The stigma surrounding gyms

The stigma surrounding gyms

The stigma surrounding gyms

Maggie Rugolo

Why do people go to the gym? At the University, we are lucky enough to have access to the Davis Center as well as smaller, and more convenient gyms scattered around campus. So, students take advantage of them. . . and are questioned. Why they are going to the gym? What are your intentions? Are you trying to get big, bulk up? Lose some weight? When you announce to your friends as you are running out the door, it is rarely a simple thing. Why is this? Because going to the gym has developed a stigma around it. 

This stigma exists because to announce to friends that you are going to the gym is to admit that you care about your appearance, and for some reason in today’s social culture, that can appear shallow. Of course, most people care about how they look. If you were walking around with a hunk of lettuce in your front teeth, you would want to know. It is just the way human beings are. Lately, there has been a push against being aware of your appearance. There are makeup tutorials online about how to spend three hours putting enough makeup on to make it look like you don’t wear makeup. There is such a push to make everything seem natural, as if admitting that you try to look and feel good is admitting to being vain. The same stigma exists with the gym. 

For both men and women, going to the gym automatically brings up your intentions. There is the habit, that when you say “I’m going to run to the gym” people feel that gives them the permission to give you a quick once over. It’s as if you saying “I go to the gym and care about my health,” is an invitation for someone to comment on your physical well-being and weight.Then, they comment. “Oh, you don’t need to go to the gym, you’re fine” Or for women, they caution you, “What, are you trying to get big?” Your intentions are automatically put into question. And it is not malicious, or even noticed most of the time. It has become a part of our society. Going to the gym means that you must care about your appearance. That there is something about your physique that you want to change. Not that you are being healthy. 

When you are woman, you want to cut weight. But lifting weights at the gym, that risks a person’s getting too big. Or signing up for exercise classes is implying that those are wimpy workouts, that they are the Main Line-approved mom workouts. For men, going to the gym means you want to get big. To bulk up. People are judged by the way that they chose to remain healthy. 

Going to the gym is not a suitable topic of conversation because when you are talking to someone who chooses not to go to the gym, it becomes as though you are telling him or her that his or her choice is wrong. As though you are judging them. Once at the actual gym, there is a clear gender divide. The treadmills are common ground. However, there are very few men on the elliptical. In the back of the room, near the free weights are the guys, cheering each other on as they lift bars top-heavy with weights. 

It is rare that a woman ventures over to the weight machines and free-weight section of the gym. This is because women are warned that doing weights can make them look big. And to look big is to appear manly. And to be big and care about increasing your strength is to be less of a woman. Why is that? Why has the gym become a gender based social system? 

It goes both ways. When a man is asked to do yoga or Pilates, his manhood is questioned. It’s as though yoga is a soft sport. He is said to be girly. But why?

When did there become so many rules around going to the gym? When did specific outfits for the gym become the acceptable choice and machines were distinguished by the gender of the people who use them. 

In reality, many work out to increase their mental health. Going to the gym is a routine and a break from sitting at a desk and studying all day. Being active, in whatever form, is good for your health. People go to the gym to escape. To escape whatever is bothering them or make themselves feel stronger when their grades and homework are cutting them down and making them feel small. It is a way to get over small colds and wake up or to get the endorphins flowing and feel happier. It is a way to get stronger, to protect the body against injury or potential sicknesses. Going to the gym can be a social thing, a ritual you have with friends that allows for healthy activities. After all, gyms are really about improving our health, wither mental or physical, in whatever way works best for us.