym. Through him, I met Lee and Jen who were regulars. 

Following BodyPump, we did BodyAttack (aerobics) on Saturdays, and RPM (cycling) on Sundays. I loved the high-tempo music, the challenging workouts, and the friendly vibe of the people there. Our little ‘gym club’ had brunch after every session, which was a great way to debrief about our intense work as doctors. I kept this up every weekend for two years. Even though the gym was on the other side of town, it was worth the two train rides to get there because I loved the instructors. And, of course, I went because it was my weekly catch-up with Nic, Jen, and Lee. I stopped going when work got too much. I was working most weekends, and even when I did get a weekend off, I was exhausted. I became burnt out, and eventually diagnosed with depression.

Yumiko wrote her debut book, Emotional Female, about her experiences as a young doctor. Image: Instagram.  The stress of the job, the lack of healthy food options at work, and no longer having the time, energy or motivation to exercise meant that I gained weight. On top of that, weight gain was a side effect of some of my anti-depressants and sleep medications. I was now twenty kilos heavier than what I used to be when I was a bouncy, Les Mills-loving fitness fanatic.

I turned to yoga, and became a yoga teacher after I quit my job. I taught the occasional community class, and gave sessions at medical conferences to promote wellness to doctors and medical students. Last year, I felt good enough to start returning to the gym after not being able to go for a couple of years. I was gently nudged by my psychiatrist, who informed me that the current medical evidence was that three sessions of resistance exercise a week was beneficial for depression. I went to see an exercise physiologist as well as trying to go to some classes at the gym. 

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At first, I couldn’t do too many but even if I could only manage half a class, I still turned up. I started to get to know the other women at the gym. Betty is a regular gym-goer. In a non-creepy way, I know what she looks like from behind. She always has her ‘spot’. Front row, just to the right of centre. Whether it’s BodyPump or RPM, that’s her preferred spot. She’s lean, fit, and strong. You can tell her resistance is dialled all the way up during RPM as she heaves her entire body side to side as she climbs the mountain in the ‘hill’ track. At the end of one class, she was complaining about one of the other instructors. ‘She’s so fat,’ she said. ‘It’s not like she’s had a baby recently. She’s been fat for years.’

Listen: Mia Freedman interviews Yumiko Kadota. Post continues after audio.

After a while I asked the gym manager whether there were any positions for yoga teachers. There were none. ‘But we need more Pump instructors,’ she said. She looked me up and down. I’d just finished a spin class and was wearing padded bike shorts – the chamois made me look like I was wearing diapers – not flattering for anybody, really. ‘You look like a Pump instructor,’ she ascertained. ‘You’re too big for Attack.’ She doubled down. ‘You know, you’re heavy, it’s not good for your knees to be doing all that jumping,’ she said. In that moment, it reminded me of how exactly I had gotten to that weight and I wanted to cry. But I wasn’t going to let that make me disappear. Since that very first class I went to with Nic, I loved BodyPump. I was going to be a BodyPump instructor.

I signed up to training immediately, and my heart was racing. Am I really going to do this? Am I going to be the fattest person? Am I going to be the weakest? I watched the masterclass video they sent us beforehand. All the presenters were slim, and strong. I was fat, and weak. I looked like I should be able to lift heavy, but I couldn’t. I hadn’t touched a barbell in over two years. I tried the squat track with just some tiny weights on the bar. I struggled, and started to freak out. I’m a fraud. What gives me the audacity to think I could be an instructor? I formed a buddy group with two other aspiring Pump instructors who trained with me every week. They were both super lean, just like the trainers on the video, but they never made me feel like I didn’t belong. Despite my insecurities, I felt stronger over the course of those eight weeks, and I passed the final assessment. 

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Yumiko instructing a class. Image: Yianni from Fitness First.

One of the instructors at my local gym was retiring, so I was lucky enough to inherit her Tuesday class. But I was worried. What the gym manager and Betty had said was still on my mind. I feared that gym members would see some chubby chick on the stage and wonder why the hell I was instructing. I had a lot of internalised fatphobia to fight. I needed to stop being mean to myself for gaining weight. I showed up every week. I showed up for me. And I showed up for anyone who wanted to be there. I determined that if anybody judges me for being overweight – that’s their problem, not mine. 

To my relief, the gym members were kind. They started clapping at the end of my classes. They would come up to me afterwards and tell me how much they loved my classes. It reminded me of all the instructors that I travelled for. It was never about how they looked. It was always about how they made me feel. And that’s why I went to their classes every week.

I acknowledge that while I may be overweight (and nearly in the ‘obese’ category), I do not have a marginalised body. I still have thin privilege as a straight-sized woman.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected] You can also visit their website, here.  

You can buy Yumiko's book, Emotional Female, here.

Featured image: Yianni from Fitness First.