Body consciousness. Self-consciousness. Feeling like everyone is looking at you, watching you, judging you. There is nothing like going to the gym to make one feel like they just walked into the first day of sixth grade at a new school. Awkward. The type of moment that can fill one’s nightmares.
I first joined our local YMCA after it opened fifteen years ago when I was thirty. I’ve been a member off an on over the years, mostly off the last six years. This past Saturday, I rejoined and went right into the fitness room elated that my favorite elliptical machine hadn’t been replaced with a newer model with the flailing handles for your arms. For me doing my legs and arms at the same time distracts me, too much going on. I was also thrilled to find that all my cycling really upped my fitness level and I set up my resistance as well as increased my time on the machine to almost an hour. But being a cardio machine that goes no where coupled with the fact I don’t really like watching tv while I work out, my mind wandered when I wasn’t covertly watching people working out or interacting. I’m a rabid people watcher, I can’t help myself.
I notice how people dress, silently wishing that they would outlaw white socks with black running shoes but mostly I just observe. Then I realize the machine I’m on is really out in front of the room, I’m highly visible to everyone and I have on tight black spandex capris with neon yellow stripes down each side of the leg that I purposely picked for cycling on cooler, darker days. For visibility. And visible I am, the big blonde beacon of ‘hey look at me!’. I had topped my flamboyant capris with a bright pink sports bra under a even brighter Barney purple fitted racer back tank. I hadn’t even bothered to coordinate my colors, I looked like a two-year old who was allowed to dress herself, in the dark.
But I realized, I had been oblivious to anyone paying attention to my carnival-like attire nor had I been worrying about what others might think of my body or how I looked (my hair was wild from slipping out of the hastily pulled up pony tail). It was the first time that I had walked into the gym not attired in my usual t-shirt that would be ginormous on my 6’3 husband and wearing pants or shorts that were at least one size larger than I needed, preferably two sizes larger. Nothing clingy on this girl. Someone might see a fat roll and you know life would end as we know it because the earth would cease to rotate on it’s axis. Or so it felt back then.
Sweat drips off of me, my tank top plagued with darker purple patches of fabric as I workout harder. I don’t care. I really don’t care that I’m wearing form fitting workout clothes because they don’t get in the way, I worked hard to be in the shape I am now which is never going to be perfect. I don’t care that my hair looks like birds have been living in it because I’m just going to go home and shower anyway. I don’t care if my ass is so big and jiggly that people are talking about it as my legs are pedaling furiously on the machine. I don’t care. I’ve reached that point in my life where I have started focusing on what I want and not what I think other people want.
I smile to myself as my eyes sting from the sweat that just rolled into them and I realize I am happy. Happy to be living my life for me. I’m not there working out to have a body that will attract men or be the envy of other women, I’m working out to be stronger, to ride better, to live better and healthier, to like how I look for me. I love the strong calf muscles all those miles earned me this past riding season. I like walking across the crowded gym and not feeling self-conscious. I like the self-confidence I feel and project because I’ve noticed much younger guys checking me out until they realize, I’m old enough to be their mother. Gotcha! Yeah it’s a bit creepy for me too, buddy, but flattering none the less. Either that or they are trying to figure out who dresses me… Most likely the latter, but hey, let me live my fantasy.
The sad part is all those years I spent hiding in the shadows. I notice my daughters have started adopting my I don’t give a shit what people think attitude. Maybe I’ll reach one or two people with this post. Stop wasting your life worrying about ‘other people’. Just enjoy it. Wear bright purple and neon yellow together, if it makes you happy. Always walk into a room like you own the place, even if inside you feel small or scared. What the hell? The world isn’t going to stop spinning on it’s axis, at least not over how you’re dressed or a fat roll is visible through shiny purple fabric.
Now go out there and be yourself, everyone else be damned! And if they stare at you too long, just smile slyly and say “Whatcha Looking at?” Then they will be the one who will feel small…