Friday, October 23, 2015

The importance of a female-friendly gym

That awesome moment when you squat 390lbs as a girl, and
everyone is happy and proud instead of feeling threatened or resentful.
(Photo credit: Bobby Menbari of Tabata Times)
I've waxed ecstatic about my gym, Anchored Strength & Conditioning, before, and as you could probably tell from my lifting videos, things are going really well for me on that front. I've found a place where I belong and I've found a sport that I can excel at.

This isn't everyone's story. At least, this is not every woman's story. I've read more than my fair share of comments and blogs from women who get bothered (at best) and harassed (at worst) when they go to the gym. And that sucks, for many reasons. Women are expected to be attractive and sexy, which includes being fit and thin, so that often necessitates going to the gym. And while they're AT the gym, working hard and trying to achieve their goals, they also get treated like objects and eye candy. Or, if they're not considered attractive and sexy, they are objects of ridicule. Or, they're told that they're going to be get "too big" and look "like a man."

Do we not deserve a place to be ourselves, a place where we can shut out other people's opinions of us? A place where we can let OUT all the toxicity we've been taking in, instead of being forced to take in more?

This is why I'm so lucky to have my gym.

Just because a gym lets women through the door, it doesn't necessarily mean it's female-friendly. I mean, let's face it, money is money, right? Of course they're going to let you in. But that doesn't mean that women are always welcomed in the weight room as equal participants.

So what does it mean to be a female-friendly gym? I'll tell you what it looks like to me, based on my experiences at Anchored:

It means that weight loss is a goal only if you want it to be, for your own reasons. (So no one's pushing you to shed pounds in order to get hot.) And that weight loss advice is grounded in common sense and safe activities for your body and fitness level. It means that you receive workout advice based on what you can do, right now, with the body you've got, being celebrated for what you can do, and not derided for what you can't do.

It means that no one, male or female, is warning you against "getting too big" or "manly," and in fact, being told that that's a myth anyway. And it doesn't actually matter how "big" you are - people care more about how you're doing rather than how you look.

Along those same lines, it means seeing a variety of body types, and all those people look content and focused, which tells me that they're all getting equal amounts of attention from coaches and encouragement from everyone. It means that one body type isn't being privileged over another, and that no one is being left behind, no matter their body type or gender or age or whatever.

It means that the men are supportive and encouraging of the women, rather than being resentful, intimidated, condescending, or just plain objectifying. And it means that the women are supportive and encouraging of each other, instead of seeing each other as competition. It means that we can all learn from each other, admire each other, and respect each other.

And again, I'm really lucky that I've found a place like this for myself. This isn't something you can necessarily engineer, especially at a commercial gym (which Anchored is not, and I know that makes a difference). It depends so much on who's in charge, the staff and clients they choose to take on, and the atmosphere they create through their expectations. And you know what? It depends on the example set by the trainers and coaches too. Just like how kids in a classroom are absorbing behavioral cues from their teacher, I think that we as clients are watching our trainers and coaches as well, and the way they behave sets the tone for everything else. So when your coaches are constantly like, "We have such strong girls at this gym!" and "The women are what make this gym!", it means something. When your coaches do not use shame or humiliation as motivation tactics, it means something. When your male coaches are not threatened by strong women, it means something.

Why does it matter? Because it's hard enough to be a fat girl walking into a gym. Actually, it's hard enough being a fat girl, period. Being a lesser-privileged gender and body type (and race, for that matter) means constantly being at the edge of your comfort zone for various intersectional reasons, and existing like that day-to-day is hard enough, period.

And so, in addition, walking into a gym to exercise pushes you even more out of your comfort zone. Because contrary to what the magazines tell you, fitness isn't pretty. The glossy professional photos make people look really awesome, but if you've ever watched someone run, lift, swim, etc. in real life, it's not a "pretty" sight: you're sweaty and red, and maybe your hair's plastered to your forehead, or your face contorts, or you smell bad. Being unpretty (translation: making yourself vulnerable) out in public is a legitimate concern for a lot of people, especially people who are already heavily scrutinized for how they look, so yes, it does take you out of your comfort zone.

Finding a place to work out where you feel comfortable, respected, valued, and even loved? It's priceless.

So here's to all the truly female-friendly gyms, trainers, and coaches out there. Please keep up the awesome work. Please keep treating your women well, in addition to your men, because we all deserve a place to go where we can feel safe and empowered and strong.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for putting this into words...I feel it at my gym, but I am pretty sure I could not have articulated it.

    ReplyDelete

Before you comment, please note: respect and patience go a long way.