Second in a series of HCUBC international correspondant Gretta Dattan’s reports on daily misadventures of the swirling mass of humanity, double decker buses, and Union Jack-wearing bulldogs that is London. Check out the first piece of this series here.
Earlier this evening the guy who works in my gym motioned me over to the desk. I was listening to Animal Collective way too loudly for my own good and was trying to concentrate on counting my reps (somehow when I get tired my brain always seems to count: 4, 5, 6, 10, you’re done now go home and nap!), so he had to wave his hand back and forth in front of my face a few times before I was able to register anything. It was that guy, the dude who always makes a point of checking me out whenever I walk into the tiny baby blue gym on campus, and then watches me for the duration of my work out. Being the marginally polite person I am, I walked over and he asked me, “Why are you working on your arms?” “For the same reason everyone else does.” “I was just asking!”
Throughout high school and my first year of university I, like so many other young women my age, had issues with an eating disorder and with accepting my body. Anyone who has had similar experiences knows how painful this can be. My first year of university I regularly had marathon gym visits to offset the steady diet of salad I was consuming, I rationed my protein very carefully, and I would make sure I only did enough reps to gain a barely noticeable amount of muscle definition in particular areas of my body. I was neurotic about it. I am naturally muscular and that grated against many things held deeply inside of me, one of them namely being my desire to basically look like Twiggy. I was essentially fighting against my natural body, and it was unhealthy physically and mentally. It wasn’t until I met my roommate in second year that I realized you could be healthy and beautiful and have a wonderful body without spending hours on the elliptical and instead have reasonable, balanced gym sessions and stick to a healthy, nourishing diet. She taught me that muscular, natural, and healthy are beautiful and wonderful on multiple levels and for that I am eternally grateful.
So far in London I have noticed that most people are not into health, wellness, and fitness the way we are in Vancouver, and I guess this makes sense because I doubt much of the world is actually as into it as us – we take our vegan raw diets and paddle board yoga sessions very seriously. But honestly, I’ve only met one other vegetarian so far and she was Canadian. I am also regularly the only person at my campus gym, which is open to the public, cheap, and mere minutes from the very heart of London. I have a very limited perspective but from what I have seen and experienced women seem to limit themselves strictly to the treadmill, only throwing in occasional squats and sit ups, which is totally fine if that’s what you want to do. Yet based on what some of my friends have said they actually would like to use the weights in the weight room, but they’re intimidated by the fact that very few women ever use the weight room. I understand their hesitation because I do use the weight room and I am pretty much always the only girl in there and therefore 12 to 14 eyes follow me around the room constantly. It is intimidating, but I do it anyways because I have targets I plan on meeting.
So why am I admittedly rather pissed off about this man’s comment? Because I don’t think any man has ever been asked why he works on his arms. Ever. The man who was using weights next to me was not asked the same question. Apparently because I have a vagina I shouldn’t want a strong body. No, instead I am expected to conform to arbitrary, outdated, oppressive, western ideals of beauty. And my friend, The Gym Desk Attendant, is doing his best to enforce those ideals. His remark begs the question, why shouldn’t I be doing weights? Because women don’t lift, women are supposed to be thin and delicate. That’s the answer. And I have one fairly straightforward response to it: fuck that.