It’s a big bright new year and likely most people (who consider January 1st the start of the new year, anyways) have made some sort of resolution. Mine, for example, is flossing. I don’t floss enough … and, frankly, I am kind of suspicious of people who do, but whatever, it’s supposed to be good for you. So, flossing: YES!

I have a few fitness-related goals, too, because of course I do. I want to run a race (well, I am going to run a race: the Warrior Dash, in August), and I want to be able to bench press 100 lbs by the end of the year. Just because. Oh, and I want to conquer my fitness nemesis: the unassisted pull-up. For some reason I am just awful at pull-ups, and it’s total bullshit and I’m tired of it.

But anyways! This post isn’t about that. It’s about how not to talk about fitness, inspired by an unpleasant interaction I had today at my gym.

So I got it into my head it would be a good idea to get my body fat percentage checked. It’s a free service at my gym, and I was curious. I got it checked last year, and was in the low 20s if memory serves. I haven’t lost that much weight since then, but given how much muscle-building I’ve been doing at the gym, I figured it would be interesting to see what was going on inside my body.

This morning I’d never seen the lady sitting at the desk before, but I asked her if I could use the little weird electronic thingy they have to measure my body fat, since the personal trainer I’m friendly with at my gym had said it would be cool. The lady said sure, and led me to her office. There, I told her my weight (135 lbs) and height (five feet five inches) and age (30, going on 19). She plugged these numbers into the device and handed it to me—and I was pretty pleased when it blinked, beeped, and said 19.6%.

Woo! I thought to myself. That’s pretty awesome. I’m under 20% body fat! Rawr!

But I was just thinking this when the lady, her brow furrowed in maternal concern, said, “Ohhhhhh … 19.6 percent … hmmm.”

“Hmm?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s just … well. You’d need to be between 15%-17% if you wanted to be an athlete.”

I was sort of shocked by this—not only did that sound low to me (it is), but also … really? ‘Hmm?’ With a furrowed brow of maternal concern? And also: percentage of body fat makes you “an athlete” and not, like … being athletic? I regularly swim, lift weights, run, and hike, and yet … I’m not an athlete? Because of a number? What now?

If ever there was an IRL moment for the O RLY? owl to swoop down and hawk up a pellet of mouse bones on someone’s head, that was it.

So anyways, there I am, proud–and there she is, shaking her head. What came next, you ask? Hahaha!!

“Did you just join?” she asked, staring at my body.

“No,” said I. “I joined last year, in August I think.”

“And what do you do at the gym?”

“I run, swim … but I love weight-lifting the most! It’s so fun, I really enjoy it.”

“Of course you do,” she sneered. “It’s the easiest thing to do.”

“Uh,” I said. “Well…”

“Do you eat a lot of junk food?” she interrupted, still staring at my figure with obvious distaste.

“Not a lot,” I said, only sort of lying, because technically beer is a drink and not a food, “I’m vegan, and eat a pretty healthy diet.”

At this, her brow furrowed so much it appeared to have actually been plowed by a vigorous bucolic farmer with 17% body fat, perhaps with the aid of a stout horse with 15% body fat. An athletic horse, you get my meaning.

“Vegan means no eggs or dairy, right?”

“Right, no animal products.”

“What about fish?”

“Fish … is an animal,” I said, with what I hope was a polite smile, and added a cheerful “ha-ha I’m sure you were just joking right omg” laugh.

She stared back. “I guess I never thought about fish that way.”

I did not respond to this. Because, what? Also, I was trying to figure out a way to get away from her without actually fleeing.

“Well, the good news,” she said, in a doubtful, concerned you were hit on the head with a large boulder, but the concussion is only a mild one tone of voice, “is that the average American woman has 24% body fat. So you’re doing good by that standard.”

“Great,” I said, at this point desperate to leave her presence.

“And I’d never have guessed you were so heavy,” she said, also doubtfully. “You’re tiny—you must be really dense.”

“Okay, haha, yeah, cool,” I said, or something like that, beginning the inch-away-from-the-situation tiptoe-dance as she started to babble at me that it would be a reasonable goal to get down to 17% body fat (putting me at around, oh, 115 lbs, btw), and if I were her client and blah blah blah omg wtf bbq.

Whew! Hahah, sure, whatever. She sucked, no harm no foul. But the thing is, I’m super-duper lucky that I have an amazing, supportive family, and confidence in my own athletic abilities, because Good! Friggin! Lord! I can’t imagine how that interaction would have made me feel if I wasn’t secure in my knowledge that Crom himself forged me of Atlantean steel. Probably I would have felt like I was actually 19.6% dog poop.

I’m also lucky I didn’t have that encounter a year ago, when I was just getting into fitness (and had a far, far higher percentage of body fat!). I probably would have been really discouraged, and felt like “fitness” was some sort of insane impossible goal that only professional athletes could attain by spending thousands of dollars on equipment and training and whatever. (It’s not!) And this person is the Wellness Coordinator at my gym!

Don’t most people in this country already have a vexed enough relationship with fitness, overall wellness, and balancing the stresses of modern, sedentary life with healthy athleticism? Eesh!

This is the season when many people will join gyms, hoping to live healthier lives, and I think that’s so awesome, and I hope anyone who does so sticks with it until it’s a happy habit instead of a slog. I know I’ve never been happier than I’ve been since starting my quest to be a hard badass of legend, and I hope to pay that forward someday, in some way. But my greatest hope is that no one who is motivated to start working out and eating right has such a heinous encounter with a “fitness professional.” I know first-hand that it’s pretty easy to give up on goals, especially ones that make you sweat! Exercise and eating right isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding–and that should be the message people in the fitness industry try to promote. Not that you’re not an “athlete” unless your numbers are this, that, or whatever!

Talking about fitness in a worrisome, negative manner is not cool. Better, I think, to be encouraging; to play up the positive, celebrate success, and challenge yourself (and others, if it’s your business to do so) towards reasonable goals. Revolutionary stuff, that, I’m sure!

Omg. Anyways! Here’s hoping you all have a healthy, happy 2012! I know I plan on it—even though I’m so dense.