Not worrying about being pretty at the gym is *so* empowering

I’ve never been a skinny girl. I’ve never been fat, but I’ve existed in that in-between space where I don’t always feel totally comfortable in my body. This means that going to the gym is often a nightmare, not because anyone necessarily treats me any differently, but because I feel hyper-aware of what I look like. Walking through the gym feels like being on a runway in the worst way, as if everyone is watching me jiggle and trip on things and search for the piece of equipment I want to use next. It’s even worse if I feel just plain ol’ ugly.

When I went to the gym in college, I wore makeup and nice gym clothes, and felt like a total, fat loser if I didn’t. This is, of course, a ridiculous and gross line of thinking. It’s fatphobic to act like fat is bad, to assume that fat is unattractive, and it’s not how I feel about other people. It’s one of those things where I’m totally body positive… until it comes to me. I’m mean to my body, despite loving everyone else’s. And it sucks.

For college, I went to a private school with a lot of wealthy white girls, which, in my experience, translated into them looking like they were constantly in lululemon ads — literally. Somehow, these girls didn’t sweat, their eyeliner didn’t budge, and, most importantly, their body parts never wiggled or jiggled or moved in any awkward way.

I want to be clear that there’s 100% nothing wrong with looking pretty at the gym. Femininity is crapped on way too regularly for my liking, and that doesn’t benefit anyone, especially not femmes. But, for me, looking pretty in the makeup-and-matching-gym-clothes way is so exhausting, and not empowering. The most empowering thing for me personally was realizing that I didn’t need to look pretty to be in the gym, a typically masculine space. I didn’t have to earn my right to having a body in a male-dominated space by being hot.

I’d spend so much time worrying about looking dumpy and not wearing the right brands and just not being little and cute enough that I’d restrict myself, limit my workouts, and stress more about what expression was on my face than keeping track of what I was actually accomplishing at the gym. It was an awful way to think about myself, and my body, especially given the way that working out benefits my mental health.

But I realized I just needed to get over it and realize that no one actually cares what I look like when I work out, and, if they do, it’s their problem, not mine. Looking “awful” (aka breaking gender norms, not looking hyper-feminine and refusing to earn my right to space by appealing to the sex drives of random straight dudes I don’t know and who don’t actually own the gym) is my version of empowerment.

And since I stopped freaking out about how I look at the gym, my workouts are a hell of a lot better. It’s hard to get a good workout in if you’re worrying about making an “ugly” face or if your thighs look fat when you sit down or if your armpit hair is showing. Of course I still worry about it from time to time, but I’m trying really hard not to let it get to me. After all, I work out for me — not for the random strangers at the gym.

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