I saw this article this morning that said 65% of women avoid going to the gym for fear of being judged. The article went on to explain the myriad reasons women avoid the gym, everything from not looking fit enough to worrying about the clothes they wear to not knowing how to use the equipment to being sexually harassed. While I see the need for having this research, I also can’t help but think, “Duh! This isn’t groundbreaking!”
A YouTube search of the term, “women gym fails” turns up a million and a half results — a million and a half! That’s about 400,000 more results that when you search “men gym fails”. With results like that, it’s no wonder women don’t want to go to the gym — what if you’re not perfectly physically fit and wear clothes that are unflattering and do an exercise wrong or have a mishap with a machine? Hopefully someone helps you if you need help, but it’s more likely that at best, people will laugh at you silently, or at worst, get it on video and upload it to YouTube so now there are 1 million and a half plus one “women gym fails” videos.
Or maybe you end up in a Dani Mathers-esque situation. While this isn’t the norm, it only takes one story like this to scare plenty of women away from the gym.
Even a seasoned gym rat like me gets intimidated. I fret over what to wear to work out. Hell, I am stepping way out of my comfort zone tonight and taking a boxing fitness class (with a friend because of my high level on insecurity) and one of the first questions I asked her (a cute, skinny girl) is what she is going to wear. She said just workout capris and a t-shirt. This is what I was planning to wear, too, but silently I am worrying about what shirt to wear to make sure my chubby butt and belly are covered the whole time. I worry about some other woman saying to her friend, “Did you see that chick in those green capris? She needs to cover that gut up!”
I tend to stick to the running track, bikes, treadmills, rowing, and ellipticals at my gym because those are the things I know. I used to go to some of the machines, but my gym recently remodeled and they added some new equipment and rearranged it. Now I don’t know all the machines or the layout anymore so I don;t use them. I feel too self-conscious to walk around and look at everything and figure it out. I can’t ask a trainer because I go at 5 or 5:30 in the morning and there isn’t one there. So I skip the machines.
My foray into the rowing machine is a good example of how I got the nerve to try a new machine. I would be on the running track and every time I came around and passed the rowing machine, I would see someone on it and I would make a mental note of what the person was doing in the 10 seconds I had as I jogged past. After literally months of doing this, one day, when the gym was very uncrowded, I decided to go try it out. I was terrified of not doing it the right way and someone seeing me and I;d end up a story that someone told later that day.
Sometimes I will go over to the side of the gym where there are hand weights and a bench, but I won’t go there if someone else is over in that part of the gym. I don’t want to do something wrong or look like a weakling using a 5 pound hand weight when someone else is using some big, heavy weight doing the same thing I am doing.
I know I should simply not give a crap, but like so many other women, that is easier said than done. I work in a school district where we are working hard to implement a culture of learning that sends the message of the importance of having a growth mindset and to fail forward. But when you live in a society that loves to show people at their worst and make entertainment at it, going to the gym as a woman who doesn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret Angel who knows how to do all the prefect exercises can be an incredibly intimidating thing.