I had just completed my first step class in quite some time when an unfamiliar but friendly face approached me.
“Congrats!” she said cheerily. “It’s so exciting to be starting a new healthy lifestyle.”
The thing was, I wasn’t starting anything.
I had been coming to this particular gym for more than a year; I’ve been exercising regularly since high school. I frequently attended other fitness classes, worked with a personal trainer, and kicked my own butt on the days those other options weren’t available. The only thing I was getting started with was trying to overcome my lack of coordination and rhythm—hence, the addition of step class.
All this flashed through my mind as I looked at the sweet face in front of me. I knew this person hadn’t meant to be offensive, but there was only one explanation in my mind: She had looked at my size-16 frame and assumed that I didn’t have an ongoing, long-term fitness routine.
Despite being annoyed about being on the receiving end of that woman’s comment, I’m guilty of doing the same thing myself. Judgment in the gym is everywhere. People who are plus sized might be the most self-conscious about walking into the weight room, but the truth is that those judgy feelings can flow in every direction.
Ideally, we would all just focus on ourselves at the gym. But whether you’re jogging on the treadmill, taking a class, or lifting weights, there is always time for people watching. Your body is occupied, but your mind (and eyes) are free to wander, thinking about those around you. When we’re at the gym, we make snap judgments about nearly everyone: the older woman working out in a crop top, the buff men grunting loudly, and even the star of step class, adding her own moves to the routine. (What a showoff!)
Sometimes even I forget that the people around me in the gym have absolutely zero bearing on my reasons for being there. If people are carving out the time in their busy schedules to get to the gym, they’re choosing to prioritize their physical and mental wellness. Instead of undermining that positive move with judgmental thoughts, I’ve been trying to connect with the fact that everyone in the gym—no matter what they look like, how they move, or what they’re wearing—is there for the exact same reasons I am.
Now, when I find myself noticing someone else, I try to practice empathy and put myself in their shoes. I find something positive to say about them in my head to take the place of any judgmental thoughts that pop up. If someone working out near me is clearly out of shape, I internally praise the bravery it may have taken for them to come in those doors. That woman making up her own moves in step class? At least she isn’t getting bored! The old man shuffling along the track or the college athlete loudly sprinting by him: What dedication from both of them to be here, prioritizing themselves.
I’ve found that focusing on positives—rather than judging my fellow gym-goers, which just makes me feel nasty—keeps my post-workout high going and keeps me in a great mindset for the rest of the day.