It’s the season for (let’s see, pulling out my checklist): gaining weight over the holidays, being depressed about the weather, thinking about the incessant passing of time and, oh, that’s right, dealing with the bullshit family because it’s the holidays and Ha Ha Cheery Times, we all need to get along because Chromus!
No, I’m not a Grinch, I just find it easier to cope by being realistic about our circumstances. By extension, I decided to do something a little different this year and take more control of my own situation. It’s true, I have a fucking gym membership.
I want to be very clear with my intentions in this article: I don’t think everyone should have a gym membership. And, as a thicker person myself, I really don’t want the conclusion to be that weight loss is or should be everyone’s ultimate goal. I’m writing this for people who, like me a year ago,want to start exercising more but I don’t know where to start and I feel like the gym isn’t an option due to some toxic ideals of the culture around it.
To my daughters, gay and otherwise, let me tell you: I absolutely love going to the gym. The people working there are generally very nice and want to help you achieve your goals, but they’ll leave you alone if that’s what you want. I do my little treadmill runs listening to piss and vinegar playlists, then I do my little thigh exercises to regain my old strength.
Going back there reminds me of how much I used to get out of the gym when I went there in college (when it was free…lol). I wasn’t as aware of the toxic mentality some people had around the gym at the time, so I was going to treat it like a date with my own body. I would become familiar with all my muscles and how I wanted to take care of them, and I would come away more centered. Plus, it’s just plain fun most of the time, especially if your local gym is up to date and aesthetically cool!
So, now that we’ve got it all settled, let’s get to the heart of this article: “Gym-Tok” toxicity and how to get around it.
What is “Gym-Tok”?
I don’t know why, but my FYP Instagram started exploding with reels of people showing off their gym habits. On paper it seems harmless and I’m always up for celebrating people who reach their milestones and enjoy their bodies. Plus, some of the videos feature really sweet celebrations of positive masculinity, with guys turning on and supporting each other.
However, there is always a note of bitterness and anguish that makes me forget most of these videos. I won’t link any of them because I’m not a masochist, but chances are you’ve seen those videos as well. A lot of them are reaction videos that basically send the message, “I’m going to the gym because I’ve been rejected so many times in my life and I’m sick of it.” Again, relatively harmless, yet they often go further in very dark, aggressive, and sometimes frightening directions.
Sometimes they go in a predictable direction, like “fuck the women who hurt me, I’ll make them want me/fear me.” These videos will include audio talking about exes or former crushes in a misogynistic way (as if they were “sluts”) while showing off their bodies in a deliberately intimidating way. Essentially, they present the image of the kind of person you don’t want to come across in a supermarket. And it’s a classically unproductive way to deal with angst and rejection – things EVERYONE goes through. Women as a whole aren’t the reason you feel bad, mate. It just hurts not to feel wanted, and at some point you have to grow up and realize that it’s part of life. By all means, hit the gym to literally work on your feelings, it’s healthy and highly recommended. But don’t turn this into a misogynistic crusade to avoid women altogether, or reinforce a childish “brothers before hoes” mentality. Everyone is rejected and others have just as much right to use the gym as a positive space.
Then there are the videos where the subtext seems to be “I’m so ugly, the only way to validate myself is to exercise” – which is awful, and it breaks my heart every time I see him ! I wanna reach out and shake these people and say, NOPE, you’re not ugly, you’re just the product of a society that doesn’t teach us to value ourselves on our own terms!!! These videos will show before and after images – often with totally normal bodies and faces as the “before” image, derisively referenced – with overlaid text that says something like “I have no friends/no one loves me, so I go to the gym.” And the music they use is nothing but lower tunes so the tone is just pitiful.
Even though I feel empathy for these people and what they are going through, these kinds of videos only fuel the fire of self-hatred. Watching these videos, a person might feel inferior; that they are “ugly” by not going to the gym; or they might think they too are just another ugly person going to the gym to forget about their ugliness. You all ! Oh my God! Who hurt you!!! Please stop hurting others yourself!!!!
Ultimately, what these two strands of digital darkness reinforce is the idea that the world is out to get you and that the gym is the only place you can find solace. And that, in my opinion, only serves to scare others out of the gym. They might see this endemic self-loathing and believe that they won’t feel like they belong in the gym because they’re not on a hyper-masculine ‘quest’ towards… ugh, forgive me for saying that… ‘the sigma grindset.
And look, your mileage can always vary, but I have to say: as loud as these guys are, they don’t seem to be the majority at all.
What the gym really looks like, from the perspective of a 5’1 queer Asian girl
I walk in and say hello to the people working in the office (who are around my age), then hop onto the treadmill. There, nobody bothers me and I can fully concentrate on the task at hand. Then, when I’m done running, I work my thighs. I finish with a light upper body work, then I leave. 45 minutes undisturbed and at my own pace.
All around me are people of all kinds: older women just taking a light jog, kids trying it out for the first time, buff queens doing their reps, queer folks snoozing. train in a group, easy-going brothers who do facelifts after work. And sure, there are some creepy old guys ogling them, but I really feel empowered doing my training with them because I know deep down that they won’t do anything about it. They see what I do and what I’m capable of, and although the show is enjoyable, of course they to know I could flatten them with little effort if they tried anything.
In the end, I leave feeling better about myself and people in general. Everyone goes to the gym to achieve their goals, and so far I’ve only met positive people with no judgmental attitude. I wanted to write this article to encourage the rest of my vacation grumps to give the gym a try if they’re even the least curious – some of us don’t have quarters to walk or run, and some of we crave more than a home workout can provide. I also want to validate any fears some people might have about going to environments that have been so stigmatized with toxic masculinity. And, as someone who would normally be an easy target in these kinds of environments, I just have to won from going to the gym so far.
… unless you count the aches the next day because wow. Phew.
(featured image: Fox)
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