After sweating out half of my body weight while working out in an oversized t-shirt, I was in search of more amiable workout gear. In a moment of sweaty desperation, I wondered if I would feel comfortable working out in just a sports bra and shorts. And honestly, the answer is no, I wouldn’t. Even if no one was looking at me, I would be hyperaware of my lack of clothing. Whether this is a standard ingrained in me from strict high school dress codes or the fear of being slut-shamed just as many Instagram fitness gurus are daily, I would feel too distracted to finish a good workout.
However, wearing a sports bra is just the surface of someone’s insecurity while at the gym. Women tend to stick to working out on cardio machines rather than facing the testosterone-filled weight room. Men naturally feel more comfortable strength training because of the societal idea that a man should be muscular while women need to maintain a slim figure, confining them to the treadmill.
Additionally, rooms like the yoga and dance studios are constantly filled with girls completing squats, hip-thruster sets or complex ab workouts, exercises that might attract the unwanted male gaze. These remote rooms are usually packed because they provide a distance from the daunting weight room. The popularity of these rooms just goes to show that women want to find a safe place to work out where they don’t feel observed, sexualized or objectified.
Generally, we all attend the gym with the purpose of feeling healthy and active; but when one is in an uncomfortable setting, it becomes difficult to focus on the task at hand. On average, a shocking 65% of women avoid the gym because they are afraid of being judged or even harassed by their male counterparts. This statistic shows that the male gaze has not only made women uncomfortable at the gym, but has also deterred women from continuing in their fitness journey all together.
Additionally, 72% of active female gym goers said that they have changed their workout clothes after they had been sexually harassed by men, further showing the effect a man’s wandering gaze or inappropriate comment can have on a woman’s choice of clothing.
While there is no doubt men also have trouble fitting into society’s fitness standards and feel effects of harassment, they do not experience harassment to the same extent as women do. On average, only 7.3% of men said that they had ever been harrassed at the gym. This is due to the difference in societal expectations between male and female behavior.
Transgender and gender-noncomforming individuals have an especially hard time when it comes to attending the gym. Whether it’s the daunting challenge of changing in the locker room or struggling to feel comfortable in their workout gear, the gym can be an intimidating environment fueled by society’s strict standards.
Sadly, the gym is just one of many environments in which women and members of the LGBTQ+ community feel the sting of the male gaze. Whether it’s the workplace, the grocery store or even on the street, women are consistently being made aware of their outfits whether it be through long stares or inappropriate comments.
In order to destigmatize and desexualize gym culture, there must be stricter policies when it comes to gym etiquette. Not only should gym-goers be respectful of each other, but staff should also be aware if a woman is being made uncomfortable by a man. People should be taught to step in and intervene if they are ever a bystander to harassment. Unless the problem is solved soon, women might have to look into alternative solutions like an all-female gym where we can all feel comfortable walking around in our shortest shorts and tightest bras.
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Email Sam O’Donnell at [email protected]