What if “summer is here” wasn’t used as a stick to beat us into bodily submission?

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!)

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9 thoughts on “What if “summer is here” wasn’t used as a stick to beat us into bodily submission?”

  1. Great post, and so very true. I stopped going to the cycling classes at my gym where instructors focused more on “how many calories were burned” and “working off that piece of cake you ate today” than challenging yourself and your body.

    I actually got into a conversation once with an instructor about her weightist attitude not necessarily being the most supportive and condusive to body-esteem. She laughed at me and said more women are motivated by the idea that working out will decrease the chance that they’ll get fat. She said women work out to look good. I stopped going to her class. As much as i tried to explain that not all women work out to “look good” but many work out to “feel good” she just didn’t agree. I also tried to explain what “looking good” meant – how it was socially constructed, fitting an unattainable standard of beauty, yada yada yada… she heard none of it. So i found another gym, and another spin class, and an instructor who values challenging our bodies to see how far we can push them, not how many calories we’ll burn or pieces of cake we’ll “work off.”

  2. Hey Feminist Gal,

    Glad you liked the post!

    Thanks for sharing your gym story. I’m glad to hear you found another gym with a body positive instructor. Wish I could find one of those!

    Today I walked by the all women’s gym I used to belong to (it was no better than my current gym in the body postive area — in fact, it was worse).

    Today, on the window out front was a life-size poster detailing how two women’s lives have been changed by losing 45 pounds in 12 weeks with the requisite before and after photos. The really disturbing thing was that the women were already on the very skinny side in the before pictures. In the after, they look anorexic.

    Very disturbing when an anorexic appearing body is displayed as wonderfully life-chaning outside a gym that claims to be ‘for women.’

  3. great post! this is exactly why i stopped going to “gyms” and opted for bellydancing/pilates/yoga classes in studio with 10-15 other women. i prefer the camaraderie and support of other women (who vary in body shapes as well)….

  4. I had no idea of the history of the bikini. I do agree with you that the bikini is often presented to women as a reward for having the “right” kind of body. It is demeaning in that it means that they are now approved to prance around for the male gaze.

  5. Renee,
    Yes, the history of the bikini is telling. What if they put this history on the tags — something like “you are purchasing a garment that celebrates nuclear testing, human experimentation, and female objectification.” Ha!

  6. but what about teh menz? don’t they have the “right” to look at women in skimpy clothing?

    isn’t feminism about the “right” to choose what you want to wear? (a discussion i’ve had many times with other women)

    *sarcasm*

    because y’all know that would be at least one of the responses from the masses if this were actually done!

  7. Excellent post! Our citizenry (especialy female citizenry) are too often beaten over the head with messages that do nothing but make us miserable. Perhaps you ought to refer your shallow gym instructor to this article sometime…

  8. DiosaNegra,
    Thanks for your sarcasm. It is one of my favorite forms of nourishment(next to chocolate). I love satire too — but not of the New Yorker variety as of late!

    Jason,
    Thanks! Glad you liked the post. Maybe I could have Mr. Summer Is Almost Here read the post. I just might print it out for him or maybe I should post it around my gym. Ha.

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