Content warning: mention of bulimia, transphobia and ableism
Let’s talk about exercise. It can be a scary topic for us, recovering bulimics with gym addictions. Gyms are highly competitive, intimidating places often romanticised and used as punishment. If going for a run or pumping iron is your thing, good for you, but there is no reason to think this is true for everyone.
Sometimes if you’re sore, or sleepy, or underfed, perhaps your body and mind could benefit from staying indoors. Sleep is very natural, good for your health and not at all gross. Taking a brisk walk can be exercise enough. Not to suggest the NHS is omniscient, but I think it’s fair to say they do know a fair bit about health, and they class brisk walking (like when you’re late to a lecture), pushing a lawn mower or riding your bike as moderate aerobic activity. Up for something more vigorous? Skipping qualifies. Let’s also not forget the gardening you did this morning that strengthened those muscles.
I’ve been told going to the gym is good for my body, but every time I try it, I only find myself returning to unhealthy behaviours I used to engage in back when I liked to scroll through Instagram’s ‘fitspo.’ Perhaps my body was in tip top shape, but I sure wasn’t happy or healthy. The irony is striking.
Why is healthy something we want to strive for, anyway? I want to live a fulfilled life. I have hopes and dreams and plans and ideas, but I shouldn’t need to be healthy to achieve them. Health is not something you always choose for yourself. Eating kale, doing yoga and running three miles every morning will not solve all my problems and certainly won’t help any disabled person out there. I’m not trying to punch the sun here, unless we’re talking about The Sun.
I spoke to Ellen Blunsdon, the Disabled Students’ Liberation Officer about how the push for exercise can be ableist: “I don’t know a disabled person who hasn’t been questioned about what type of exercise they do or if they’ve tried a specific type. This can seriously undermine a person’s experiences of living with a disability, suggesting – however well intended the comment may be – that someone is only disabled because they haven’t been doing enough.
“This is far from simply an individual problem[…].” Exercise is seen as a simple solution to an incredibly complex issue with messages of well intentioned support manifesting into ableism that erases disabled people’s identities and experiences. A perfect example is the messages on some of our university’s lift doors that urge people to take the stairs for their health which acts as a tool of shame rather than of motivation. “Able-bodied people need to be mindful of their discourse around exercise and prevent from framing their promotion as a quick fix.”
We also cannot forget that gyms can be intimidating to trans or non-binary people. Just this year Huffington Post reported that the UK David Lloyd gym chain, which has 500,000 members does not permit trans people to use the changing room of their choice unless they can provide a gender recognition certificate. Some trans people choose not to attain legal certification, which costs well over £100, for many reasons.
Even when gyms don’t have explicit bans on people using the changing rooms of their choice, changing rooms are understandably uncomfortable places for trans and non-binary people. Imagine that, some people may actually be harmed by this push to exercise; they are not just lazy.
Do you just cringe inside by the thought of exercise? Maybe you’re just hungry or need a good stretch? Either way, listen to your body. Advocating exercise for everyone can be pretty transphobic and ableist, even if you don’t mean to be. So mind your own business because you exercising does not affect anyone. Whatever reasons you have for exercise, it’s ok, because exercise won’t solve all your problems. And guess what: putting sugar on your porridge doesn’t take away from its nutritional value. In fact it can add value, because we can all use a little sweetness in this cold, cold world.
Illustration: Karolina Zieba