I’ve had gym phobia for ever. One of my earliest memories of exercise was staring up at the thick rope attached to the super-high gymnasium ceiling, convinced I’d be too heavy, the rope would fall and everyone would laugh. At age four, I already knew I was bigger than my classmates and I convinced myself I couldn’t do it. The thought of weekly PE classes filled me with horror and the smell of my rubber dabs (that’s what we call plimsolls in South Wales) was enough to give me a searing jolt of dread.
That unease stayed with me into my teens. I was on the netball team, but found the ill-fitting netball skirts and flannel pants a tiresome daily struggle (they dug in so hard they were literally a pain in the butt). My tennis whites never fitted me quite as well as they fitted my tiny pals, and finding them in a size 16 wasn’t easy.
At university, I pretty much ignored exercise entirely. My years of failed dieting and my ever-changing clothing size meant that I was completely uncomfortable with being in gym kit, let alone in a gym. If I did have to step into one, I wore the baggiest things I could find – men’s T-shirts and super-loose jogging bottoms. All in the fruitless pursuit of hiding myself.
But, then, things changed.
A few years ago, I became the health editor of a women’s magazine. Challenged with trialling the latest workout trends, I was sent a pair of leggings and a top from Nike. I’d not worn leggings since the 90s, for fear of drawing attention to myself, but these high-waisted styles fitted perfectly and didn’t pinch.
The more I worked out, the more I accepted that, yes, my legs might be bigger than others', but they were strong. Finding a top had always been difficult, but Nike’s running top (sadly now discontinued but similar here) had the right amount of slack and looked cool. Walking into the gym, I felt more confident than I had done in years and, as a result, I spent more time focusing on my classes, rather than worrying about how the fabric clung to my body.
I still struggle with gym fear and, at times, my insecurities about being looked at and judged resurface, but things are improving. I love that our growing body and diversity acceptance means that the best body pump at my local Virgin gym is run by a plus-size trainer, who can seriously lift – and it’s always packed. I'm also endlessly inspired by the #chubbyyogis movement, with women like Jessamyn Stanley and Dana Falsetti and positive sports advertising campaigns like This Girl Can, and the awesome US Women's Running magazine cover featuring model Erica Schenk.
It’s also more possible than ever for women above a size 16 to get a gym kit that suits them and looks great. (See my edit below.) So, here’s to a new year of being strong, feeling empowered and looking ace doing it.