Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

Note to Dear Reader: Kindly be aware that I am a disabled veteran. For those of you who insist on interpreting this article as a statement around “ableism,” a word I didn’t even know existed until 7/14/2020 when yet another commenter used it, just please. Kindly check what rises inside you about the word “deserve,” and read this very carefully. The message is in the text.

Several days ago I read a story by Medium peep Jane Trombley about what you and I wear to the gym. As, um, aging athletes, just aging, or in the case of her friend, a 71-yo woman who still has the body of a fashion model, it’s now a way to demonstrate our superiority by wearing the latest in overpriced gym clothing.

This got me thinking.

As someone who spent plenty of time in huge T-shirts and loose sweatpants for several decades, anything to hide my double-wide, as it were, this annoyed the hell out of me. Not what Jane wrote, but her friend’s disapproving comments.

After all, this woman was sniffing at people who were showing up. Working out. Even if it was just an off-handed comment, it doesn’t exactly support the very folks who most need it.

Deposit photos

This kind of shaming has gotten to be an epidemic. This is one of the worst examples I ever saw of people who are in the business of helping us work with our recalcitrant bodies. While we are hard at it, they take photos and shame us for the very effort we’re putting in. Is it any wonder folks eschew public places to put in the effort to improve?

Precisely, what the hell are they supposed to do? First, the athletic clothing industry has been very late to the game in providing decently -designed clothing for larger-than life folks who also work out (and run, climb, hike, adventure….)

Second, who anointed anyone else the right to judge those people who are in every single way doing their best to be fit, when one hell of a lot of folks don’t even bother? When did the gym, where we are supposed to sweat, stink, grunt, groan and strain, become a House of Fashion?

You and I have a body, it is what it is, and it reflects the habits and choices we’ve made over the many decades we’ve lived. Good, bad, ugly choices. It reflects our discipline or lack thereof, it tells the story of our parents and their genetic predisposition, it barks back at us the times we said This year I’m gonna stick with it and we promptly flamed out by early March. Again.

This body, this vehicle that you and I inhabit reflects the love, or lack thereof, of our right to even have a physical form, the opportunity said form represents, and our willingness, or lack thereof, to study, learn from, laugh at and with, properly or improperly feed and care of it.

It reflects our uses and abuses, our eases and diseases.

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

When I get up in the morning these days, a good many things creak, bark, bite and hurt. That’s in part because I have visited quite a few injuries on my 66 yo form. Some are healing fast. Others take time. Those aches and pains speak to the adventures I’ve lived.

They also tell the tale of times I’ve pushed too hard and paid the price. Times I’ve been lazy or chosen the donut instead of the discipline.

It’s the body I deserve, just as your body is the body you deserve.

This isn’t a death sentence or a condemnation. It’s just what is.

Jane’s honesty about the state of her body, which speaks to a huge truth for so many of us as we age, really struck me as a counterpoint to the increasing level of disapproval that we are greeted with when we show up to work out but don’t either look sporty or sport the right clothing.

Look. It’s damned hard enough to get to the class in the first place, much less be made to feel less than because Prana tops are out of the question.

Photo by Gesina Kunkel on Unsplash

I inherited my mother’s propensity to develop cellulite all over. If I gain a pound, it shows up on my waistline as cottage cheese. Shit happens, man. What, I’m going to get pissed off at my sainted mother (she of the shit piss and corruption curse) because that happened to be one of the genetic gifts she gave me?

Or I can learn to be a bit more disciplined, if it bothers me, so that I don’t sport those chunks on my middle. It gets harder the older I get, but then, as I’ve written elsewhere, the older we get the more work we get to do. That is, if we want to negotiate better terms with the body we have…to get the body we deserve. Sometimes what that means is a bit more strength, or a bit more flexibility, or if we are wheelchair bound, a bit more energy. All this about is creating options for ourselves no matter what shape we are in. And we deserve to have options.

How we drape ourselves when we choose to take ourselves to a class or a gym, which goes to Jane’s article about old lady workout clothing (which is just as true for large lady, large person, any person who can’t shell out $1500 for a pair of Lycra workout pants just to be fucking fashionable) isn’t the point. That’s despite the self-styled Fashion Police who have now deemed the one place where we have permission to stink, thank you, yet one more environment where you and I have to be judged on how we look, how we dress.

