I was 19 when I started to exercise. As a child, I failed at every sport imaginable: field hockey, gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, and every sport we were forced to play in gym class. By high school, I had perfected the “sprained hand, twisted ankle, PMS” routine. I spent more time in study than I did participating in any class that involved physical activities. When we played volleyball, I hid in the back corner to avoid the ball. When we played hockey, I kept at a slow pace so no one would pass the puck to me. And even badminton, I was always benched. I became used to being the kid picked last at gym class. When we had weight training for gym, the gym teacher also the football coach would provide the girls with magazines and let us sit in the corner. I’m going to politely say that he was slightly sexist. I never learned about weight training and eventually, I stopped caring and I gave up.

This was a slight nightmare for my parents who were always trying to involve my sister and I in sports. She was a great athlete in lacrosse, field hockey, swimming, etc. I was never jealous of my sister’s abilities to not fear the ball flying at her face. Instead, I was proud of her for dragging my parents to her every game and for being a part of the team. It just wasn’t for me.

At some point in high school, my parents started punishing me for not being active. I didn’t realize the repercussions of not being active in a sport. I was always outside, playing in the pool, making friends everywhere I went. I wasn’t a lazy kid- I just wasn’t interested in organized sports. Finally, I gave into their wishes and joined the high school gymnastics team, for which I am eternally grateful for making such wonderful friends and lifelong contacts. However, after 2 years, they benched me for good. I was encouraged to practice with the team, but was asked to keep score during competitions. It never bothered me.

I wrote about some of these life experiences in my previous blog entry “Why I love exercising” but what I didn’t mention in that story was my experience in “thin-shaming”. Quick overview: I was in college, was diagnosed with mono, bought personal training sessions, became a personal trainer, and why I still continue to love working out.

After I bought the personal training package, I fell in love- with my personal trainer. Crazy, right? Not to get into the details of my dating life (not really appropriate here…), I quickly learned what “skinny-fat” entails. It’s looking skinny or thin in your clothes, but to the tough- your body feels “squishy”. Yes, I said squishy. Only because that was the term used by the love of my life (when I was 20). It was the thought of being skinny-fat and actually sick from mono that forced me into the life of kettlebells, dumbbells, group fitness classes, boxing, and so much more. However, that’s not where the story ends.

I stopped being “squishy” within 6 months. So yes, you can change your body for the better – at any age (though it might take longer and you may need more discipline as your body ages). I became toned, fit, strong, healthy, and mostly- I became empowered. I was proud of my success and accomplishments. I felt energized, rejuvenated, and more alive than ever before. It was a combination of clean eating and enjoying my fitness routines that led me to this point in my life. It wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t have anyone to do it for me. I didn’t take magic pills. I did it- for myself- for my health- and for my future. I did it for me. And my confidence skyrocketed. It affected everyone in my path. My parents were a little hesitant with my gym addiction, but when they saw my physical, emotional, and mental results- they were astounded and happy for me, but some of my friends felt differently.

This was the first time I experienced thin-shaming. It’s a real concept. It happens to people every single day. Yes, they can experience ‘thin-privileges’, but they can also be shamed for being healthy. You know what, I’m going to change this a little bit… I’m going to call it ‘healthy-shaming’. Technically speaking, I wasn’t thin. I was still the same size I was before I began my healthy lifestyle. I was just more muscular and healthier.

Healthy-shaming is when the people around you want you to follow them in their footsteps of unhealthy living. I was criticized (and still am sometimes!) for eating healthy, for going to the gym, for being involved in physical activities, for not indulging. I was constantly experiencing peer pressure to binge drink with my then-college friends. I was teased for spending my free time exercising. I was constantly experiencing persuasion tactics to get me to eat junk food. It felt like one step forward and two steps back. I was living this life I never knew I wanted and I was being told to go back to my old, unhealthy ways. I was healthy-shamed for a long time by the people I loved. My father had even once asked me, “when are you going to get over this gym phase”. I was already in the process of building a career in the fitness and health industry. I felt defeated by the people who were supposed to care the most.

And then I stopped. I stopped feeling bad about my life’s choices. And I started feeling bad for the people who couldn’t accept me for who I had become. They weren’t better than me. They were jealous or felt inferior, although I never in my life fat-shamed anyone. I never made anyone feel bad about themselves for living their way. And yet, I was being criticized for bettering myself. I know I’m not the only one who has felt this way. I know that people are always being told what to do and how to do it. So I surrounded myself with like-minded people who would encourage, support, and accept me. I’ve never looked back.

My friends and I are more physically active when we get together. Being social doesn’t mean a sit-down dinner or binge drinking at the bar. Some of my favorite fitness activities involve my friends and family. Here are some ideas of how to involve the people in your life to become supportive of your goals (I’ve tried them all!)

  1. Go on bike rides together- exploring new towns
  2. Try out for an adults club sports team
  3. Find an activity that challenges you and ask your friends to join (I tried paddle boarding and looking forward to surfing lessons)
  4. Create a workout group for your friends that meets once a week and work on a goal together (I have a group of girls in Morristown, NJ and we meet on Tuesdays at 7:30 pm to workout together. We’re training for the Diva Dash in October.)
  5. Take group fitness classes together (I fell in love with Zumba toning and barre)
  6. Join a group on meetup.com (I love their hiking with dogs groups near me)

When you become healthier and you make lifestyle choices that affect your health, it will affect the people around you. Theoretically, it should affect them positively. However, you will get the shamers and they will attempt to make you feel poorly about your decisions. Make sure you always stand up for yourself and know that it’s okay to walk away from people who are not encouraging and supportive. There are thousands of people around the world who will be on your side. I know that here at FLYAROO Fitness, we will always be on your side.

Thanks for reading!

Ethel Baumberg is a fitness professional and co-founder of FLYAROO Fitness. She holds an MPH in health education and behavioral sciences and a BA in psychology with a concentration in childhood development.

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