Body Politics: A Trip to the Gym -The Toast

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yoga-698114_1280Would you like to hear a really awkward gym story? Okay.

Once upon a time a lady named Njeri (#womanofcolor, #blackgirlmagic) diligently made her way to the gym, set on re-inaugurating herself back into hot yoga. She has some anxiety. She has some thighs, too (no shame). Even though she used to regularly practice heated vinyasa at her local studio a year or so back, at the back of her mind she imagines arriving at the new studio and finding a gang of lithe and Lululemon-clad yoga warriors judging her for the type of milk she doesn’t actually drink.

She reminds herself that that is silly, that this is her gym (THESE-ARE-MY-THINGS.mp3), and that she will use all the resources she wants because they are also hers and she pays for them. And when that type of logical reasoning doesn’t work, and those yoga warriors actually show up in all their pricey spandex and ponytails looking like money, she has a litany of other arrows to slay the body anxiety and self-judgement monsters: “people are paying more attention to themselves than to you,” “worry is constructing a reality that you’re not interested in,” “get into your body, get out of your mind,” etc., etc. She says a prayer, pulls on encouraging scripture, recalls some half-digested inspirational sayings from Pinterest, and throws on the spandex.

It’s fascinating the sort of rituals she goes through to remind herself that she can confidently take up this space and be okay with herself. It takes work to get out of your mind when you are often preoccupied with how you are perceived while moving through the world and spaces where you’re the “only one.” Gym space always seem to be occupied by men (read: bros) who think you are incompetent at weights and things. This doesn’t always gel with reality and is once again one of her fear fantasies, but it really does seem this way.

Still, dedicated to her health and liberating her mind from fear, she goes. She walks in with her jiggly thighs set in her stretchy yoga-appropriate exercise pants and commits to being present and letting go of her inner chatter. This is no easy feat, but she’s been consciously building her self-kindness over the years. It sticks, even if her tree pose doesn’t yet.

Through the class, she approaches the new learning curve with grace and compassion for herself even though she felt her body wasn’t doing what it used to. That’s ok. It’s about the process. Mid-way, she even has an after-school-special-level reflection: even if you are a yoga warrior with a side crow pose that won’t quit, she realizes you probably don’t have a monopoly on body peace, anyway. So many of us are Sisyphus, rolling the impossible body perfection boulder up the hill because as tight as we may or may not get, there are still #goals to pursue that have everything to do with self-image. Anyhow, she leaves happy and decides to take on the elliptical. She conquers! 60 minutes, some numbers she decides mean success, sweaty body.

She descends victoriously, turns around, and looks at herself in the mirror. Wearing her heather-grey stretchy exercise pants (this fact bears repeating; it wasn’t a basic cotton number), she gasps to discover a very evident, very visible, and conveniently placed sweat patch between her thighs.

Oh yes. She had “sweat-peed” her pants.

She looks around. “How long during those 60 minutes?” she thinks to herself. “How long, O Lord?” She sighs and, now fully aware of the range of her leg movements, gingerly wipes down her machine (thank goodness for grabbing an extra wipey cloth. She just “could not” with taking two trips). She curses her pants and silently attempts to grasp at what “moisture-wicking” actually meant.

She casually exits, tugging down at her shirt and fighting off a bit of defeat, but thankful for a lightly populated gym at that time in the evening. She turns around the corner nearly undetected. But then. She spots the white man who had been working out earlier on a nearby elliptical. A typical somewhat-muscled bro type with spikey golden brown hair (obviously out of the box, but he wouldn’t tell you. “I’ve been in the sun,” he would say.), a barely-there black bro tank (the obnoxious ones with the gaping arm holes to show all the skin and apparent muscle we need to see), a mouth slightly gaping open, and eyes slightly narrowed with judgement. He makes sure to turn all the way around to make eye contact and follows her with his eyes as she leaves. Ugh. The body scan. She keeps her back straight and keeps walking. His lack of decency and discretion is not her shame. She is a woman. We sweat in places his kind find awkward. He will have to deal.

She decides that being ashamed will only enforce his power and uphold patriarchy. She makes it to the ladies locker room and remembers she still has to head back all the way down the hall. There are still people. She maintains her okay-ness, but decides that at that moment, she will avoid enmeshing herself in an unspoken scandal. No, not in her sanctuary.

She ties her not-so-obvious grey windbreaker around her waist. She puts on her black jacket, and sets out. She waves to the manager at the front desk and exits out the door. It’s still her gym. These are still her things. She’ll be back tomorrow.

But tomorrow, she will wear black pants.

Njeri is a writer who lives in Seattle. She loves people, culture, and all things media. You can say hi to her on twitter: @jthande

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