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.