Body Image Series Part 2: Gym Trauma

Feel free to start with part 1 of this this three part series before diving in below!

When I no longer had a regular dance class schedule to keep me active I struggled to find a fun and engaging form of exercise to replace it. I even tried other dance classes but nothing really got me hooked. That is until I found yoga of course, more on that later.

When I was 18 I tried working out at the University of Toronto Athletic Centre but was intimidated by the macho, male-dominated atmosphere. As an alternative, I turned to a women’s only gym. Two of my girlfriends were working out at a gym called The Women’s Fitness Clubs of Canada. The gym had a pretty good deal so I decided to join as well. More importantly, a women’s only club would ensure that there would be no scary jocks hogging the machines, which would ensure that nothing would scare me off. Right? Well…

With my membership I got a free consultation and personal training session. I went to the consultation and it was shocking, to say the least. I weighed in, but I honestly barely paid attention to the scale, I just didn’t care. I then sat down with my personal trainer and she asked, “What are some of your fitness goals?” I responded truthfully, “Well, I used to dance four days a week so I would like to get back to that level of activity once again.” My personal trainer went on to poke and prod my response, as if she were poking and prodding at my fat; “Do you have any more specific fitness goals?” Once again, I gave an honest response, “I would like to get some of my flexibility back, so I would like a lot of stretching in a workout routine”. She still wasn’t satisfied. After the conversation went in circles for a few minutes the woman finally asked, “How much weight do you want to lose?” My truthful, honest response, “Weight? I don’t really care about weight, if I happen to lose weight when I get my activity level up again then that’s fine.” It didn’t take long for me to see that I was in trouble. I peered over at the form she was filling out and she had been holding her pen over the ‘goal weight’ box the entire time. I didn’t have a goal weight, so I was in trouble… and things only got weirder. She almost fell off her chair, she threw her arms back raised her head and started to laugh at me, “You don’t want to lose weight?!” She went and told her colleagues, “We have someone here who doesn’t want to lose weight! Can you believe it?” I was humiliated. This had to stop, I had to recover, I felt so exposed so deflated, finally I said. “Well, I was about 15lbs lighter when I was dancing so maybe I want to get back to that weight?” My personal trainer was relieved, she filled in the ‘goal weight’ box with the number 130 and then she and I got to work designing a program.

Well, I didn’t lose a single pound working out at the Women’s Fitness Clubs of Canada and my personal trainer’s ridiculous reaction had done me no favours. I went home that night and I found myself grabbing my love handles and jiggling my thighs and I began to obsess over the number 130. The magic number…I had to be 130lbs again I just had to. I would compare present and past pictures of myself and wish and hope and pray to be skinny again. However, no matter how much I obsessed, I didn’t work out that much throughout the year that I was a member of the women’s gym. If I didn’t go for one or two weeks they would call me and tell me to ‘get motivated’ that would only discourage me more because I was now embarrassed to show my face. I was in trouble. I was bad. I was fat and I hadn’t known I was fat and I was bad for not having a strong enough desire to fix it.

I made the mistake of putting my faith in yet another all women’s gym several years later called Christine’s Fitness. I had a very similar experience there and was told that I was obese after getting my fat percentage measured. I was pressured to purchase personal training sessions to help me lose weight. I had to aggressively communicate that I was not willing to part with yet another $70 a month before the gym owners left me alone. Weight loss should not be the goal of fitness and physical activity, it only discourages and intimidates people and takes the fun out of getting active. We should want to get moving for the sake of feeling good and being healthy, not for the purpose of looking slim.

It disturbs me that I have had equally bad experiences at co-ed and women’s only gyms. The same dangerous mentality seems to cloud the atmosphere of both environments, a ridiculous amount of pressure to be extremely fit and active, and worse to look a certain way. Even though the intimidating macho atmosphere of co-ed gyms have made a necessity for women’s only gyms, the same mentality prevails, and in my experience is accentuated.

Don’t waste your money on a gym that intimidates you, spend your fitness budget responsibly and focus on getting active. Resist the pressure to conform to a certain physical standard, just get sweating, get your heart pumping and smile. Be consistent with your activity and you will see results, not just in your appearance but in how you feel and how much energy you have.

Tomorrow I’ll be discussing how yoga has been my activity solution and I’ll explain why it worked so well for me. However, everyone is different, do what you need to do to get moving and have fun.

Also, read this.

Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Body Image Series Part 2: Gym Trauma

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