Weight room panopticon

Another day with a lifting and running combo– what a brutal thing. I bumped my lifts up again, 4 sets of 5 at 115lb for bench and at 135lb for squats, then 5 and 3 reps at 185lb for deadlift. Then I hobbled/ran 2 miles. My calves are so tired! It was tough.

Plenty of papers have been written about the idea of the panopticon and how it can be applied to feminist thought; the idea that women feel constantly watched– even when alone– and under pressure to perform according to norms is certainly well-covered ground. I’ve observed it in myself and I’ve seen other women act that way too. How many times have you stood a certain way because someone was watching, or felt sexy because you imagined someone else found you sexy?

Now, the weight room is a utilitarian space, especially at my little corporate gym. We go in there, lift heavy things, put them down again, and call it a day. I want to say that I don’t pay much attention to my appearance when I’m there. And yet… I am constantly conscious of being watched, and aware of my own actions as if I’m watching from the outside. It’s not just the one-way mirror between the dumbbells and the office… and it’s not just how men seem to find it necessary to comment on my lifting… it’s myself, I’m conscious of how I look when I’m resting between sets, when I’m stretching, when I’m lifting. There’s definitely a performative feel sometimes, and it’s very strange to realize that in the moment. Who would I be performing for, especially when it’s just me in there?

As a woman (particularly a fat woman) I feel hypervisible in the gym, especially in the weight room. It bothers me deeply that I’ve internalized this self-surveillance– I don’t even give myself a break from it when I’m alone.

Am I screaming into the void here? Do you guys feel this way too?

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7 Responses to Weight room panopticon

  1. Fed says:

    If it helps, I don’t pay attention at all to the size of women when I’m in the gym. I’m too busy thinking about my own session. Also, no matter what shape or size we all are, we’re in the right place to do something about it :) If someone made fun of my bulging waistline at the gym, I’d reply with something like “Yeah, if only there was a gym nearby… Genius.”

  2. stephieann8 says:

    OMG I was thinking the same thing today when I went to the gym. As I am jogging I am fixing my clothes. I am also constantly looking around the gym to see if anyone is looking at me. I envy the people that just come in a do there thing and have a I don’t care attitude. These are the people that strip down naked in the locker room to my disbelief (i’m sitting right here don’t you see me?) Ugh I haven’t even looked at using the weight machines. I’m afraid of being judged from doing it wrong or something :-/

    • G says:

      I’m one of those people with very little modesty in the locker room! Mostly because it’s much quicker to do my locker room business if I’m not worrying about being covered all the time.

  3. Cheyanne says:

    I absolutely HATE gyms. I always have. When I was in high school, my school didn’t have a PE program so we had to do independent study at the gym around the corner. It was the most awkward place ever for me. When we had to go to our mandatory session with the trainer, I really offended the trainer because I asked him “what’s with all the mirrors? people just really like looking at themselves, or what?” LOL. I was 14. I didn’t know what was appropriate!

    Maybe if I had had a more understanding (FEMALE) trainer take me into the women-only space, it would have been easier for me. I just don’t think sending an awkward, overweight, self-conscious 14 year old girl to a public gym for independent study PE is exactly setting her up for success.

    • G says:

      Your experience in HS sounds terrible– I can’t believe they just sent you to some random gym for PE! That must have been quite a rude awakening, no wonder you still hate gyms.

      I was really, really lucky: in high school I had the option to take an all-girls “Muscle Development” gym class, which was 4 days a week in the weight room (with the free weights!) and 1 doing anatomy classwork or an aerobics tape. I learned a ton from that, and wish that all girls had a similar option!

  4. Pingback: 2016 in review | Running While Fat

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