Women and "Looking Good" at the Gym

by Brooke Claflin

An article popped up on my Facebook feed the other day, and although I couldn’t relocate it for the purposes of this article, I can remember that it argued that women should abandon leggings and yoga pants once and for all. The author of the article questioned why we, as women, have felt the need to wear skin-tight articles of clothing, many of which promise to “shape,” “lift,” or do some other equally uncomfortable (albeit attractive) manipulation to our bodies. In fact, exercise clothing has become so stylized and sexualized that we often wear it to class or out in public. As I write this I am wearing leggings, as I often do to class— because yes I do think they are cute.

This begs the question, since when do looking cute and exercising overlap? Why do we feel the need to dress up for the gym? What would be so wrong with wearing loose, comfortable sweatpants to the gym? I think, however, that the problem of women at the gym expands far beyond clothing.

If anything, clothing is merely a symptom of the larger problem. This larger problem I will sketch out from largely personal and anecdotal experience. I go to the Earth Treks (a rock climbing gym) in Crystal City, where I climb with other Georgetown students. I have come to realize that my experience as a female at this gym is very different from the male one. It is important to know that in climbing it is seen as bad etiquette to explain how to successfully climb a route unless your advice (colloquially called beta) has been requested. Therefore, I am often frustrated when complete strangers, almost always men, have attempted to assist me without my prompting. Moreover, I have watched as my female friends have gone through the exact same experience. Even more frustrating is the surprise that some male climbers express when a woman climber is stronger or more skilled than they are. Overall, the mansplaining and patronizing aspects of comments in the climbing gym have made a place I love at times feel uncomfortable.

I hate to come across as rude, especially to complete strangers, but I have given up on nicely answering to these remarks. After reading the article on leggings from which this whole blog idea stemmed, maybe I will give up on those next (even though they are cute). I am not really sure how to change any of this, but I’ve found a good first step is pointing out to people when they have overstepped their bounds by making inappropriate or sexist comments.