Sweaty and exhausted, my spent body traces the steps back to the gym locker room, where my locker houses all of my post-workout belongings: shampoo, slippers, and a moisturizer. I need a good hot shower after spending 60 minutes running on the treadmill (while watching two episodes of Veep).
I peel Spandex, mesh, socks, and underwear away from my body to free my skin from the compression, and then I stand there, fully naked. I stay naked as I traipse to the shower, back to my locker, and while I apply my makeup and blow-dry my hair. I don’t put my clothes back on until I’m ready to leave.
I do this on purpose.
Leaving my clothes as the absolute last step in my get-ready process is a choice I’ve made because I’m a plus-size woman—and plus-size women often do not get the visibility or representation we deserve.
In order to be represented in a way that allows me to be seen as a three-dimensional person (and not the so-called sexless, unattractive, lazy, fat friend), I have to make myself available and vulnerable in the spaces where my body is often not seen. So, I am taking it upon myself to be a walking statement that says my body is perfectly normal.
Plus-size women often do not get the visibility or representation we deserve.
Body positivity has made its way across social media in the past few years, but we still need to expand our scope of #BodyGoals to include all different kinds of bodies—and their bellies, hips, chests, legs, arms, and thighs. Championing all kinds of bodies allows our brains to recognize and get used to the fact that there is actually more than once acceptable look out there—which you can see when you see me stripping down alongside everyone else in a locker room. It’s like exposure therapy for the masses.
Related: My Size 18 Body Doesn’t Mean I’m Unhealthy
Have you ever encountered a trend that you weren’t really fond of (hello, everything from the ’90s), but over time grew to accept (or even love) because you saw it so often? That is the basic tenant of exposure therapy—expose yourself to something that makes you wildly uncomfortable and eventually that thing becomes normal to you.
Once, I forced myself to wear nothing but sleeveless tops for an entire month just so I could stop hiding my arms behind cardigans during warmer weather. This was one of the best self-care moves I’ve ever done for myself. Basically, expose yourself to all bodies and eventually you’ll start to see their beauty. It’s all about representation.
My body makes people uncomfortable. It jiggles when I run. It has winding curves and a protruding chest and backside. My body can’t just walk into any store and find a perfect fitting pant—because they don’t sell my size. When I sit down my belly sticks out. When I bend over, a soft ripple extends across my sides. When I walk, my chest sways slightly to the rhythm of each step.
I am taking it upon myself to be a walking statement that says my body is perfectly normal.
But there I am, walking around the gym locker room with the confidence of a woman that’s been told her body has value.
Sometimes I get stares. I wish I was doing something interesting to garner those glances, like jumping up and down or singing at the top of my lunges. Most of the time, I’m just looking for my makeup bag or tying back my hair.
I used to run straight to the bathroom to change the very moment I turned off the shower. I would try to stretch the far-too small gym towel across my body as though I wasn’t allowed to be seen. A belly roll here, a thigh muscle there—constantly behaving like anyone above size 14 had a secret they had to keep under the towel. Everyone else got to gracefully take their time in the nude while checking their phones at their lockers while I found a bathroom to get ready in.
The moment I stopped hiding was the moment I saw another woman in the locker room with a similar body type to mine doing the same thing I was doing: She was gathering all of her belongings and heading to an open stall to change. It was like a silent, common understanding that we should be hiding.
But after seeing that woman hide, I couldn’t abide any longer. Despite what people have been told, my body is a gym body—and it’s important for it to be seen as such so that we continue to recognize all bodies across all spaces.
The lack of plus-size bodies represented in general (movies, ads, fashion, fitness) gives me the extra push I need to make sure my body is seen in locker rooms or running in public spaces or simply being confident.
Am I changing the world? No. We as a society have much larger issues to tackle—no matter how naked I get. But am I making it a better place so that other people feel comfortable and good about their bodies? Yeah, I am.
And if you are the kind of person who silently judges the bodies of others in a seemingly-safe space, I say to you this: Take a good, long look, because this is my body goal.