As though the goddamned local gym is now the Walmart photo gallery of shame.

Well, screw you, frankly. I’ll bet I speak for all the aging ladies/men who share the pool with me over at the Carmody Rec Center, for example. Carmody features Silver Sneakers and water aerobics, and a small gym where said oldies in their Life is Good t-shirts toil away with the body they have been given into the body they deserve. In chairs, wheelchairs. At least they are going after it. Consider the alternatives. The body they deserve gives them options.

Said Gym Fashion Police have no idea the battles those folks are fighting. For some, just getting to the pool or class is epic. For others, they’re recovering from illness or injury. You and I have no idea what their stories are.

Dunning them for not dressing up is ludicrous.

Some of those folks can barely pay for their meds, much less drop major dime on fancy gym clothing.

Look, if you insist on spending almost $200,000 (not a typo) for a Louis Vitton punching bag with its own wheeled logo box you go right ahead. Stupidity knows no bounds.

You can dump- if you’re dumb- $1834.00 for a pair of Givenchy black leggings. They will look precisely the same as the pair I got at TJ Maxx for $16.99.

Or, you can slap $1570.00 down for a pair of Rick Owens track pants. Let’s see here. That much money would buy me a round-trip ticket to damned near anywhere in the world and leave some to boot. Track pants.

Track pants.

The problem is that neither of these two items, or anything else that greedy, mindless designers create in the quest to put more status and superiority into every corner of our lives, changes the body we have. It’s the body we deserve. It’s the one that, no matter how we drape it, no matter what type of running shoe we put on our dogs, we still have to do the work.

Your $1100 Dior Fusion sneakers will not make you run faster, sweat less, or magically drop fifty pounds.

Carting around that LV punching bag- making sure everyone notices the logo- is not going to get rid of my mother’s cellulite.

Photo by Gesina Kunkel on Unsplash

Hard work might. Maybe.

Just because someone can afford appallingly-priced workout gear doesn’t get them a better body. Migrant workers in the field with barely two cents to rub together have better bodies than most of us. Work delivers results. Not fancy clothing.

Endurance athlete Mirna Valerio, who is a large woman, faces the same problems everyone else does. When Nike finally got the message that big girls run too (and big men, and big kids), this is what happened.

People disapproved. Mostly middle-to-upper income white folks, especially women. Said “people” are those self-appointed arbiters of proper gym fashion who have somehow decided that they not only don’t want to have their delicate sensibilities offended by the sight of fat/aging/disabled etc, folks doing their best with the bodies they have, but they damned sure don’t want clothing manufacturers to give them proper gear so that these less-than-perfect folks can indeed work out in comfort.

Heavens. How offensive. How in your face to have to watch a fat/old/disabled person sweat. Try to improve themselves. What an affront to have to put up with such people in my gym/pool/yoga class.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Trombley points out that while her friend is otherwise a kind and generous person, that propensity apparently ends where dumpy begins.

Generosity of spirit, to my mind, doesn’t have fences around it, but I don’t know this woman. I most certainly know those like her in this regard. To be brutally fair, there was a time when I felt much the same. Back when I did, I was newly slim, terrified I might get my double-wide hips back. The way I expressed it was to sniff at those who didn’t have my workout ethic, and who couldn’t sport the sporty styles I could finally wear.

In other words, I was a little short on character.

No overpriced pair of track pants will deliver decency, character, or the will to punch out the miles, do the downward dogs, or repeat the reps which will give us the body we deserve.

Frankly, we deserve respect for the effort we’re putting into it, not the dime we dropped on stupid shit with logos.

There is superb dignity in such effort, the kind of dignity that deserves our respect, not our denigration.

While I love my neon leggings, and I will don duds that make me smile, I am pissed off if I have to shell out anything more than $12.99 for a workout top. I’m going to sweat in them. I will stink. I beat the hell out of my gym clothing. I shred it. Why on earth would I invest that kind of money into something that barely lasts a season? Which by the time I’m done, would give a skunk a run for his money?

So will those goddamned Givenchy tights. That is, if you deign to do a few lunges in such expensive gear. Perish the thought.

Mark Twain said “Clothes make a man.” He also added, which most folks ignore: “Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

That sweet twist changes everything.

