When I was 10 years old, I learned to hate my thighs. Sitting in my fifth-grade class wearing shorts on the hottest day of the school year, I realized that my body wasn’t like the other girls’ in my class. I was chubby and ashamed of the way I looked.
Growing up, my weight went up and down until finally, when I was morbidly obese at 23, I had gastric bypass surgery and lost 100 pounds.
But weight loss didn’t turn out to be a magical cure for my self-esteem issues and disdain for the way my body was shaped. It wasn’t until I turned 30, after I regained a bit of the weight I initially lost and went through therapy, that I was finally able to truly love my curves. And it brought along some unexpected results.
Much to my surprise, after a decade of trying to work out, embracing my body finally allowed me to enjoy exercise.
I just couldn’t make exercise stick …
As a chubby kid, I avoided gym class as much as possible. Eventually, I was able to quit it completely in high school due to my rigorous academic program. As an adult, however, I knew that exercise was something that I “should” be doing. So, I tried.
At first, I went to my college gym only to be intimidated by the girls who looked like models and the jocks that seemed to rule the place. After graduating, I used my lack of funds as an excuse to evade any kind of physical activity. Finally, after I lost the weight, I knew I couldn’t keep escaping that there are real benefits to regular physical activity, including stress relief.
Yet, over the next seven years, I couldn’t find an exercise program that I could stick with. I read countless articles and tried various methods for getting myself to the gym. I signed up to go together with my best friend. I tried classes that sounded fun, like yoga and Zumba. I bought the right sneakers hoping that it would motivate me to start running. And I even signed up for fundraising challenges as a way to get myself to start moving — such as Cupid’s Undie Run, where I raised $1,500 one year.
But all of these methods only worked for a few weeks, maybe a month tops.
Finally embracing my body
“I just hate working out,” I would tell myself, despite knowing that exercise was vital. Not only for maintaining a healthy weight but also important for heart health, boosting energy, better sleep, and so much more.
No matter what I tried or how many times I tried it, working out and I just didn’t seem to fit together — until I took boudoir photos for my 30th birthday, knowing I still didn’t have a “perfect” body. Somehow, it all finally clicked.
I didn't have to look like those models to fit in at the gym. I didn’t have to feel guilty if I felt too shy to work out with a friend. I didn’t have to master all the moves of a dance class. And I certainly didn’t have to worry about what I “should” be doing.
Instead, by embracing my curves and loving my body, I changed my entire attitude toward exercise. It went from something that I dreaded doing, or let’s face it — tried to do and failed at, to an overall part of my healthy lifestyle.
I stopped caring what anyone thought of my thighs whenever I stepped foot inside the gym. In fact, I learned that my “tree trunk” thighs were powerful and naturally strong — and I enjoyed the way I could use them to power through seated leg press exercises, or how high I could turn the weight dial on the hip abduction and adduction machines. My big thighs were finally an asset and I was proud of them.
How gym time became me time
I still don’t have a perfect relationship with the gym. These days, we’re more like friendly acquaintances. But exercise is no longer a chore.
Instead, I look at my time working out as an opportunity to do something for myself. It’s a little bit of me time on a stressful day, a fun way to reconnect with an old friend, or even an easy way to get in some extra reading — thank you, audiobooks.
These days, exercise no longer scares me. I’ve become open to various methods for enjoying working out, and found a gym where I wouldn’t feel intimidated. Thanks to therapy, some soul searching, and the support of my partner, I’ve embraced my curves. And thanks to embracing my curves, I’m finally someone that actually enjoys exercise.
Irina Gonzalez is a Latinx freelance writer and editor, focusing primarily on food, healthy living, relationships, travel, and cultural identity. Her work has been featured in VICE, Glamour, Women's Health, Latina, and more. When she's not working on her book about growing up Russian and Cuban, she's probably cuddling with the three loves of her life: her partner Adam, cat Capt. Jack Sparrow, and dog Moose. Follow her on Twitter @msirinagonzalez