I go to the gym and it makes me feel good. There, I said it. That feels so good to get off of my chest. I know that it seems quite weird that this was so difficult for me to say—thousands of people go to the gym and enjoy themselves there all the time; it’s becoming more and more prevalent in contemporary society.
Well, it all comes down to the culture of the gym—or, more specifically, the “lad” culture that often permeates it.
When I was younger, I always took issue with organized sports and competitions. I was never a particularly sporty kid; I much preferred sitting inside playing video games and chatting on instant messenger services (big up, MSN!), so the idea of having to compete with other people physically made me quite uncomfortable.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy going out and playing with my friends. It was just that when things got a little more competitive I tended to shy away. This has held true right up to the present day, at my ripe old age of 25 years young. Except now I’ve begun going to the gym, sticking to a more controlled diet, and trying to improve my general confidence.
But I don’t tell many people that I go, and even from the people who know I still hide the fact that I go as frequently as I do. I’m just constantly afraid of misrepresentation and misunderstanding. I am petrified of being associated with the toxic masculine attitudes so often attributed to gym culture, and it almost makes me ashamed to admit that I’m taking my relationship with food and the gym seriously. I’ve struggled a lot with eating in the past, and I’ve finally reached the point of feeling comfortable with my diet—all thanks to gym culture. Yet I’m still scared to be associated with its most glaring connotations.
By shying away from these things, I understand that I’m perpetuating the “gym lad” stereotype, but it’s difficult for me to disassociate. I am ashamed to admit I have “leg days”, and I worry when I tell people that I’m on a diet or don’t want a second slice of cake.
Essentially, it comes down to toxic hypermasculinity—elements of competition, intimidation, brashness and dominance. These things aren’t wholly absent from my experiences: there have been countless times that I’ve been working out on my own only to have a much larger gentleman sit next to me, pick up the next weight up from mine and pointedly use it, staring at me intensely. But I don’t go to the gym to be intimidated, nor do I go to intimidate others or attempt to display dominance; I go to better myself and enjoy my exercise. It makes me feel great to see my strength increasing, my work-outs improving and my diet becoming increasingly delicious and nutritious. So why should I be ashamed?
I guess the obvious answer is: “You shouldn’t.” And sure, I know that, but my mind still whirrs with worry. Perhaps there will be a time when men in the gym won’t perpetuate these ideals—or maybe I just need to stop worrying about what other people think and do what makes me happy.
I think I’m going to go with the latter.