Spencer and I were invited to present to a group of college students.
It was fun, went great and they asked some of the BEST questions. They aren’t easily embarrassed and they didn’t hold back.
They quickly got to the personal stuff.
After the presentation a young woman approached me. Spencer and I look forward to sticking around after a presentation for a bit and chatting with people. They’ll usually ask a question that one or the other of us is better equipped to answer. We just kind of organically move through the group helping each other get everyone’s questions answered.
This time, the young woman bee-lined for me. As she approached I could see tears starting.
I moved to the side – and took her gently with me…
‘I want to work out at the gym, but I can’t do it. I need to. I miss it. I know I should be. I can’t.’
We talked for a little bit. I was listening and trying hard to figure out what the underlying objection/fear was. I could hear her telling me stories and excuses.
But she wasn’t telling me the truth, just yet.
After some conversation about how she was fit and active in high school and it just wasn’t happening the same way in College, we finally hit at the issue.
She tried to casually just slip in this story…
‘I am about 90 pounds over my ideal weight. I was at the gym last year. Showering after a class. These two other girls – thin, tan, beautiful — were chatting about how they felt fat and ugly. I don’t know them. Have never seen them. The one girl says to her friend something about how ‘at least we don’t look like some of the other ‘fatties’ in the gym’, with a noticeable head nod and eye roll in my direction. I did NOT imagine this. It happened.’
She was ashamed.
And deeply wounded.
Tears were angry tears and sparse at this point. And she was absolutely WILLING me to tell her it hadn’t happened they way she experienced it.
She wanted someone to be mad at, someone to fight with, someone to disagree with her. It wasn’t going to be me. I understand her. I have been there.
I’m also pretty damn sure that she also wishes it had never happened.
But it did.
And we can’t change that.
I said ‘I’m sorry that happened to you. I believe you. And I can see how deeply it hurt you.’
We just kind of looked at each other for a bit as she struggled to control her emotions.
I finally said ‘You’re brave. Strong. And ridiculously smart. You know the choice is yours to make. What are you going to do about this? Are you going to allow two girls you don’t even know — who very likely have their own miserable, sad, ugly story and issues — stop you? Determine your future?’
I offered to go to the gym with her — as her defender and companion. Learn the gym. Meet some of the regulars who quite frankly don’t care if you’re a 3-headed alien as long as you don’t mess with their routine or get in their way. 🙂 Just be there with her.
Give her a new experience that is not steeped in shame.
I’m waiting for her to take me up on the offer.
The wound to her soul and confidence is deep. I know that. I’m not trying to minimize that or ignore her pain.
I just want her to get mad enough to fight back for her self. Defend herself.
Fighting back is a much more productive stance than passive acceptance or hiding in shame.
Why do we humans strike out in such hurtful ways at each other? She was at the gym, in the shower and had been working out. That’s ALL anyone knows. Who the hell really cares what her body looks like? No one has any idea what she’s hiding, suffering with, running from. No one has any idea her path, her hearts desire, her goals and dreams.
Woman in particular seem to have a capacity for being horribly mean to other woman.
We tend to be so hard on ourselves.
We really, really don’t need outside help.
And the ‘mean’ girls… They’re hurting too. I just have a less patience for how they choose to exhibit their ‘hurt’…
Meanwhile, I’m stuck thinking about the young woman who won’t go to the gym.
My heart hurts for her.
And there’s really nothing I can do.