I have been going to a new gym for the last two weeks. It's a franchise of a certain popular chain. While I was walking downtown one day, I noticed it was right next door to where I was going to be doing an internship, and thought to myself that it would be really convenient to go there after work. I looked online and discovered it had a deal - 14 days for $14. Perfect. I signed up.
I was informed that there was a free orientation for new members. Great, I thought. I figured this would be where they do a fitness assessment and give you a training session with a bunch of exercises to do.
I showed up and looked around. It was shiny and new looking. The change room had hair driers and bamboo plants. I had never seen so much Lulu Lemon in my life.
I met the woman who was assigned to give me the orientation. I filled out some forms. She walked me around the gym - "These are the cardio machines." "This is where they have the group classes." "This is our fitness machine circuit."
She asked me where I usually work out. I said the Carleton gym. "Oh, we get a lot of people here from Carleton. They say they just can't handle that gym. I hear it's horrible and crowded."
Actually, this here gym was more crowded than I had ever seen Carleton's, which is saying a lot. The Carleton gym has a brand new cardio room with big screen TVs. It has a lot less scary looking men on steroids. Also, it's free.
She kept asking me what my goals are. I wasn't sure what to answer. Keep fit and have fun? "No, but what are your GOALS?" Be fit enough to survive the zombie apocalypse? Jeez, I dunno.
Then she sat me down at the same table I filled out the forms and extolled the benefits of a one year membership. I figured this was coming. It was kind of fun, actually, trying to see her figure out a way to convince me. "I'll knock off a bunch of money for you." "I have no idea if I'll be in Ottawa past April." "You can transfer your membership to any other location." "No, you don't understand. I might be in New York. I might be in Singapore. I might be in Iqaluit." "Ummm.... so you're really not interested in a membership." "Nope. Sure aren't."
At this point, she looked significantly less interested in me. She asked if I had any questions. I said: "Well, I thought this was an orientation to, you know, the gym. Like, how to use things, not just where they are."
"Oh, we have that too." "How much is it?" "Free."
Well, sign me up, lady. I'm going to milk these $14 for everything they're worth.
I showed up the next day to discover that two other people had been slotted in to receive the same "orientation." A beefy guy showed up ten minutes late. The orientation consisted of him having each of us try an exercise on the weight machine circuit. Real helpful.
One girl who was also doing the orientation kept asking the same types of questions. How many calories does this exercise burn? Is it true that you shouldn't do ab exercises if you're trying to lose stomach fat?
Then I started looking around me and realized something. I was working out in Eating Disorders "R" Us.
The walls are covered in posters that have pictures of pudgy ginger bread men that inform me I should keep going to the gym because the average person gains seven to 11 pounds over the holiday season. My membership card has a little chart on the back where I'm encouraged to track my weight loss. Other posters inform me that I can lose 80 per cent more weight three times faster if I work out with a personal trainer (I have NO idea what that can possibly be based on, unless they mean I can lose 80% more weight in my wallet).
I also figured out why that lady kept prodding me about my "goals." She wanted me to say I want to lose 10 pounds and two inches in my waist before going on my New Year's cruise in the Caribbean, or something, so she could suggest more things that cost money to help me "reach my goals."
If I told her that, the ethical thing to do would probably be to suggest I see a doctor about my body image issues. I have a feeling she wouldn't, though.
Do you see why I have such a weird relationship with working out? I'd be lying if I said weight maintenance wasn't part of my motivation for staying in shape. But this part of gym culture sickens me, and this is the worst manifestation of it I've ever seen: Keep people paranoid about their weight so they'll keep shelling out dollars for your stupid swanky gym membership.
I recently discovered Stumptuous from Bitch magazine. It has a post about lies they tell you at the gym. You should look at it. I was told a lot of those lies over the past two weeks.
But the woman behind that website also made a great point in the interview I read that helped me set aside a lot of my feminist guilt about going to the gym. It's a good thing for women to be strong. You can be invested in being in shape without being fat-phobic. There's a big, beautiful, happy medium between being a couch potato and being an anorexic, fat-hating aerobics addict.
Anyway. I miss the Carleton gym.
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