On Gym Culture

“Will you get out of my way?” snapped the elderly woman, gripping her kick board tight and kicking off from the wall.  Her eyes were twinkling; it’s hard to be taken seriously when your eyes shine with mirth.  “Maybe….” I grinned back, “If I feel like it.”  My answer satisfied her.

As she cruised past another elderly woman was using some foam weights, so I asked her if she’d show me how to use them.  She seemed genuinely surprised that a semi-young-whipper-snapper was asking her for help.  I got weights off of a shelf brimming with water aerobics gear and earned a laugh from them as I’d inadvertently chosen very large ones.  I tried to do the move she showed me of pushing them downwards and found myself lifting off my feet.  I had to move to deeper water to actually keep myself in the water.  These ladies were a combination of kind and cranky and very comfortable in their bodies.  They’re the sort that whips their suit clean off and towels-off fully nude in the middle of the locker room, while gals my age are huddling and covering and ashamed that we are not, after all, some kind of perfect.  I want to be like them.

It was different at my first gym.  I don’t know why some places have such a vibe, but it sort of oozed sexuality; there was strutting, long looks, bootie-shaking Zumba, and a lot of the women came to work out looking better than I’d ever look to go out.  I mean, hair washed, blown-dry, straightened, and then assembled into the most deliberate “messy bun”, and make-up so perfectly applied that they looked prom-ready from the neck up, and triathlon-ready from there down.  After their exercise the whole routine had to be repeated so that they could go out as perfectly as they entered.  Meanwhile I puffed and sweated away on the rowing machine, red-faced and with an honestly messy hairstyle.  I’m not mocking those women (nor the men who very much appreciated their efforts); I don’t feel like I’m better than them nor that I’m a shlub for not taking the same pains.  I’d just say that the things which were important to them in their gym culture were foreign to me and extraneous to what I was after.

There is something about a long-established gym full of old folks.  Our first time going my husband had emerged from his changing room before I had, and I found him enmeshed in a gossiping group of old ladies, crowded around a small table.  I smiled.

Now, there is a Zumba class, and at different hours of the day the crowd may be more young, restless, and on the hunt, but there has been, at all hours, enough of the oldsters around to balance things out.  It has the feel of an old country club with a few youngsters thrown in; a landmark of the community much like a diner in a small town; everyone knows, or at least recognizes the regulars and has something to say about them.  And of course they have a lot to say about the newcomers.

“Where did you come from?!” barked the elderly woman, her swimming cap adding height and severity to her expression.  I pointed to the lap lane next to us from whence I had just swam.  “You just APPEARED!” she cried.  “Someone has to keep you on your toes”, I said, winking.

I think I’ll fit in just fine.


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