Hitting the Gym
Here in Chicago, the weather has been uncharacteristically warm the last few days and, frankly, anything above omg-I-can’t-feel-my-toes is a step up. But for me, the wrapping up of winter (pun intended) sparks the beginning of the bathing-suit fear that lies dormant during winter. Every year, this inevitably lights a fire under me to get my butt to the gym. I tend to be a fairly active person; I have periods of time when I am really good at getting to the gym and times when I’m not, pretty typical for a grad student I’d think. But in the last year, I have wanted to spend less time on the elliptical and calorie-counting and focus more on increasing my strength. I was always under the false impression that weight training would lead to “bulking up,” which my brain immediately saw as unattractive and unappealing. But the more research I have done about what are the best ways to have a strong and healthy body, the more I have learned about the differences in hormones between biological males and females and that strength training is an excellent way to… well… build strength. So with this new philosophy and outlook on taking charge of my body, I head to the gym! It’s not until I get there that I am overcome with this debilitating self-consciousness once I realize that I am about to walk into what feels like the “man’s area.” I am immediately conscious of what I am wearing and what my hair and body look like and feel embarrassed, stupid, and like I don’t belong there. In spite of this, I do my sets, ever-aware of how small the weights are that I put on the end of my barbell, as compared to the guys’ next to me. I do my workouts, push myself hard, keep my ear buds tight in my ear, and avoid eye contact at all costs. Every so often I see another woman there on her own, sweating her heart out and showing no fear, and I envy her radiating confidence. I work hard too, and want so much to keep increasing those weights on my barbells, but I can’t help but find that the weight area of the gym is the place that I find myself the most self-conscious, objectified, and aware of my status as a woman these days. I suppose that makes me fortunate that I don’t have to be in this state of mind constantly, that I surround myself with people and communities where I am able to feel safe, but because of this when it does happen it is all the more salient for me. I think about this dilemma throughout each of my workouts and I wonder how and if it has an impact on other women; in a space in which we should feel empowered, I feel at my most vulnerable and insecure. I want so badly to feel the strength I am enhancing in my body and focus on the muscles I am building and not on the fact that because I am strengthening my body, it feels even more on display for others. How can we overcome this? How can we not allow the time we spend focusing on strengthening ourselves still only focus on our bodies? Is there a way we can be present in male-dominated spaces without allowing it to be distracting from the goals at hand? Do you all have similar experiences?
-Written by Haran M. King, M.A.