All year long, one of the instructors at my gym uses threats of summer to scare his students into hefting the hand weights higher and squatting the butts lower. While I understand he means this to be encouraging, it actually makes me feel like launching my hand weights towards his head. (Ok, so exercise brings out a bit of aggressiveness in me). I do not exercise due to a change in seasons, nor am I at the gym to fit into a bikini or any other forms of fashion associated with torture of the female form. I am there because exercise makes me feel good, sleep better, and release tension. Yet, when said gym instructor starts making anti-fat comments, the tension relief aspect goes out the door.
I wonder how the older women in the room feel when he talks about needing to fight the ageing process, that we don’t want “triceps that jiggle and wave.” And, when he makes comments that we have to “get rid of that fat” I wonder how all the different sized bodies in the room react. There is one regular who appears to be anorexic. If she is actually suffering from anorexia, his comments likely only heighten her belief she is still ‘too fat.’ There are a number of other regulars of all different shapes and sizes, some of whom our thin obsessed culture would deem ‘fat.’ There are, however, no beautifully fat people – no one who would fit into the medicalized term ‘morbidly obese.’ Is this because fat people don’t exercise? Of course not! It is because fat people are not made to feel welcome at (most) gyms.
Of course, gym culture is hardly a body-loving environment. Rather, gyms tend to be like pick up joints on steroids where younger and younger, thinner and thinner females and pumped males primp and prance amongst weights and Stairmasters. I hate this aspect of the gym, and I hate the comments made by the appearance-obsessed instructor mentioned above. But, I like exercising, and his weight lifting class, minus his commentary, is excellent. I have considered trying to talk with him about how his problematic comments, but he seems so indoctrinated into the idea that only thin and muscular equals healthy that I don’t think I would get very far. (I did however convince him to stop playing “Super soak that ho'” during our workout. He was shocked when I told him the meaning of this song. He, and way too many others, apparently never think about what such lyrics mean.)
Anyhow, I like exercising. I like the fact it helps relieve stress which translates into better sleep. I like the fact it gives me more overall energy. I like that it makes me feel healthy and strong. But, for the most part, I hate gyms. They are like sweaty hormone dens oozing with one of the worst traits of humanity–vanity. They are seething with testosterone (yes, women have it too) and excessive muscle-to-fat-ratio consciousness. They prey on the body insecurities of the young (my gym allows 12 year olds to join but I swear I saw a girl who looked about 9 on an elliptical machine the other day). They don’t promote fitness, health, and strength so much as diet, extreme exercise regimens, and muscle obsession. As of yet, I have not found a HAES (health at any size) conscious gym to join in my area.
Until I do, as I am a creature prone to lazing on the couch reading or slouching at the computer writing, I need task-masters like the above mentioned instructor to goad me into a good workout. If only they could do so without using summer as a stick or suggesting the natural variety of the human form is an enemy to be killed via crunches and squats though! If only gyms could take the advice offered at Mouthfeel and make the paradigm shift to an HAES mentality.
And, if only the bikini could stop being dangled like some sort of gold medal women are supposed to kill themselves to wear. Heck, why would I want to wear a garment named after a nuclear test weapon site, the island of Bikini Atoll? Supposedly the name came from the idea that this fashion would cause explosive excitement in the viewer-yeah, you got it, bikinis are the ultimate objectification fashion and celebration of the nuclear age all in one. Not to mention the fact that the over 20 nuclear tests on the island made it uninhabitable and were accompanied by secret medical experiments on the island’s indigenous population to study the effects of radiation on human beings. So, yes, I get the intent behind Marina Wolf Ahmad’s post “28 Days to a Bikini Mind,” but I think in addition to learning to love our bodies, we should be aware of the history behind the bikini-it is not merely a bathing suit, but a fashion intended to exploit the female body that was named after the exploitation of indigenous people and the planet in the name of “progress.” Take that stick and use it to prod anyone who suggests your bod, in all its glory, is not ready for summer (or anything else for that matter!)