Working out at the gym

25 04 2014

A student came to the Writing Centre looking for help with a research proposal for an essay. He wanted to write something about going to the gym and about protein shakes, but wasn’t sure what his thesis might be and what he wanted to explore. We talked about the topic of working out a bit, and I asked if he went to the gym. He replied that he had convinced himself it was for health reasons and staying fit but in fact was more about getting muscles.

I thought that a very interesting observation, one that I would say is almost ubiquitous these days and yet, people don’t really want to admit it. Why? Maybe because they don’t want to come across as shallow or superficial, which is understandable. When I got the gym today after jogging for a while down at Pacific Spirit Park, I couldn’t help but feel like when I sat down at the weight machine, that I was no longer doing it for my health. My run was my health thing; trying to build up some semblance of pecs is not necessary to maintain good health. It’s all aesthetics.

And as I looked around the room at all of the young men and women in tank tops, short shorts, gym shorts, and sweaty t-shirts, grunting and groaning while they willed themselves in the mirror to lift the heavy barbell one more time, or to jog another minute on the treadmill, or to hold that pose just another moment for the sake of tighter abs, I was suddenly so disgusted with myself (and yeah, with everyone too). But then I saw the links that tie everything together — the conditioning of everyone via society and overabundance of media images of ripped bodies as hot and desirable; shaming of bigger bodies; lack of address of issues such as masculinity and hypermasculinity. I saw how it all tied together, how it was a loop, and it made me sad.

And then I wondered when the last time any of these kids actually read a book for fun that wasn’t a textbook required for their course. Which I always end up thinking whenever I go to the gym and end up feeling superior to everyone, even when I scold myself for doing so.

I very much enjoyed jogging in the park. It’s a positive environment to be in. The gym? Not so much.