As much as I love being stronger, I wish that getting into better physical health hadn't made me more misanthropic.
Five years ago, I had started getting regular exercise to feel better in my own skin and to see how many times I could work out to my least favorite songs from the '90s before losing my mind. What pushed me over the edge, however, wasn't one too many workouts to "Barbie Girl," but the way some people began to treat me as my appearance changed. They didn't treat me poorly, but they treated me so much better that I began to realize how much they didn't like me before.
Of all the traits I dislike about myself, being fat was the thing I disliked least. I wasn't necessarily happy about my weight, but I'd accepted it and didn't punish myself with crash diets, disordered eating, or the belief that if I just lost 100 pounds, then I'd finally be a person worthy of love, respect, friendship, or success. I decided to stop posting Before and After photos because I no longer wanted to contribute to a false perception that the person I was before I lost weight was inferior.
I also didn't want to contribute to the idea that exercise and nutrition are primarily to help you lose weight and look a certain way. Your physical health can affect your physical appearance, but there are so many unhealthy paths to being thin that conflating size with health and fitness feels irresponsible.
My conscious efforts to keep my own story from being a typical looks-based one often fall short. A couple years ago, I wrote an article for work about why women should lift weights. I had agreed to pose for the article photos because I wanted to visually reinforce my message that weightlifting is for overall physical health and not just for shredded fitness models with six-pack abs. I also wanted to show that doing basic strength-training moves with something heavier than a three-pound dumbbell wouldn't transform you into She-Hulk.
That went well, but when another publication later ran my article (with my permission), I was disappointed but not surprised to see their graphic designer had used stock photos of female fitness models with exposed six-pack abs, all aggressively curling three-pound dumbbells.
At the same time, I do like how my body looks more now than I did five years ago. But I also like how it looks more now than it did three years ago, and I've gained some weight back, but I've also gained significant strength, I'm not cold all the time, I love my new boulder shoulders, bulbous calves and the pronounced curvature of my caboose. And I happen to like that my partner likes the way I look, too, but as he's said before, he wasn't less in love with me before I began working out. He's not treating me significantly worse or better than he used to.*
But I've found a way to like how i look now without hating my appearance before. And I know not everyone who reacted to my changing body hated me before. True, it only takes a few slanted compliments on your Afters to turn your celebration into self-doubt, but I don't want to unfairly dismiss people who genuinely liked me and honestly thought they were being supportive.
I only realized that I might be uncharitable when I recently ranted on this topic and someone I didn't know well had suggested maybe some people treated me differently not because they didn't like me before, but because they now also found me physically attractive and were awkwardly figuring out how to deal with that. I can't say for sure that's what happened with anyone but it made me at least consider that maybe there are reasons for changing social dynamics with weight loss besides "Everyone sucks."
In addition to setting new PR on my squat and bench, one of my fitness goals for this year is to move past my misanthropy and bitterness and find more productive ways to address the issues inherent in our approach to physical fitness. Because while weightlifting can make my body stronger, distrusting people can never make my spirit stronger.
(*Because it apparently matters that the men in my life approve of what I do with my body, people will sometimes ask me what D thinks about my weightlifting. If I want to end the conversation immediately, I give the person a very big smile, lower my eyelids, and say slowly, "Oh, he loves it.")