Sara Klimek

Prior to coming to college, I never really considered how strange social dynamics are inside of a gym, until I witnessed something that really made my stomach crawl.  In between bicep curls and hip thrusts, I watched two pretentious, skinny, college-aged girls scowl at a larger, woman who was minding her own business and stretching out her muscles on the mat.  The girls proceeded to laugh as the woman did a few more crunches before she promptly walked out of the gym in embarrassment.

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The college gym- the hallmark of social stratification, strikes again.  Normally I would just excuse this situation as an isolated incident, but I’ve noticed it happening more and more.  The victims vary each time; some are older members of the community, others are students with disabilities, and some are just not the optimally-fit people you’d expect to see at the gym.  While a small piece of me wants to debunk this as something that’s merely a blip in the perpetrator's judgement, I can’t help but notice that this is a dangerous and frightening trend.

While gyms are supposed to be an oasis for self-improvement, they often tend to become contaminated by conniving hosts who are there to disseminate their negative energy.  Some people may go as far as to purposefully avoid the gym because they don’t think they are at a high enough caliber to step inside the threshold.  The gym is intimidating.  You’re often surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to being fit and have muscles that are bursting at the seams of their skin-tight shirts.  It’s easy to feel small and vulnerable.  And in my case, it was painful to witness women exploit the vulnerability of another person in order to make them feel better about themselves.

It’s easy to call attention to a problem like entitlement in fitness.  But how do we solve it?  Clearly, it’s not as easy as telling everyone to drink their protein shake and mind their own damn business.  We need something progressive rather than regressive - which undoubtedly challenges the status quo of what it means to be fit.

From an institutional standpoint, reducing elitism in fitness industry is nearly impossible.  When you have companies like Lululemon and GymShark dominating the ‘trendy’ fitness sphere, it can be difficult to say ‘no’ to spending $100 on a pair of leggings.  Anyone who tells you that all you need to go to the gym is a regular pair of comfortable pants and shirt that you don’t mind sweating in, is obviously delusional.  You need the BEST workout leggings, TRENDIEST sports bra (that no one is going to see), and the BRAND-NAME headband that make it look like you have your life and ambitions together.  Anyone that tells you that society cares more about what’s inside rather than what you wear probably hasn’t set foot on a college campus, let alone a college gym.

The first thing your hip and trendy friends will probably tell you is that 'everyone starts somewhere.'  Except for Brad, your typical frat-boy and exercise guru who lives off of 500 calories a day (most of which come from his daily chocolate protein shake).  As much as we like to joke about people like Brad, there needs to be some self-actualization about how healthy a lifestyle (and mindset) like that can be.  We're putting our health at risk in the name of being better than someone else.  Comparison is the devil’s best friend.  Everyone wants to feel comfortable and successful in their own skin, but sometimes it can feel like we’re in a rat-race to be the most comfortable in our skin.  And no one should have to settle for being anything but the best, but the problem exists when feeling comfortable turns into a competition.

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We're putting our health at risk in the name of being better than someone else.

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Competition isn’t always bad - it can certainly push us to try new things and work harder.  But, competition can be unhealthy, especially when fitness is involved.  Calorie counting competitions and weight challenges can push the body to its physical extreme and cause more harm than good.  It can also cause someone to put down others in order to make up for numbers.

Perhaps tackling the problem exists within our goals.  Why does someone work out?  To look good?  To be healthy?  To improve themselves?  These goals have something similar: it only involves you.  Not suppressing other people, and not standing on others to make yourself taller.  Maybe if we all realized that everyone is pushing for their own individual goal, we would feel better about empowering others.

Recently, I’ve started to try to talk to more people at the gym in an effort to make it less intimidating.  I’ll occasionally ask others for tips and new exercises to try or compliment them on their new piece of clothing.  The solution to elitism may be as simple as being a more receptive human being and acknowledging that you’re not perfect, but at least your putting in the effort to be better.  We should celebrate each other for caring about our bodies and getting out of our comfort zone in the name of self-improvement.

So I would suggest using your newfound muscles to lift other people, not just weights.  Acknowledge the people who are making themselves vulnerable in an efforts to improve themselves.  And most importantly, leave your reservations at the door - holding on to them won’t burn calories.

 

Sara is a managing editor at bSmart and Environmental Law student at the University of Vermont. Outside of her studies, she enjoys spending time with her horses, doing yoga, and cooking.

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