Why the gym is a scary place [Part 1]

This is the story of how I joined a gym.  Then quit.  Then joined another one. And then quit. And then… well you get the picture. 

I’m warning you now that I am going to rant a bit in places, and this has the potential to cause offence. This post is also long enough that I have had to write it in two parts, so you will have to wait with baited breath to find out how it all ends.

Let me start by making something very clear.  I have a gym membership.  Before lockdown, I was going to the gym a minimum of three times a week, and I am genuinely looking forward to the day it re-opens.  But I still maintain that gyms are scary places for fat people.  And this is why. 

Choosing the right gym

First off, you have to choose the right one.   Do you opt for your local leisure centre with its run-down changing facilities, lockers that don’t work and showers that smell of sweaty feet? Or do you splash out and go for the private gym with the fancy equipment and classes entitled bootcamp and origin blast?

[Seriously, what happened to good old-fashioned legs, bums and tums?]

Do you choose the gym that’s within walking distance from your home?  Because in my neighbourhood, hardcore gym enthusiasts walk to their gym, workout for an hour and a half, and then walk home.  It’s impressive but I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes.

Alternatively, do you chose one with a decent sized car park?  Because let’s face it, you’re going to be in too much pain once you’ve finished working out to even contemplate walking home.  Especially if it’s dark.  Or raining.  Which it will be for 9 months out of the year.

Scary at first sight

See? Even choosing a gym is hard.  But let’s say you manage it.  Let’s say you make a decision and you decide to commit.  The moment you step inside, you already start to feel totally out of your element.

For starters, gyms are often filled with flawless women in the latest Under Armour workout fashion that leaves literally nothing to the imagination.  They manage to look perfect, even when they’re sweaty and gross.  

You know the kind I’m talking about.  They have perfect hair that is tied up in a simple ponytail, and yet there isn’t a single strand out of place. How is this possible by the way? They have just spent 20 minutes running on a treadmill. Why hasn’t their hair gone frizzy and started sticking out all over the place like mine does before I even got there?

And why do their cheeks merely glow and sparkle whereas mine look like I’ve got second degree sunburn five minutes into my warm up? Seriously who are these people? How do they manage to work out side-by-side and talk to each other without seeming remotely out of breath?

They are perfect specimens of female beauty, which reminds me that I am a slob in a pair of Primark leggings and an oversized superhero t-shirt that I borrowed from my husband.  A t-shirt that is nowhere near as loose on me as it ought to be. Hence why I decided to join the gym in the first place.

Other people shouldn’t matter but they do

Now I know what you’re going to say.  It shouldn’t matter what other people look like.  I’m there for myself not for anyone else.  Blah blah blah.  And you’re right.  In theory. 

But in reality, the moment I step into a gym for the first time, I am aware that these are not my people. I don’t fit in here. I’m an oddity. A fat person in a room full of exercise equipment.

Which is stupid really. Because gyms should be full of fat people. After all, we’re the ones who need to be there the most. But it’s hard when all the pictures you ever see of people exercising look like this:

Instead of this:

Photo by Retha Ferguson 

Before anyone can accuse me of being sexist, the same thing applies to the men too.  I’m pretty sure that every man that goes to my local gym thinks they’re god’s gift to women. Newsflash. They are not.

Perhaps if they spent a little less time looking at themselves in the mirror whilst doing bicep curls, they might be.  What am I saying? They’d still be too busy peacocking around to try.

Should I join a gym?

But we’re not here to talk about them. We’re here to talk about me. I am fat and I need to lose some weight so I need to join a gym, right?

Or do I?  There are plenty of ways to exercise for free.  Gyms are businesses first and foremost, so their number one priority is profit.  The fitness industry is worth a lot of money.  The majority of that money comes from convincing people that they are not good enough and the only way to fix that is to join this or buy that.

Just look at the way gyms advertise themselves.  It takes a lot of work to develop the kind of body that you see on the posters and banners that adorn their walls.  Chances are that yours does not look like that, even if you have a normal BMI.  But the message is simple: join a gym, and you could have.

Photo by Pikx By Panther 

So like every other sucker out there, I find myself forking out a large sum of money for the privilege.  Which sucks because not only am I forcing myself to do something I know from experience I am going to hate doing, I’m also paying a substantial amount of money each month for the privilege.

Sometimes I think it would be easier I just hired someone to slap me in the face every time I reach for a Kit Kat or a tub of Ben and Jerrys. It would probably be more cost effective and substantially less painful too.

Starting off on the wrong foot

But that’s not all. Once you’ve signed up, you’ve got to fill in the obligatory questionnaire.  This is another thing that really puts me off. I feel like I’m taking a test that I am destined to fail. 

I’m usually sat on a rather uncomfortable stool that was clearly designed for taller less rotund people, trying to decide whether to lie or tell the truth.

If I lie, I won’t feel so ashamed when I finally hand over my form to the annoyingly perky woman at the counter who is clearly high on a combination of whey powder, vitamin supplements and all those endorphins your body is supposed to release when you exercise.

But lying is risky.  Not only will it be obvious from the moment I get going, but I could put myself at risk of an injury.  So I opt for the truth and hope for the best.  It usually goes a little something like this…

How much exercise do you currently undertake a week?

Hmmmm, let’s see. What’s another word for zero? No wait, I can’t write that. That’s an instant fail. They can never know that up until recently, my version of stretching involved reaching the top shelf of the cupboard to grab the large packet of Tyrells in the corner. 

[That’s actually a lot harder than it sounds when you’re only 5ft2.]

OK, I walk sometimes. So what if it is a 15 minute leisurely stroll into the town centre when I’m too cheap to spend money on the car park? Theoretically that counts as exercise so I put that down.

The next question about my diet has me equally as flummoxed. What am I supposed to say? I mean, look at me dude. You figure it out.

Photo by mentatdgt

The final question is usually something along the lines of what do you hope to get out of your gym membership? And that’s the trickiest question of all. Because the answer is that I want to find a way to magically get thin and toned with flawless hair and perfect skin like all the other women in here so that I no longer hate myself quite so much.

But I’m not sure that my future gym instructor needs to hear this.

So I write get fit and healthy first and then lose weight underneath. Which is blatantly a lie, even though I promised myself that I would tell the truth.  Because that’s the root of the problem, when you think about it.  Exercise should be about getting healthy, improving your mood, and feeling strong.

But until recently, exercise was simply the vehicle that I hoped would get me to my final destination.  Thinness. Beauty.  Acceptance. A place where I would no longer feel disgusting or guilty or ashamed.

Like I said at the beginning, I have joined gyms and quit gyms more time than I care to remember.  But each and every time, I did it for the wrong reasons.  Until all that changed. 

[to be continued]

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