Monday, March 14, 2011

Political Bodies and Gyms

Don't you hate it when you just want to work out, but some asshat has to go and make it about body politics?

I'm a PhD candidate at a big university that happens to have a really nice gym.* I am also newly allowed to work out after having broken my ankle last fall. A few days ago, a friend and I decided to celebrate that with a nice, slow workout, only to find out that our gym was closed. So, being the resourceful laydeez we are, we called another gym in town to see if they'd let us come work out for a day. I thought we'd have to pay $10 or something, but instead, we had to listen to a Grade A body fascist ramble on about everything we're doing wrong in our lives. Trust me, I would rather have paid money. This isn't the first time I've encountered this kind of insanity from gym employees, so I have compiled a handy list based on my experiences. Please, gym employees, keep these things in mind and we will get along just fine:

1. This is the most important item. Do not assume that, because someone is entering a gym, she wants to lose weight. Here's a news flash: I could not be less interested in losing weight. I would not lose weight intentionally if you paid me.** So not only should you not be making these assumptions about me, but you should not be making them about anyone of any size or gender. And! Another thing! After I tell you that I'm not interested in learning how to burn fat, and you stare at me blankly, that makes me think you don't know what else to tell me, because that is all you've ever learned about exercise. Ask any girl on my derby team and she'll have more information about fitness than that.

2. Don't assume that because I'm a girl and I'm not shredded to pieces that I don't know what I'm doing. I do, in fact, know what works for me in the gym. Your "get to exhaustion on the first set!!!" routine doesn't fly with me. I have an injury. So get out of my face about it, mmmkay?

3. An atmosphere of judgment is very problematic, because it is
a) counterproductive - people do not want to lift weights if they think they are being judged, and you seem to be an evangelist for weight lifting;
b) mean - why are you looking for a reason to think negatively about people you don't know?;
c) a waste of your time - because I don't give a fuck what you think about me.

4. My workout is my workout. It is not your workout. What I do does not affect the size of your ass, okay? So get over yourself. I push myself really hard, as it happens, because I am competitive and I want to be in the best possible shape when I get back to skating. I am also recovering from a broken ankle. But if you look at me and decide on sight that you know what's best, you could [try to] talk me into doing something I shouldn't do. I say "try to," because: good luck to anyone who tries to get me to do something I don't want to do.

5. To reiterate: While our stupid culture of dieting tells us that we should all be trying to get into the next size down at Macy's, that isn't why many people go to the gym. I go because I like it. It relaxes me, and makes me feel more confident on my skates. I emphatically do not go to the gym because I want to look better. I think I look fine, even after not working out for four months because of this ankle injury. So don't make any assumptions about what I want or point out the areas of my body that "need work." That'll earn you a talk with your manager after I spend half an hour bitching about you and your hideous behavior.

* I know that gyms aren't for everyone. I don't really care how or whether anyone else is exercising. You do whatever makes you happy. This is not a rant designed to encourage anyone else to go to the gym, which I hope is clear, because I spend the entire time talking about the ways gyms can suck.

** I will admit to coming from a place of thin privilege here. I'm no stick figure, but I'm not fat either. I am not saying this to defend my "I don't want to lose weight" comment. I'm saying it to acknowledge that I might be treated differently based on my size. I consider myself a strong ally of the fat acceptance movement.


  1. I don't go to the gym, for some of the reasons you mentioned. I'd like to, but I just feel awkward about it. There are two primary reasons: the judgment and the mirrors. When I was still teaching, I went to Curves for a few months and loved it. The women were of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and it was a welcoming, friendly environment. No one there went on about weight or whatever. I never heard any kind of schpiel like you mentioned--which made it a nice environment.

    Once, I went to the gym that was at my apartment complex. This was about 7 years ago and my first trip to the gym, ever. Everything faced this massive wall of mirrors. I don't generally have an issue with mirrors--in bathrooms, in bedrooms, in hallways as decoration. But, there are a few things I really don't want to see myself do in the mirror, and exercising is one of them. If I did go to a gym, it wouldn't be to see myself working out. It would be for the energized feeling I get after working out.

    Our society sure does a great job of making people feel like shit for not having a perfect physique. For a society that *claims* to be so concerned about its people's health and obesity, it seems pretty counterintuitive for gyms to be so intimidating.

  2. I hate going to the gym, also not because I hate working out, that I actually thoroughly enjoy, but because the judgment is ridiculous. I joined a gym when I first moved to Gainesville and was only working and had no friends yet, so I was there twice a day for 45 minutes to an hour both times. I had another flare up of my Epstein-Barr, so clearly, I stopped going. When I went in to see if it would be possible to cancel my membership they were not only not willing to work with me, but also told me I should be working out anyways. WHAT? I certainly hope they never get this virus, because they will either destroy their body trying to do things it can't at that time, or make themselves crazy thinking they should still be working out, when it's not possible. This is also when I do have access to a 24 hour gym I end up going at stupid times like 2am, noone is there to bother me!

  3. I'm really sorry you've both gone through that. It's really gross. I know the mirrors at the gym are so people can watch their form. Personally, I don't really mind the mirrors anymore, but I've long thought that perhaps there should be a mirror-less area with weights. Also, scales could stand to be less prominent in a lot of gyms. I haven't seen one at the student gym here (but then, I'm not looking). At my old gym, you couldn't get in or out without pretty much tripping over it. I don't have a problem with their existence, just their prominence.

  4. Luckily, there is some head-way being made in this area of not wanting to feel judged when you go to a gym. I don't know if any of you know this but there is a fairly new branch of gyms coming out called Planet Fitness. Their main advertising focuses on offerring "A No Judgement Zone." A quote from their website "our Judgement Free Zone® philosophy, which means members can relax, get in shape, and have fun without being subjected to the hard-core, look-at-me attitude that exists in too many gyms." I like that unlike most gyms they don't cater to bodybuilders. They actually have an alarm that goes off if people grunt, drop their weights on the ground, do bodybuilding, and/or olympic lifts. I think this is amazing. I hate going to the gym and seeing and hearing these massive guys walking around grunting, slamming their weights down, and just being overtly annoying. I hope this mentatility starts to move through the gym communities but if not, at least their is one avenue out there for those who don't enjoy being talked about as fat, out of shape, or any other type of demeaning opinions that happen in gyms.