That Time I Got Kicked out of the Gym

Dear lord, please forgive me for I have sinned. My rib cage has offended many people.

Yes, I’ll admit it–  the three inches between the bottom of my sports bra and the top of my leggings are quite the turn on. Just three inches of plain, slightly sweaty skin, underneath which is my ribcage, which protects my lungs because that’s how anatomy works.

Are you sweating? Is it suddenly hot in here? Did you just have an oh-my-god-that’s-so-promiscuous moment? A shield your eyes you can’t even read this it’s so slutty feeling? Probably not. It’s a freaking midsection. It’s my stomach. It’s just my waist. And yet, as a young woman in 2018, I am still taught to be ashamed of mine. In what world are these ideologies persisted and circulated? An endless cycle of body shaming and slut shaming and sexualizing? Seemingly never ending?

 

A man’s.

 

I am running on the treadmill in one of two gyms on campus. It is freezing outside, the temperature wavering between 0 and -3 degrees farenheit, perpetuating my unending desire to stay inside.  But I’m a runner, and my legs will itch and burn if I don’t get at least a few miles on them each day– so I go to the gym. The gym is a mile away from my house, and I walk there in a snowstorm, freezing cold but enduring the challenge nonetheless. I have on two sweaters and a long jacket under which is my sports bra and leggings. Upon arrival at the gym, I strip off the outer layers that had kept me warm. I am wearing high waisted leggings that land above my belly button and a sports bra. This leaves about 2.5 inches of skin bare. Nothing too shocking. I start to run on the treadmill, and I get about two miles into my workout when there is a tap on my shoulder. It is an employee from the gym facilities.

“Hi, um, if you don’t have a shirt to wear you have to leave.”

“What?”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave if you don’t have a shirt to put on while you work out.”

She walks away.

I look around the gym, wondering who this could possibly bother. Why this would ever be a problem. Is there anyone shielding their eyes? Can that dude on the elliptical in the muscle tank and unfortunately showy short shorts barely continue his workout because he is so offended? Who is throwing holy water on my bare skin?? Who is damning me to hell??? Bad girl! You showed skin when you were exercising! Your shoulders are absolutely REVOLTING!! Your waist is just sickening!!!

My first reaction is to say something–shout perhaps, or just ask “why?” but I say nothing. I pack up my things and I put on my sweaters and jacket – perhaps a tasteful, covered up, more conservative juxtaposition to my 2 inches of exposed skin and I leave. Because as a woman, that’s what I’m taught to do– I am told to leave and walk away and say nothing because that’s how the world works. Silence is just as bad as thinking it is okay. No more of that. I get home, an impossibly angry itch in my hands, and I write about it. Because it needs to be said. Because I am not staying silent, because it’s baffling and ridiculous and disgusting.

First and foremost, getting kicked out of the gym made me angry. It’s a public space, I had walked there through an arctic tundra just to get a workout in and because I didn’t have a shirt with me (which in hindsight wouldn’t have covered up that much more) I had to leave. But more than that, the institution perpetuating rules like this is a huge problem and quite frankly extremely disheartening. Especially in a world that is uncovering sexual predators in Hollywood daily, desperately trying to give women a voice. In a world that is telling me to celebrate my body, revel in my womanhood and lift up other women, being kicked out of the gym for simply showing skin goes against all of that. It takes the positive strides we are finally making as women in a patriarchal society and pushes them back.

Men can play shirts on skins basketball but I can’t run in a sports bra.

Men can cut the sides of their tank top to show their entire midsection, nipples and all, and I can’t run in a sports bra.

Bulging male muscles and pecs and abdomens are okay but covered up breasts are not.

The female body is not something that should be seen as “distracting”,  “offensive”, or “disturbing”. The female body should not be sequestered, it should not be shut down, it should not be stifled. Especially in a world (or a gym) where men walk around showing off their bodies with no comment, no mention, no “Hi, um, if you don’t have a shirt to wear you have to leave.” Generally, a gym already has an 80% male demographic, and if I want to come in, already a minority, and work out I should be able to. I should have the freedom to exercise in a college gym in the clothes I feel comfortable and confident in wearing. These clothes aren’t offensive, they don’t make me a slut or a whore. I shouldn’t be forced to cover up, furthering the sexualization women face every day.  Often times, when young women are thrown out of college gyms for not being fully ‘covered up’, the gyms will come back with the statement that “it is for health reasons such as skin on skin contact, not for discrimination”.

Well, to that, there’s no policy on shorts, which show entire thighs, knees and calves, which is essentially more skin than the two inches of exposed stomach.

If my rib cage offends you, please let me know. Send me a text, maybe shoot me a Facebook DM, whatever works. My rib cage is very sorry, it knows how hot, offensive and distracting it is, and it realizes that it owes you an apology for ruining your workout kind sir.

The day women have to apologize for their rib cages is a day I never thought would come.  But here I am.

I hope the world can forgive me. Amen.