As soon as I walk into the gym I feel as if all eyes are on me saying, “You don’t belong here with your chubby belly and flabby frame.” Like Harry Potter, I wish to hide beneath an invisibility cloak so I can go about my workout unnoticed.
Since these cloaks only exist in magical worlds, instead I hide beneath stretchy yoga pants and cavernous shirts. The sleeves shield my wobbly arms and the pant legs cover cellulite that has staked claim on my thighs. I marvel at those who boldly wear neon showing their skin with abandon. I am not one of them.
I hide in corners to stretch. Mirrors are avoided as I attempt to strengthen my core through sit-ups and planking. Like a frightened deer I keep out of open spaces where someone could shoot a humiliating picture of my ass.
I imagine those in skin tight spandex think they know everything about me. They probably think I have no self control. How could they possibly see my intelligence, creativity, heartache, humor and yearning for a simpler life?
This is not a poor me story however, but rather a story about my own judgment through which I see others.
One day at the gym I noticed a man with the physique of a body builder. His broad shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist reminding me of a muscular upside down triangle. During his workouts he wore a weightlifters belt and carried a jug of water that sloshed about when he moved. I could hear fast paced music seep from the headphones he wore as he seriously went about the business of lifting weights.
I also noticed he walked with an unusual gait. As if he might topple over at any moment. I decided it was because he was top heavy from the bulging muscles he vainly stacked upon himself. How egotistical he must be to sacrifice the ability to walk for the glory of beef and brawn. He probably was extremely hard to get along with and only talked about himself at dinner parties.
And then one morning he said, “Hello.”
Why would he say hello to me I thought? I said a quick “Hello” in return and figured that would be the end of it. “How are you doing?” he asked. Are we really having a conversation I thought? I listened as he continued to share his excitement for Halloween. He planned to dress up as Batman. His young daughter would be his side-kick Robin. They were going to a costume party to raise money for homeless teens. And then with a cheery, “Keep up the good work”, he was off.
What just happened and where was the self centered egomaniac that lived in the box I constructed for him?
Over the next several days he shared more about himself. I learned when he was young he had been in an accident that damaged his feet. The doctor told his mother to prepare for the possibility he would never walk again. Like most momma bears, she didn’t accept this outcome for her child. With her encouragement he learned to adapt to his new normal. Many times he felt like surrendering to the couch and escaping into video games. Then he found going to the gym gave him a place to work out his feelings and strengthen his body.
I was humbled and ashamed by the realization that I am not bias free. I wear glasses tinted with judgment through which I see my world on a daily basis.
I can meet an overweight person and to me they are a blank canvas. Like a painter they add color and texture through words and deeds. I patiently wait as they reveal themselves to me. On the other hand when I see a person unencumbered by weight preconceived notions flutter about in my head leaving no room for the glorious getting to know that can happen between strangers.
My judgments don’t end there. I also judge white people (especially white men). I judge the wealthy. The wealthier they are, the more judgment I have. I judge athletes, Christians, Republicans and those who choose not to vote. I judge Trump, his supporters, the Kardashian clan and Kanye West. I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. I am full of judgment.
Those with biases against fat people may see me as someone who can’t help but eat vats of ice cream. People with biases against liberals may see me as someone who feels entitled with no understanding of the hardships of living month to month. People with biases against my faith may see me as someone who has forsaken God and salvation.
My biases are strong, shaped by my experiences and fears. They have helped me understand the world and my place in it. But it is very possible my judgments have been wrong more than they have been right. Maybe I have missed knowing wonderful people because I stamped “good” or “bad” on them before they uttered a single word.
For me Batman is a superhero for he willingly showed me the man behind the mask. He taught me what I thought I knew about him was wrong. He challenged me to knock down my own walls built on preconceived labels and fears. He did that all simply by being willing to say, “Hello.”