by Maddi Lane, Wellbeing Online Columnist
The Croft // ‘The Stress Melt Series’: our online columnist discusses the body insecurities and fear of judgment that can prevent many students from joining a gym, and seeks to dispel the popular misconceptions that feed into this ‘gym-anxiety’.
Have you ever wondered why in adverts for women’s razors, the gleaming, fluffy towel-clad model almost always shaves an already perfectly smooth, hairless leg? It almost hints at some sort of special society of naturally hair-free women, all with unnaturally white teeth and the inability to bruise/stretch/get any ingrown hairs using the aforementioned razor.
God forbid any lady with cellulite or birthmarks or spider veins enters this coquettish coterie. But then, one must wonder, what is the need for the razor?
For me, it’s a bit like going to the gym. As a fairly recent gym-joiner, I must say that this can be a rather unnerving experience. I walk into the main entrance, fumble and begin to sweat lightly as I forget my absurdly long gym code (why Pure Gym? Why not give me a four-digit PIN? Why eight? My boyfriend of over a year’s phone number is still a mystery to me and that’s only three digits off. Come on.)
I’m finally accepted by the rotating doors that feel straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and enter the claustrophobic pod, wondering why they haven’t incorporated some sort of disinfectant system in light of COVID, like the one on aeroplanes where they gas you to get rid of stowaway bugs.
Panic over; I’ve finally been let in. I remember that, contrary to my nervously babbling interior monologue, I belong here; I’ve forked out £20.99 of my hard-earned student loan each month on this place and goddamnit I’m going to enjoy it.
And then it happens. After tucking myself into one of the two pairs of leggings I own and wilfully attempting to ignore the way my sports bra squishes me down and my leggings squish me up - a bit like when the mayo squeezes out the sides of your sandwich - I am bombarded by a wall of toned, tanned flesh.
Girls with legs from the razor advert and abs from Britney Spears 2001 VMA performance of ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ (with the snake) are lined up on the treadmills, like some horribly judgmental catwalk where the models are in the audience and the audience is in the heels; except they’re not heels, they’re trainers; and the uncomfortable part isn’t your feet, but the fact you look like a bit like someone bundled a snowman into gym gear.
With the trend of body positivity in full force at the moment, everyone knows the gym should be about the way you feel, not the way you look, but it doesn’t make it any easier to feel truly confident in your own skin
Men in tank tops with muscles and veins bulging in places I hadn’t thought possible stalk the weights and machines as a panther might defend his territory. And there I am, with hardly a clue what I’m doing, feeling ready to run away and find some small rock to hide under.
With the trend of body positivity in full force at the moment, everyone knows the gym should be about the way you feel, not the way you look, but it doesn’t make it any easier to feel truly confident in your own skin. However, with frequent gym visits and a bit of confidence under my belt, I’ve come to realise that nobody in the gym really cares what you look like or what you do, so long as you wipe down the equipment and wear headphones.
Everyone’s on their own personal journey, and the girls that seemed so intimidating before, now look to me like ordinary people, simply fulfilling their goals and by no means trying to judge anyone into feeling bad about themselves.
Everyone’s on their own personal journey, and the girls that seemed so intimidating before, now look to me like ordinary people, simply fulfilling their goals
The women in the razor adverts aren’t real. They’re airbrushed, made-up and pre-shaved, with a whole lighting and camera crew on hand to make them look good and sell their product. But the people in the gym are real. No one looks the same when they start off exercising as they do a few months or years down the line, but that’s part of the point of going (as well as the obvious physical and mental health benefits).
No one expects you to look good in order to be able to go to the gym. There isn’t some sort of reserved VIP access for divine beings that are born looking like Hercules or Britney Spears, yet still spend time at the gym toning an already perfect body.
In a society full of adverts with models eternally shaving the same spot on an already perfectly shaved leg, it can be easy to forget that a ‘before’ shot must exist – with gym bodies as with body hair.
This article isn’t so much about how exercise can make you feel less stressed, but how to not let yourself get stressed by exercise. Maybe when the gyms reopen, this will be a helpful bit of motivation to care enough about the way you feel, to love the way you look.
Featured image: Epigram / Astrid Lucia Spruzen