Gym reflections

Tomorrow I am heading back to the gym. I have mixed feelings about it.

I’m going because my physio recommended it to help me deal with back pain (and associated issues) I’ve had for a few years now. Pilates and yoga, mainly. (I’m counting them as belonging to the category of ‘going to the gym’ because the are held at my uni gym, and are hence part of the gym concept.)

Gyms are strange places with strange vibes. I’ve always felt an atmosphere of pressure around being at the gym, the pressure to be perfectly healthy and perky and exactly on the same level as everyone else. There was a time a few years ago when I didn’t have the confidence in my body that I do now, and I used to go the gym a lot, because I wanted to lose weight and have that perfectly flat stomach and look just as hot as everyone else in a pair of short-shorts and a singlet. (Since then, well, I care less about my weight, and even less about looking ‘hot.’) I eventually stopped going, because I realised that I was going because I was unhappy with who I was and the way I looked, and that the competitiveness of the gym environment wasn’t helping that.

I’m not so worried about yoga classes, because they are generally a bit more relaxed than anything else. Pilates, on the other hand, can be a bit harder to stomach as a body-positive feminist. In all the classes I’ve been to before, there’s always been some sort of assumption that everyone has the same goals and reasons for coming. And the reasons that get voiced tend to be the ones to do with appearance and body shape rather than strength or health. As such, I find it quite uncomfortable to watch someone who is incredibly wiry and thin and flexible at the front of a room and listen to them go on and on about how you’re going to have amazing looking abs one day if you work hard enough. (Here’s a hint: I don’t actually give a damn about having amazing abs right now, or possibly ever. I’d just like some more stability, please.) It’s difficult enough getting back into something after not having done it in a long time without someone telling you to work harder if you want those abs.

Of course, it’s not all bad. I’m looking forward to all the endorphins, and I do like the feeling I get after my body has been working and stretching and moving. Hopefully, it’ll do something for my back issues as well. I’m just going to have to take special care to block out any ‘your muscles must be screaming’ and ‘get those abs in shape’ messages, and focus on why I’m there, and not let my perfectionist kick in too much.

But I do wish that gyms had a more body-positive vibe, rather than always telling you that you need to work harder if you want to be happy with yourself.

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4 thoughts on “Gym reflections

  1. I understand completely. I am quite a fan of exercise in my own way (I love cycling on my exercise bike for hours while playing tetris), but I’ve never been comfortable in gyms. I’m not very good in mass social situations anyway, but at gyms it always feels so much more heightened, like everyone is looking at and assessing you. And not just because your the only one who brought their Gameboy to play on the running machine.

    I also hate the assumption of wanting to “get toned” “lose weight”, etc. Due to various medications over my life I’ve had a terrible time maintaining a healthy weight and am almost always either underweight or overweight. It doesn’t seem to matter which, though, at a gym, because you never feel like you look right. I’ve also always had the issue with classes that I haven’t had the ability to do many of the things because of my bad back – do you have this issue at all? I found it a particular problem in both Pilates and Yoga and gave up on both. The issue wasn’t that the instructor wasn’t willing to give me other exercises or work around it, but I always felt like I got even weirder looks, because, of course, you can’t be young with back problems.

    Still, the fact is, the endorphins are a blast and exercising can be serious fun. We have to put our feminist theory into practice and ignore those looks (many of which are probably imagined), and own our confidence. Own our desire to exercise for reasons other than body image.

    HAVE FUN!

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment, Holly! I love cycling too (except the actual bike kind, which doubles as my main form of affordable and quick transport). ‘Getting toned’ is such a weird thing, isn’t it? It’s like the thin-people-version of lose weight.

      I know what you mean about the being young and having back problems thing, too. I don’t have any mobility issues with mine, just pain issues when I’m not moving. You do feel like you’re being scrutinised a lot, which for me (because of my insane competitive streak) means I push myself far too hard and then can’t move the next day. But anyway, I shall do as you say and put the theory into practise, and try to have fun with it. 🙂

  2. I couldn’t agree more and am relieved to read my thoughts reflected through someone else. I have always enjoyed working out and letting my body feel the rewarding excursion. However, going to the facility on my campus has always been an interesting situation. There is definitely a machismo type atmosphere, mingled with a pressure cooker of social expectation. I like to think that I’m body positive toward myself, but it’s difficult to focus on my own goals in baggy t-shirts and shorts, sandwiched between a cologne clogged muscle man and a beaming young lady in tight shorts without a drop of sweat. All I want, is to feel at ease and focused when I’m at the gym, not trapped and on display. It shouldn’t be a competition.

    I prefer outdoor exercise, but my schedule doesn’t allow it very often. The gym is convenient, yet less than par. I just want to get my body back into shape and feel my very best. If only others could see the same of one another.

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