Exercising While Fat


I never considered hiking, kickball, horseback riding, or swimming to be exercise. They were just things I did, as a kid, and how I had fun. As a teen, the fact that I never learned how to play team sports, never mastered the hand/eye coordination required to throw and catch, meant that I was no longer physically active in my everyday life. I sat and I studied, I sat and I graduated, and I sat and worked. When I (rarely) went to the gym, I felt like an outcast, and exercising was a chore. I joked that my unused gym membership was a “fat tax” and invented excuses to stay at home. But how things have changed! I went from never exercising, to planning my life around my next exercise class, and seeking friends who keep me active. Not only do I love exercising, but I’ve even started trying to recruit new converts to my exercise of choice!

Hiking, With Kids
Hiking, With Kids

I can reassure you, however, that this is not one of those thinspirational blog posts in which I share my story of how I got fat, how I conquered my demons, and how the weight fell off. The weight hasn’t fallen off. And I’m ok with that.

There are no before and after photos. Just photos of me, and my friends, working up a sweat. We’re pretty cute, right?

Stephanie: Inspiration for Lots of Pain and Gain. Photo by Marta Bristol
Stephanie: Inspiration for Lots of Pain and Gain. Photo by Marta Bristol

I am not dissecting those thinspirational blog posts and articles as a human, or as a mom, or as a feminist, or questioning the science behind those contemptuous tips to lose weight, because I don’t want to add to that conversation.

I’m tired of that conversation.

I want to promote health, exercise at all sizes, and body acceptance, for myself and others, and I do not need to change myself to conform to what society thinks I should look like. My fitness goals are related to how frequently I exercise, and what I am physically capable of accomplishing. I care about how deeply I can bend, how many leg lifts I can perform, and the shake and burn I achieve in my favorite Bar Sculpt class. Am I proud of the way the class has shaped and toned my behind? YES! Do I want all my friends to come to class with me? YES! Do I flex, and insist that my friends feel my new muscles so frequently that my four and half year old once asked me to “feel her muscles”? YES! I am making the choice, however, to measure my fitness and health in physical achievements, as opposed to outdated and inaccurate metrics.

I Haven't Always Been Able to Do This. Photo by Stephanie Allen Robinson
I Haven’t Always Been Able to Do This. Photo by Stephanie Allen Robinson

I am the last person anyone would ever have expected to turn into an exercise fanatic.

In fact, when I talk about my profound love for Bar Sculpt, and how it’s helped me, I feel my voice and excitement rising, and then I get embarrassed and unsettled, because talking about fitness is just not something I’m used to doing. For me, however, exercising is a part of self-care. Taking care of myself is essential, as a parent and especially as a single parent. Modeling healthy behaviors to my daughter is a lasting gift that I can impart to her.

April: Graceful and Athletic. Photo by Amy Chess
April: Graceful and Athletic. Photo by Amy Chess

I want to stop, for a second, and explain why I choose to call myself “fat.” I call myself “fat” with no shame or denigration because I am larger than many people. “Fat” is descriptive. I use the word “fat” to describe myself for the same reason that I use the word “queer” to describe my sexuality: it’s the truth, and I am not ashamed of it. I own these words that can be used against me, and by owning them, I remove the stigma those labels can carry.

I am a fat woman practicing radical self love by reclaiming words that have been used to hurt me in the past. Loving, accepting, and caring for myself is revolutionary.

Think about it. How do we name the parts of our bodies? How ingrained is our self-hate? Do you know how to label a part of your body in such a way that you attack yourself whenever you identify a specific body part- without even thinking about it? Hello saddle bags! Does another name for one’s upper, outer thigh even exist? And you too, muffin top, you delicious, soft handfuls of skin and fat that are constantly being squeezed and bullied into submission. Guess what? I’m done excoriating you. I’m not at point where I can wholeheartedly say that I love every bulge, and the way my knees look, naked, but I’m determined to change my mental dialog about my body from “hate, shame, disgust, and discontent” to something closer to “acceptance, recognition, and pride.”

Concentrating on the Burn. Photo by Stephanie Allen Robinson
Concentrating on the Burn. Photo by Stephanie Allen Robinson

I think back on all the years when I was ashamed of my body. It didn’t matter how far I could walk, how long I could swim, what I could carry, or what my body looked like. I wasted so much time and energy worrying about hiding the bulge of my belly, and the curve of my outer thighs. I didn’t wear shorts when it was hot because I thought my bare legs were so repulsive that they should be covered at all times. I blamed my body for not fitting into clothing the “right way.” I never want my daughter to do what I did, at six years old, and ask her teacher why her thighs touch, squirming with self loathing.

I want my child to see her fat, healthy, and happy mother hiking mountains, biking, playing and having enough energy to keep up with her. No shame, no self hate, and no limitations.

Chevy: Strong and Stretched
Chevy: Strong and Stretched

As my last word, (and yes, I always do have to have the last word) I want to say that my fitness journey is by no means complete. It is a story that will evolve, as my interests, schedule, and capability change. I am excited to try yoga, return to kayaking, and to add more cardiovascular exercise into my routine. My time for exercise is limited, but exercise is a priority for me. I find that the more I invest in caring for myself, the more I have to give to my daughter, my family, and my community.

