The Challenge of Going to the Gym for the Body Conscious
The locker room isn’t the only scary place in the fitness center. The workout areas present their own challenges for the self-conscious. Just like in the locker room, the fear that others are watching and judging is a very real part of the gym culture.
“Many people who go to a gym actually do look good,” says Noel Holdsworth, DNH, PMH ARNP-BC, CTS, a board-certified nurse practitioner of psychiatry of mental health for Winter Haven Hospital’s Center for Psychiatry. “So when a person who is just starting out (who does not look similar to the others regularly working out at the gym — either in reality or in perception) sees the body of how they want to look or think they should look, it is very easy to get discouraged.”
Holdsworth says the gyms also are a place where people confront their denial.
“Even in the absence of a poor body image, (individuals often do not have an accurate image of their body), and when put in an environment where mirrors abound, opportunities for comparisons occur,” she says. “The reality of how they look and how they think they look can clash.”
In an “atmosphere of bodies on display,” body image insecurities certainly play a role, but beyond the self-comparisons in size and shape, the gym adds in skill level to boot.
“I think the individual needs to decide the appropriate sequence of events for their needs,” Holdsworth says. “One person might need help with his/her body image first (such as counseling) before he/she becomes vulnerable and exposes him/herself in such a public arena.”
“For others, however, going to the gym and pushing themselves through the experience will in of itself help to improve their thinking and then change that image,” she adds. “In the end, realize that the people in the gym are people just like you and may have shared the same concerns but pushed themselves, had support from others, made the commitment, and are seeing change. If they can do it, so can you.”
However, there is no one approach that works best for everyone.
“For some the emphasis on just the value of the workout is all that is necessary, but for others using the workout as a tool to over come their negative body image is the best approach,” Holdsworth says. “But for both, having a coach, a cheerleader or just a partner to share the experience with can promote success.”
Start small and set realistic expectations.
Ask someone in the center for assistance if you’re not sure how to use something. That is what they’re there for.
Wear clothing you feel comfortable in.
Remember that fellow gym goers probably aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing.
story by DANA CARMAN