Thank you for writing this up, and you are absolutely right. Although I don’t think you used the term, I just want to put this out there: A lot of the success I’ve enjoyed has to do with privilege. While my experience was not easy, it was possible, and I think I can chalk up much of that possibility to the factors you enumerated.
Just some notes, for what it’s worth. (I include these not because I’m trying to refute your points, but to just give the details. My original post is light on details.)
Money — My gym costs $10/month and I pay $232/month for personal training (that’s two 30-minute sessions per week). This is shockingly low, but it’s true. One of the biggest barriers I had to re-joining a gym was finding one that was inexpensive, and one day an ad arrived in my mailbox announcing this gym just down the road. I frankly didn’t believe that $10/mo (when paid a year in advance, by the way) was possible, but it sure is. My gym isn’t fancy, it’s not open 24 hours, and it’s in a strip mall by the auto parts store. But it’s got the equipment, and the people are great. (Note: gym costs are the third-highest fixed cost on my monthly budget, after housing and food. Even at this super cheap rate, it’s a biggie.)
Travel—I live just a few miles from the gym, and it’s easy to get to via safe streets. I’ve heard anecdotes that there’s a correlation between gym distance from home and gym participation. Seems true to me. I live in a working class area and found a working class gym at a working class price. This is tremendous luck and I don’t think it would’ve worked if it were 4x the price, which was entirely possible with other places. I spent weeks researching gyms, because frankly I couldn’t afford the others.
Mental Health—I’ve been dealing with clinical depression and anxiety since I was 7 years old. Some seasons of life are up, some are down. Mental health was a big factor in this work, and in my case made it harder. (When I started at the gym I was in a multi-month depressive period. It was also the dead of winter. I didn’t want to be awake, much less in public, much less sweating. But I did it and I recognize that isn’t always possible, because it hasn’t always been possible for me.) Having said all that, I do have health care, and it does help, so, like I said above…in my case, this was possible despite it being hard.
WASP Cis Male Stuff—For the most part, nobody talks to me at the gym (aside from a hi from the staff) or seems to notice me whatsoever. I think this is one of the biggest privileges of being a WASP cis man in the US. I can just kinda go do stuff (such as go to the gym in goofy sweatpants and get all sweaty, listening to 80s songs on headphones) and nobody seems to comment or challenge me, and I am never in danger. As a kid, yes, I was bullied and mocked and I actually had to change schools once because of it (long story short: I have an aversion to locker rooms). As an adult, I have received very little attention about my weight from anybody, and that is big. This is certainly not something that most people can say. (One notable exception is in public transit situations, where it is very clear that being obese is unacceptable, or at least not well accounted for.)
Time/Job Stuff—This is probably where I am the biggest outlier. I’m a freelancer. As a self-employed person, I am wholly responsible for my schedule, so I can do things like say, “Okay, I’m gonna add an hour+ at the gym to my daily routine,” and still survive. Don’t get me wrong, I have had to turn down work because I’m prioritizing health instead. But that’s where the privilege (read: money) comes in, because I’m able to say, yeah, let’s take a year or more (or presumably the rest of my life) to push health to the top of the priority list, even though that cuts out income and costs money to do. But that’s part of the big message here too; I had to do that, and I had to say, yes, this costs me, but the benefit is greater than the cost. YMMV.
Food—I live in a wonderland of great food, and I was raised with a solid food culture. Yet another privilege.
Overall Health—I have sleep apnea, and some arthritic stuff in my neck, but that’s about it. So yeah, I had no major physical obstacles preventing me from doing workouts. I have family members who have, for instance, joint issues, and I don’t know what net effect that would have on the ability to do exercise (I mean, clearly it’s negative, but I don’t know the details because I haven’t lived it). So far I have not injured myself doing workouts, and I am fortunate on many levels here.
So. Anyway, the headline for me is that the majority of the blockers to me making positive health changes were internal rather than external. I found myself in a rare situation where all these things aligned just right, and I took advantage of all the privileges available to me to then do the work. (And the work’s not over. I have a training session at 2pm today!) I really appreciate you pointing out the ways in which people’s situations differ, because that’s absolutely a crucial part of the conversation. Not everybody’s situation will be like mine, and you do a great service for pointing that out in detail. Thank you for writing!