For the past two months, I’ve been going to the gym. That may be nothing for some people, but for me, it’s a big deal. For the first time in my life, I feel good about working out. I feel energetic, and actually like being in my own skin. My wife says I seem to have more of a sense of confidence about myself.
I started thinking about why I never enjoyed exercise before. Part of it was that it seemed like a chore, and I really don’t like working up a sweat. I do an hour of aerobics in the pool and work out on weight machines four days a week. The people in my classes are nice and its a good time. The reason I never enjoyed it before was partly the sweaty feeling I got when I did work out, but more than that, the negative experiences I had in gym class from the seventh grade onward. The “jocks,” the athletes, always made me feel like a loser because I wasn’t as strong as them, or excelled as they did. It wasn’t that I was comparing myself to them as much as they compared themselves to me and went out of their way to point out that I was fat, non-athletic, and made me feel worthless. Their taunts made me feel incredibly bad about myself, and those feelings took decades to get over. Ironically, I had good friends in college who were jocks, and we got along fine but the damage was done. Even in those friendships, I understood from my earlier days, that they were the athletes, and I was their fat friend, who would never be one of them.
Having athletic friends didn’t make me athletic. I wasn’t strong, I didn’t have bulging muscles, and even though they tried to encourage me to exercise, the imprint of negativity was already pressed into my personality. The result was that I never could appreciate how good I could feel about myself if I was in shape. Decades of my life were handicapped by a bad self-image because of how I was made to feel about myself by seventh grade kids.
It’s not that I am looking to place blame on the sophomoric attitudes of high school jocks for my actions. They were just being jerks. I could have just ignored what they said, but I was just a seventh grader too. I didn’t know how to respond. I found other ways to develop myself as a person and felt good about it them but I never over got the feeling that I was physically inferior.
As I work out, I can’t help thinking how good it would have been if I could have had the experience of water aerobics and the exercise machines I use now. I could have felt better about myself for years. I would have had more confidence in myself. I don’t blame the jocks, but wish their painful words didn’t have the effect they had on me. I am just happy that finally, forty years later, I have moved passed it and even now can enjoy exercising and feel good about my own body.
The point of this tirade is not to place blame as much as to point out how negative words, remarks, and bullying can affect a person for years. If more people would realize how much damage their negative remarks can do to others, I would hope they would think twice about making them. Our words, even those said in jest, can be painful, and deeply affect a person for years. It would be good if we thought before we spoke, and spoke with more compassion when we speak. Negativity can be more damaging than physical violence.