The gym is an environment of hard work, determination and athleticism.
It’s also an environment of tight clothing, exposed bodies and sexualization.
While men marvel at their figure in the mirror, women walk around in sports bras and masks of makeup. Both men and women are putting on a show.
These factors create a demeaning and narcissistic environment that not all gym goers feel comfortable in.
Sunita Ramprasad is a long time gym goer and said after about two years of attending a unisex gym, she switched to an all-female gym in hopes of a better experience.
In high school, Ramprasad had a problem with a peer watching her workout.
“He’d stare at me until I got so uncomfortable I had to tell my male teacher, which resolved nothing,” she said. “Oddly enough, I made a couple friends in my class, who were male and they would stand in front of me when he stared at me.”
Ramprasad said the support was amazing and taught her there’s a culture of sexualization at the gym – but it can evolve. If all genders play their part.
Athletic facilities were created for the purpose of daily exercise and to foster a healthy lifestyle. So how did we get here?
During the 1980s the sexualization of aerobics became rapidly popular due to celebrities such as Jane Fonda producing workout videos with women and men dressed in spandex, performing erotic movements. Due to great success the media jumped on the bandwagon and made it trendy to look sexy while you sweat, thus completely redefining exercise.
“I think when you’re in a building with maybe a hundred people, you’re bound to look around and even be intrigued by what someone is doing,” says Ramprasad. “Though of course, it does matter how you watch someone. Staring can make people uncomfortable and as a female, you do tend to get the creepy, sweaty gym stares which no women wants.”
Ryan Holowczak, an active Dalplex user says he absolutely feels like he’s watched.
“Sometimes it feels good, but other times not so much. If I notice I’m being watched like some piece of meat I feel a little bit uncomfortable.”
Dal’s athletic facility is laid out in a way that makes it easy to people-watch. The track that lines the upper interior of the field house gives students a view of what’s going on below them.
The free weight section in the Dalplex Fieldhouse, which has mostly power lifting equipment and heavy free weights, can be an intimidating environment for new gym goers.
“I do realize that others are intimidated in the weight section as well as around me when I work out. You can sense it and I find it sad because at the end of the day it’s a place everyone should feel relatively safe,” says Holowczak.
The Dalplex has a room called the “cybex room” located on route to the Fieldhouse. Here, students can access lighter weights and beginner workout machines in a less public setting.
Holowczak says he’s heard it referred to as the “women’s room” because more women students congregate here due to it being a less intimidating environment.
Anne Falconer, fitness coordinator of athletics and recreation at the Dalplex says, “In general, it does seem to be more common for females to feel they are being stared at in the gym and males are more likely to comment on being laughed at.”
Falconer says, “If a member feels they are being treated in an inappropriate manner in the weight room, or any area of Dalplex, they should report the inappropriate behavior to the monitor or supervisor immediately.”
On a happier note, there has been a rise in female users at the Dalplex.
“The weight room historically has been perceived as male-dominated area, however that is changing rapidly as more women are interested in being stronger,” says Falconer, and men are often their biggest supporters.