This time last year, I remember considering cutting a workout short because a man at the gym wouldn’t stop staring at me – or, more specifically, stop staring at my breasts.
It was not the first time I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable in a fitness space, and I doubt it will be the last. But it’s a stark contrast to my first visit to the gym since it reopened for the first time since lockdown was imposed back in March. This time, I loved every minute of it, maybe going so far as to say it was the best workout I’ve ever had.
Let me tell you why.
As someone who has struggled with a fluctuating weight for most of her life, and has been on the receiving end of countless fat jibes, I have a complicated relationship with my body. I have learned to love myself the way I am, but for a long time the gym was a place where I felt I didn’t belong. I never took part in classes because I feared looks from others, my mind obsessing over the rolls of my stomach when I bent over or the fact I couldn’t hold a yoga position as long as the rest of the class.
There is a misguided belief that gyms are for people who are already in shape, or who appear to be in shape (for the record, you can look overweight and still be incredibly strong: I can leg press 100kg and am a size 16). If you’re not toned, dressed in the latest Lululemon and showing off how many reps you can do, are you even working out?
Post-lockdown, my gym is pure bliss – and not just thanks to the endorphins.
Being forced to compete with so-called ‘gym people’ can be intimidating for those who are already scared to take the leap onto their fitness journey. Like the time a man told me to give up the dumbbells because he ‘needed’ this particular set, and I could use something else. Or when another man was visibly tapping his foot because he felt I was taking too long on the seated arm curl machine – naturally, I stayed longer just to annoy him, but I could feel his eyes...