Albrecht: Skipping the Gym
By Emily Albrecht, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, February 20, 2013
The message is everywhere. In magazines, glossy pages show muscular men lifting weights and toned women happily trotting on the treadmill. Online ads give advice on how to tighten those abs at the gym and which sets to do. It all revolves around one central idea: people need to work out to be worthy of attention and those who do not should feel ashamed.
Dartmouth women sit in circles at lunch, bemoaning the FoCo cookies now in their stomach or grabbing bland salads because they have been “bad.” They compare who has worked out this week and who has not, with the former coming out prideful winners and the latter feeling lazy and worthless.
These women (and men, though the phenomenon is less common among them) are often healthy young adults who otherwise feel fine about the way their lives are going. But regardless of workload, schedule or most importantly, personal interest, the consensus is that everyone should go to the gym a few times a week.
Why is it assumed that everyone has to conform to the same expectations of fitness and that failing to do shows a lack of character? Exercise comes in different forms, which should primarily serve and concern the individual involved. Personal health can be achieved by taking walks, ice skating, playing “Dance Central,” throwing a Frisbee — believe it or not, physical fitness exists outside of timed runs and hellish Stairmasters.
We all knowingly do things that are not conducive to a “healthy” lifestyle. Smoking and drinking are not advantageous to lasting health, no matter what one may hope. Why are these socially acceptable, but skipping the gym is not, when the former is more detrimental? Though public health is a factor here, there is a difference between encouraging obese children to eat apples and play outside on the one hand, and fat-shaming students of average weight on the other. Some physical activity is necessary; running marathons is not.
Dartmouth especially falls prey to destructive assumptions of physical conformity. Everywhere you look, you see someone coming back from sports practice or mowing pedestrians down on their morning jog. Everyone on campus appears to be physically fit. Little wonder, at a school where the outing club boasts one of the largest extracurricular memberships.
Athletes, of course, can be reasonably expected to exercise deeply and often. But their participation suggests a passion, or at least an affinity, for such activity. They play their sport because they genuinely want to; thus, this column is not about them. This is about the people who wake up distraught because they “have” to go on their morning jog and who shame others into doing the same.
If you do not want to exercise, that is okay. Do not let others shame you into feeling guilty for it, because such activities are not anyone else’s concern. It is no one’s business whether someone else is going to the gym. If somebody abhors going on a run, or riding a bike, or lifting weights or dancing, that is absolutely fine. People should not be made to feel worthless because they do not participate in something that they hate. Regular, narrowly defined exercise is not a mandatory element of life. It is entirely possible to do great things without holding a gym membership or running for miles in the snow.
The problem does not lie only with those who judge others, but also with those who judge themselves. In fact, the first step has to be self-respect. Individuals need to realize that others’ opinions of their exercise habits simply do not matter. Appraising others’ exercise habits is a problem for the person judging, not the person being judged.
Once you internalize this kind of respect, it favorably affects how you see others. When you stop beating yourself up about not going to the gym, you stop beating up others for the same. If the gospel of gym worship is ignored, people can actually spend their time doing things that truly make them happy.