Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gym observations

Awhile back, I posted on "why I don't do gyms," at least in the classical sense of being what I'd call a "gym" rat. I'd rather be outdoors most days exercising than stuck in a gym. In that post, I talked about a specific thin, older woman I saw there. Well, a few days ago, I saw her again. It seems I only see her on one particular day, but that is probably more likely due to our schedules than anything else. For all I know she could be there everyday.

As I entered the fitness room, I kind of cringed when I saw her. At least this time, there was an available elliptical versus having to use a treadmill right beside her like last time. For the most part, I focused on my own workout and didn't pay that much attention to her except in the mirror every so often. I know at one point she left, but then 20 or so minutes later, she was back and continued her treadmill walking. Then, she went to some of the weight machines. She looked incredibly tired, just kind of sitting there all hunched over.

Then, right before she left, she checked herself on the scale. The bottom knob did not move. It was what I expected honestly. I wondered what was going through her mind that moment. Was there a relief that she had not gained weight or remained stable? Was there disappointment for gaining weight or perhaps not gaining weight either. I think the latter is doubtful as she looks just the same four months ago, and if she was trying to gain weight, I'd think there would be some difference.

I don't know her story, so of course I have no right to judge. It's just a simple observation. I find whenever I'm there, I have a tendency to observe a lot of people. This fitness center is family oriented, so I see all shapes and sizes. I notice a variety of things--how long they are there, what machines they tend to use, how they look exercising (are they tired or energized), whether they step on the scale, etc. I'm actually surprised by the latter and just how many people I see weight themselves, both young and old.

And then I wonder as much as I observe other people, how many are watching me?

Note: *The blogger She in China has very funny observations about the gyms in China.seen here and here


Kristina said...


I have to say that I'm happy that there isn't a scale in the gym that I infrequently frequent (sorry, I couldn't resist saying that). I usually go to the gym with someone or I attend a class, but you are right - it can be a funny place.
And... that last question, rhetorical or not - how do we know? And would we want to?

Gaining Back My Life said...

I think most people observe others in at least some fashion. I used to go to the airport and just sit and people watch.

Kim said...

I don't go to gyms. For one, it trips me out to see humans running on machines, but not going anywhere. Doesn't that make us like hamsters?
Also, there's the inevitable comparison game. I think it'd be hard for me to not look at others, or to not feel others' eyes on me. I'd think, "Oh my gosh, they KNOW!" I don't need more shame. Of course, overcoming that is part of recovery, so maybe one day I'll find myself at a gym... but I really doubt it. I never liked gyms. I prefer the outdoors for walks, or my living room for yoga :) I do have some free weights, but am very lazy about using those.

Anonymous said...

I am a people watcher addict, except that I don't do them the courtesy that you seem to be able to! By now in my mind that woman would have a 10 year story, a name, a family, a doctor. I'd have invented her car, her pets and her favourite holidays! It beats TV though.

Lola x

Kara said...

Gyms can be very intimidating with all the observing (which with me naturally leads to comparing). I need a gym to workout in though because I love the elliptical machines. I'm glad that the gym I go to now is never crowded so there are less people to observe and compare to.

curioustudent said...

This blog post reminds me of my Aunt Mary, who is 98 years old. She is very smart and still has it all together. She walks with a walker and has an unbelievably sharp memory- she does not suffer from Alzheimer's whatsover. She is 5'3 and weighs about 125 pounds. She walks everyday for about 30 minutes with her walker. The other day we were talking on the phone and she told me how she was weighed by the nurses. She felt that 125 pounds was too heavy and she was vowing to eat healthier and exercise more. I could not believe it! If I ever live to 98, I think I'm going to say "screw it" and eat whatever I want whenver I want. Of course, that's what I think now at the age of 20 when I feel a constant need to exercise and eat healthy.
I think that it's interesting how the desire to have an good body is consistent throughout the ages. Obviously, not every person is like my Aunt Mary, but I do think that she is an example that hegemony through "perfect bodies" is prevalent for all ages. There is a general acceptance that there is a "better body" that we need to achieve and our efforts to emulating that ideal image. Our agency is the choices that we make daily- how much we exercise, how many calories we consume, and whether or not we weigh ourselves. That scale often serves as an informal structure- telling us whether or not we should gain weight or lose weight. Even if no one is specifically instructing us to gain or lose weight, we decide to alter our bodies anyways depending on what the scale reads. My Aunt Mary is a perfect example. I'm sure that the nurses were pleased with her weight. However, when she read the scale, she felt compelled to work towards getting a better body.

Tiptoe said...

Kristina and GBML, in fact, I do know that one person has watched me. An older gentleman came up to me after I was done working out. First, he asked if I spoke English, then my name, then how hard I worked out. I wasn't sure whether to blush or be horrified that someone was watching me for that long.

Kim, haha, that's funny about the hamster analogy. I guess you could look at it like that. Very true about comparisons.

Lola, too funny. I can imagine you making up many scenarios for the people. Maybe I should do that next time as a way to kill time.

Kara, yes the comparing factor is hard. Luckily, this fitness center isn't that bad really, it's just the one woman who gets under my skin a bit. I know if I was in a really top notch gym, I'd have major comparison issues and likely go very downhill fast.

curiousstudent, interersting story on your aunt. I agree with you that at 98, it does seem odd to be thinking about weight and wanting a better body. Did she have any pre-existing eating disorder or body image issue in her earlier years?

What I find remarkable are those elderly women who are fit, happy, and healthy. One of the kennel's clients is a prime example. That gives me inspiration to be something like that when I'm elderly.

curioustudent said...

To my knowledge, my aunt did not have any pre-existing eating disorders in her earlier years. While she has never specifically stated anything in particular, she does brag that she never weighed over 100 pounds until she started working in Chicago in her early twenties. From pictures, I've seen that she was thin but she never looked sickly. Perhaps she did have an eating disorder, but it just wasn't acknowledged or thought of as something that was bad. It was possibly just thought of as something that was in fashion.