I used to hate my time at the gym because I would push myself incredibly hard, particularly when I was at the depths of my time as an exercise bulimic. I hated feeling like my body was on display. I hated the fact that the women competed with the women, the men competed with the men, and the men hit on the women. When I went to a women's gym it was even worse, because suddenly all I was doing was comparing my own body to others' (possibly also eating-disordered) bodies. Generally making myself miserable.
But this time I've been fortunate to have one huge change in my workout routine that's made the experience much easier on my eating disorder: I go to a military gym. I've never been a member of the armed services but my company works closely with them so we are allowed to use the local military base's facilities. Typically I'm the only woman in the room. But this doesn't bother me. Here's why.
- None of the men oogle. Ever. Why? Because they have no idea whether or not I could be their commanding officer.
- The women don't try to prove that they have better bodies than you. When I see women they're often in fantastic shape but they're never condescending about it. Why? Because they also don't know if I outrank them. Fat shaming someone at this gym literally could cost someone their commission if they did it to the wrong person. So no one does.
- The guy on the upright bike next to me had his legs blown off by an IED in Afghanistan. It's impossible to go to this gym and not work out around Wounded Warriors who probably have some serious body image issues themselves. They're still there, giving it their best, staying healthy but not using exercise to punish themselves for what went wrong in their lives. I have no reason to complain about my body. Mine may not be perfect but fortunately it still has all its parts and I am damned lucky for that.
- Fitness is many of these people's job but it's not mine. Depending what you do in the military part of your job description may be to stay in fantastic shape. Those people are duty-bound to spend hours each day working to ensure that their bodies are in particular condition. I'm not training for combat. My physical fitness doesn't have to save my life. If I can't bench press my body weight (when I was in high school, I could, believe it or not), or be toned and muscular all over, it's nothing I need to be ashamed of.
- They have a dress code and they take it seriously. No bare midriffs. No cleavage. Keep your shirt on. Cover up your tush. If you want to show it off, go do it somewhere else. What you can do is what matters here, not how you look. Not to mention that a sexual harassment court martial is no one's idea of fun.
- Respect, respect, respect. Just because I can barely do hamstring curls with a five pound weight doesn't mean I'm looked at like I'm weak. Everyone is willing to help out when I have questions about the weight machines. Everyone seems to consider people where they are because you never do know where someone came from. Maybe the guy who can only bench press an empty bar does that because he got badly hurt in Afghanistan. It's not his fault. The point is that we're all there trying to improve ourselves in a healthy way.