I used to have a love-hate relationship with exercise (the Pacer test still gives me nightmares), but now exercise and I are on much better terms. I work out the way I want to, doing the exercises I like, making friends in fitness classes, and trying to enjoy the process, not just the end result.
By this point, I’ve realized that I’m never going to look like a Victoria’s Secret model–and that’s perfectly okay. I’d much rather be a Renaissance art muse who could have caught the eye of Rafael or Michelangelo.
But amidst all these things that teach me love and confidence, sometimes doubt and a little bit of fear still creep in, especially in the weight room.
As women, have you heard someone say that women who are muscular are not sexy, too intimidating, or manly? Or women who are bigger should lay off the fries or hit the treadmill? Or do you see the trend of yoga then Saturday brunch for women, but not powerlifting on a Friday night?
Let’s cut to the chase: women are expected to be fit but not overly muscular. Big boobs and butt, but skinny waist. Strong, but not stronger then men. You know the drill. You know the images, we’re all pretty familiar.
At first, I felt pretty powerful walking into the weight room at my gym, music blasting, adrenaline pumping, and ready to burn some calories even if I was using 5-10 pound weights while the dudebros around me used 40 or 50.
But after a time, I started noticing stories by other women who had felt unsafe in their gyms. One woman recounted an older man who kept trying to make conversation her while she had her headphones in. Another shared tips for what to do when you receive unwanted attention, like loudly asking, “do you need to use this machine?”
In the rabbit hole, I also found an article from an alt-right magazine complaining about women monopolizing machines at the weight room, and saying women should just use ellipticals or treadmills if they want to get fit and stay out of the “men’s area.”
Sometimes these stories made me concerned or even scared, but sometimes I shrugged them off and thought “I’m going to do what I want and if that makes a misogynist uncomfortable, then good.”
As I toned my body and started to notice its new cuts, curves, and muscles, I grew more confident than I ever had before. I thought why not wear cute leggings and sports bras that made me feel fit and cute? Why hide behind baggy t shirts and sweatpants? I enjoy fashion, so why not be fashionable at the gym?
But then I started to notice other women at the gym. Maybe it was my own insecurity, but I didn’t see a lot of other women who seemed to have the same body type as me–they all looked thin and fit, willowy, less curvy, with less “stomach” area than I seemed to have. If there were a lot of women at the gym, I noticed the majority of them in my workout classes, on the ellipticals upstairs or at the treadmills downstairs. The weights, exercise balls, and machines were mostly occupied by men.
I also started to notice what they were wearing, and I saw only a handful of women in sports bras. There were plenty of tank tops, t shirts, leggings, capris, sweats, in plenty of cute and efficient combinations, but…it somehow felt like I was flaunting, and if I was, then I had no right to be if I wasn’t as skinny as everyone else. Was I being reckless for showing too much skin? Would I warrant leering eyes or an unwelcome pickup line? Were my actions unsafe?
At one point on a busy Tuesday night, I stood in the weight room again in my Victoria’s Secret Sports bra and Lululemon leggings, no longer empathizing with my workout playlist thrumming in my ears. I embarrassingly had to ask someone how to work a machine that I hadn’t used before, and I felt stupid. I felt like Elle Woods singled out on her first day at Harvard. I felt out of place as a woman among guys, and as a curvy woman among skinny people.
It’s one thing to feel different or uncomfortable, but more extreme to feel unsafe. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was…asking for trouble.
But that’s where I have to draw the line with my thinking, this is the part where I end my spiral and say “Enough.” I love exercising at the gym. I like the stretching, I like getting acquainted with heavier and heavier weights, I like being able to catch my breath before pushing my body to its daily limit. I like feeling a little competitive with all these buff men. I also like putting together my workout clothes, I like wearing things that make me feel fit, comfortable, and confident, I like pushing my own boundaries of comfort so I can grow.
And I find that I love being a contradiction. I love lifting weights and strengthening my body…even if I’m not the strongest in the room. I love wearing trendy workout gear…even if I don’t look like the models that market them. And I really really love the feeling like I’m pushing back against the stigmas that hold me, and other women, back. Even if it’s in the most miniscule way.
That right there is the reason that I put on my workout gear, my pink headband, arm band, and wear my confidence on my sleeve, and keep doing what I love.
And I love being the girliest girl in the weight room.
About the Guest Contributor
My name is Kat, wearer of large headphones, teller of stories, and listener of good music that nobody knows. I’m also the face behind the blog Indierella. I’ve profiled and interviewed artists for babe, 20some, and Odyssey in New York City and London, partied at Warped Tour, seen some great shows, met some cool people, and learned that confidence has to come from within—though a good song and winged eyeliner help from the outside as well.
I am really passionate about elevating bands and brands with interesting content and unique styles, especially the ones that not everyone knows about but the ones that need to be heard. I also want to share my stories as well, because life is best lived as creatively as possible. You can say I’m an aspiring renaissance woman.
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