To my mind, it’s twisted that how we drape ourselves in the one and only place we have permission to perspire is now treated like a catwalk.

Photo by Audi Nissen on Unsplash

You and I have the body we deserve. That includes the physical challenges that we have either created or which we were handed. That includes the results of how we have treated ourselves. That includes the good news/bad news of what we inherited. The accidents of fate (or drunk drivers). Those who possess character do their level best to negotiate a truce, while also asking our bodies to give us the best possible lives. That takes work, patience, love, discipline.

Those who are dealing with age, infirmity, disability, size, color, gender or whatever our story might be, struggle to work out in whatever we can find that fits. It’s not their fault that the Nikes of the world have taken this long to even notice that such people exist. Or, that they might genuinely desire to take care of their bodies, such as they are, in better ways.

When someone is dealt a rough hand, either by their own hand or by Fate, by Time, those people have every single right to do their best with the body they end up with as any fitness competitor.

It would be fair to say for each of us that we’re already terrified of aging, infirmity, what lurks inside us that might not be so well, and the inevitability of our mortality. That’s bad enough. To heap scorn upon us because we don’t dress in a way that pleases your eyes? Please. Kindly. Grow the hell up.

Several years ago I was working out at the Muve gym in Spokane over my Christmas holiday. A very large man was pushing a sled across the mat in front of me. Sweating hard. He had to. He had no legs. Turns out, this huge man had already dropped more than 100 pounds. He’d made some bad choices, became a diabetic. Lost both his pegs. Now he’s a motivational speaker for our fellow military peeps. Want to criticize him?

Want to relegate him to the back of the gym the way we relegate our military veterans to the fringes of society because they bloody well make us uncomfortable? He is an inspiration to the rest of us who have both our legs and the capacity to get after it…but often choose not to.

The body is our vehicle in this life. It doesn’t define us. Character, and how we show up for others in this body, does define us. By no stretch does what we wear define us, either, especially in a world where clothing manufacturers are slow to respond to the reality of the marketplace.

Trombley writes, and I totally get her point, that her uber-fit 71-yo friend needs to be with “her people.” Jane writes:

Her workout world is the world of youthful, toned, hard bodies. It is about fashion, style and fitness, strength and flexibility. She is a walking testimony to Joe Pilates’ vision. That said, she needs to stay with her people.

Let me be clear. This sounds to me just as bad as any white supremacist who is trying to isolate anyone who isn’t young (or young looking), rich, white, perfect (please read Aryan), or unblemished to the fringes of society. Am I saying that Jane’s friend is a closet Nazi? Not at all. However, the thinking that we don’t want to bear witness to what makes us uncomfortable (differences, decline, disability, different-gendered) is a close parallel. A very close parallel.

Trump ushered in an era where that kind of attitude has begun to worm its way into everyday thinking. Why else would so many programs that benefit the disabled and the disenfranchised be getting cut, from Meals on Wheels to Medicare for those who qualify? When a sitting president legitimizes mocking disabilities on national television….But I digress.You get it.

Fat, disabled, gender-neutral, aging, infirm people are also “my people,” because we are all in this together. We all age, we all die, we all disintegrate. You and I may have to take our turn at some of these conditions ourselves. For all of us, it really is just a matter of time. Youth only lasts so long. The man on the mat with no legs is one of “my people.” That’s character. Grit. Determination. Courage. No pricey shirt delivers that.

If I cannot embrace those who do not happen to sport slim hips or big muscles or the perfect ass, then I reject my own humanity. If I can’t be supportive of the extra-large woman with cellulite who is donning her bathing suit next to me at Carmody as she prepares for her aerobics class, what does that say about me? That may well be me in a few years, if I happen to get so severely injured I can’t do what I love. I may still look that way if my mother’s genes get their way. Appreciating and admiring her is one way of making room to appreciate my own body. My own choices. My own results. Embracing an unsteady physical future, as do we all.

I get the life I deserve, too. Which in large part is determined by how I treat others, with the gifts they bring, the challenges they dance with, and the ways they force me to deal with my mortality, the vulnerability of my human condition.

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Don’t like what we wear? Kindly get your Givenchy tights-covered butt off the chest press bench where you’re busy texting on your $2.7m Anderson Amosu diamond-studded phone and let me get some reps done.

I’ve got an aging, injured body to build, not people to impress.