Liking the gym as privilege

Occasionally I share things on our Facebook page that get a negative reaction. The box of text above was one such thing.

I was thinking of the text and its message in the context of the Nia Shanks book three of us are reading and reviewing together. See here and here and here. The bit of the text that spoke to me was loving the journey and finding physical activities you love if you want more physical activity in your life. Whatever you do don’t make it struggle. There’s enough struggle in most of our lives. Make it the thing you look forward to as a reward for the rest of the struggling.

(An aside: I know one can’t always do that. I no longer say, if you don’t love it, don’t do it. Often for me, these days, exercise is tedious and painful and I do it anyway. But it’s still an aspirational goal. I’m doing painful physio so I can do long dog hikes and walks around New York in the future and those are activities I love.)

Instead what readers heard was that loving the gym was a choice. And they rightly pointed out that that’s an easier choice for some of us than others. It’s easier if you are able-bodied. It’s easier if you’re young, thin, conventionally attractive, gender conforming. It’s also easier if you are wealthy, have childcare, aren’t working multiple jobs to make ends meet, or have responsibilities to care for others that take up almost all of your time.

And I know all this. The thing I know the most about is weight bias. I’ve written lots from my own experience about fat shaming and thin privilege. See here and here. But I also struggle with juggling work and some pretty big family responsibilities.

Further, lots of fit active people hate the gym. They’re out there skiing or kayaking or climbing or hiking, etc etc. And people pointed this out too.

I thanked everyone for their feedback and I agreed they were right. Mostly I don’t engage much in discussions in comment threads. I’m a philosopher by training and even blog posts seem short and fast to me. Comment threads get out of hand quickly. But what I wanted to say was that I share things in the context of the blog and the Facebook page as a whole. I share things of interest, things that will speak to some of us. We won’t all like all of the things.

It was a thoughtful and polite discussion in the comment thread. But I still found myself wanting to ask people to think big picture, to see the whole story, to think about what I thought might be valuable in the text, and to consider why I might have shared it. Look for connection first and criticize later. But I also see in this world, the world in which we’re all under so much pressure to look a certain way and be a certain way, that being asked to like something can be felt as coercive.

Of course, you don’t have to like the gym.

But if you do want more physical activity in your life (keeping in mind that’s not a goal you have to have, but you’re here reading a blog on feminist approaches to fitness…) it’s easier if you find something you enjoy. That doesn’t need to be the gym. Around here we’re getting lots of mileage at this time of year out of walking our dogs and at home yoga! I’ve promised myself that after my knee replacement I’m going to spend more time dancing. I want to swim more outside in the summer. And I want to keep on walking Cheddar.

What do you love?

4 thoughts on “Liking the gym as privilege

  1. I am one of those who does not like the gym, but one of my best friends loves it. We joke regularly about our differences. I much prefer swimming, either with my swim club or with my buddies outdoors in all weather, or dance classes, or riding my horse. Those are all privilege things too, because I am terrible at doing things without prompting; I need formal lessons, or a coach, or or peer pressure from friends. I ride my bike to work as often as I can because I dislike walking to work, though I am slowly learning to do it more regularly (just in time to plan for my retirement).

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever commented on this/your blog but I want to express my appreciation for your diplomacy and patience in this post. I understood exactly (well, I believe I understand) what your intention was in the media post right from the FIRST sentence: find a way to love a fit lifestyle; find a style that you love that is healthy. I am one who finds it unnecessary and a waste of time to jump to wrong conclusions because one doesn’t like/understand/agree with something someone ‘said’. Look for connections (or what can I take away in a positive manner?) or common ground before fault-finding or commenting just to be heard. I love hiking, dog walking. I like kayaking.

  3. I definitely got the point of what you were saying. I love the gym, but I used to hate it because I thought the gym was cardio machines. Now I lift weights almost exclusively and I love going. And I understand part of it is privilege, but I also work 2 jobs- one as an online personal trainer, the other full time that pays the bills, I have 2 kids at home, and a husband to travels extensively for 7 months of the year. I also love downhill skiing, also privileged to live where I do (in Colorado, US) and that a nearby hill has a family season pass that costs about half of what other places do. We make sacrifices to do that together such as not eating at restaurants, rarely (if ever) drinking alcohol, not going to the movies, and getting books from the library as opposed to buying them.

    But I don’t believe in one way to be fit, either. I wonder if commenters saw it through the lens of saying that it was just one way?

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