Shortly after Valerie hit thirty, some of her friends started making playful jokes about her body. “Who’s the father?” was a favorite, and the least subtle. Her friends were terrible and she hated them, but she could not deny the motivational merit of their abuse. She started going to the gym, and even after the comments stopped, she maintained her routine every morning.
“Excuse me,” someone said, poking her in the shoulder. His finger was now covered in her sweat, but he didn’t seem to mind. Valerie almost apologized, and she hated that that was her instinct.
“What is it?” she said. “People don’t usually talk to each other in here. There are rules.”
The man looked nervous. He was young and a little chubby, though not in the way men usually are. All his weight went straight to his chest, and he tried to hide his figure by slumping his shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know that I think you’re beautiful. Don’t think I’m hitting on you or harassing you. I’m not. I just like seeing a confident woman. You have a good day.”
Valerie resumed her workout. Her earbuds blared Ride of the Valkyries as she climbed the final mountain of the elliptical’s Himalayan Trek. What the hell did he mean by confident? She wiped down the machine and changed in the locker room. The flaps of skin that poured over her waistline could suspend her in water like a jellyfish.
“You’re beautiful just the way you are,” a towel-clad stranger said, noting her distress. It was just the sort of thing they tell fat people.