Come and join me on my journey!


  1. […] to buy into the idea that my legs are not attractive because they are large. I won’t undersell my legs’ strength and endurance because they do not look a certain way. My muscular legs work really well, for which I am grateful. […]

    • Thank you, Bob! I really appreciate your kind words. And this is exactly the sort of motivation I need to get to the barre tomorrow. 🙂

  2. This is an amazing story! Thank you for the inspiration. A few years ago Ingot really sick and dropped like 50 or 60 pounds. Needless to say it didn’t stay off. It only came off so quickly because I was unable to keep anything down until I figured out what the problem was. Now I am trying a more gradual approach and your post is a lot like what I’m feeling.

    • Hi Teresa- Thanks so much for commenting and for reading my story! I’m so sorry to hear that you were so sick that you lost that much weight so quickly. I was sick last spring, and lost about 15 lbs (which I also gained back almost instantaneously.) I found it really curious how much positive feedback I got for losing weight- when I was really, really sick, and not able to eat. Anyhow, I try my hardest to focus on what I can do, and shift away from focusing on how much I weigh. That is healthier for me, and makes me feel like exercise is fun and good for me, as opposed to being a punishment or chore. I’ve also found that for me, exercise involving weights and resistance has made a bigger difference in my overall strength and appearance than just cardio. I did two years of twice weekly zumba- bc I love dancing- but never noticed a difference in my strength or tone. Now, I do barre sculpt two or three times a week, and I feel a big difference. I hope you find something that feels like a pleasure to you- and not a chore!

  3. This is so inspiring. After two miscarriages I gained weight quickly and it seems to stick around no matter how much I work out and diet. My husband and I recently adopted two kids and I want to be happy and healthy for them. I always feel so out of place at the gym. I feel like I’m the only fat person working out and every one is staring. It’s frustrating because I know I need to be there to feel better about myself and lose the weight, but I don’t feel comfortable. Keep up the work and thanks for being an inspiration!

    • Hi Ariel- first- congratulation on your adoptions! I love hearing that your kids are inspiring you to want to take better care of yourself. It’s the same way for me! It’s is so hard, to find time, as a mom- but it’s also so important to be healthy and set a good example. I know what you mean about feeling out of place at the gym. I feel that way too. I find that having well-fitting gym clothing makes me feel a little better. If you can find my most recent post, I list some of my favorite exercise clothing. I have a c section stomach though, and need extra belly coverage/structure than you may. Looking the part makes me feel better. And honestly, I still avoid the gym. I’ve found a small studio and take classes- which are much less intimidating to me. Have you tried a Zumba or Bar Sculpt or Jazzercise class or yoga class? Sometimes the smaller classes feel less intimidating to me. Keep doing your best, Ariel. Big hugs.

  4. In college (10+ years ago!), I was a fit 160 lbs. I looked AMAHzing. I just had my second child in December 2014 and am 60 lbs. heavier than I was in college. In fact, I was 70 lbs. heavier than my college weight before I had my first child. I didn’t get back into working out until after my maternity leave was over and have been loving it! However, for a while, I was feeling really defeated because the numbers on the scale weren’t dropping at a steady pace. It made no sense! Until one day, I had my husband feel my biceps, and he told me that’s the best my muscle tone has been since we’ve been together. We’ve been together since we were sophomores in college (14 years this year!) so he’s seen me at what I thought was my best. I then started to realize that what mattered was how I felt, not the numbers on the scale. And I feel great! My best is now when the parts of my body that used to disgust me remind me that it’s there because I gave birth to two beautiful children. My almost-3-year-old likes to come down and “work out” with me (she hasn’t quite mastered the squat & curl), and she’s started to ask me why I work out. Instead of telling her it’s because I need to lose weight, I tell her it’s because I want to feel better. Reading this blog post just reassures me that I’m doing it right. So thank you!!!
    -Mom from Iowa

    • Betsy- first, I’m so happy that what I wrote made sense to you! It truly came from my heart. I hear you with the frustration about the numbers. I think my weight- which fluctuates from 220-230- is hard on my knees. I’d love to lose a little weight for that reason, and so my size 16 jeans fit better. I’m not against very gradual weight loss, when done in a way that promotes health and self-care. I just can’t focus on that anymore. It’s not helping me. But I think it’s totally wonderful that you’re learning to value and appreciate the change in your body, and seeing what a positive role model you are for your kids! I agree! I love that! Thank you so much for writing me! Keep rocking the squats and curls, and being such a good example of health!

  5. Jemima, this is so incredible – and so are you! I’ve really fallen into a lot of those self-hate traps lately and have found all they do is make me LESS likely to exercise, not more. Thanks for the motivation!!

    • Tuni- I’m sorry to hear that! You’re such an athlete too, so I’m really surprised. I know how hard it is to find time and motivation. Believe me, I do. I have to really trick myself to go exercise sometimes. I say “just go, you don’t have to do anything.” Or I pay in advance. Then I can’t not go. I’m too cheap! I also find that having the right workout clothing really motivates me. Probably shallow, but I need all the motivation I can get!!! Let me know how it goes! Three weeks of doing it til it becomes a habit!


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