The Six Greatest People You See at the Gym

Depending on who you are, the gym can be a very fun place. Some people see it as a house of torture, and some people see it as a playground for adults, but there is one thing about it that I always find myself enjoying: the people. The gym is a place where people can simply be ridiculous if they want to be, because let’s face it, whether you love the gym or you hate the gym, you’re there to pick up heavy things over and over again until you think you look better, or to run in place until you’re little more than a sweaty mess of a human being. So to celebrate the awesome things that either endorphins or exhaustion allows us to do in public, I’m going to count down the six greatest people that I tend to see at the gym (in no particular order – you’re all superstars here).

1) Grunters

These are the people who are really working out, and they want you to know that they’re really working out. Every time that they lift their weight, they let out a loud “UGH”, and then do it again. “UGH! UGH! UGH!” Maybe their weights are too heavy. Maybe they’re just showing off. But either way, you can hear them from across the room. Variations of the grunters would be squeakers (people like me, who sound oddly like someone let the air out of a balloon when their weights get too heavy), and people who mutter some sort of exclamation, usually a swear word, after finishing a set.

2) Singers

Usually, these are people who have their earphones in, their music loud, and they are really, really feeling it. These are happy people, singing along to their happy songs, or they’re pumped up workout junkies whose adrenaline is high and their music is a part of that high. And as they work out, even if it’s ever so slightly, they’re singing along to their Spotify playlist. And you know what – you go singers. Belt your little heart out, because it really seems like you’re enjoying your workout, and that’s awesome. And besides, everyone deserves to be serenaded during their sets, especially if they’ve forgotten their own music at home. Thank you for your service, singers.

3) People who throw their weights on the floor

I typically see guys doing this at the gym, although I’m sure it’s not exclusively a male thing. But it’s always some big, muscular dude, doing his bicep curls or something (maybe providing us with his services as a grunter as well), and then when he finishes with his set, he is done. He just drops those weights brutally, and then turns and walks off, leaving them to lie there and wonder what happened. Were they just dumped? Did he ever really care? Will they be put back in the rack to be lifted again? Who knows, all that’s clear is that this guy is done.

4) People who wear whatever they want

So I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there does seem to be something of a dress code to the gym, and a lot of it seems to be based on how fit you are. If you’re really fit, you tend to wear clothes that shows off your body a bit more, but if you aren’t very fit quite yet, maybe you just started at the gym or maybe you’re body just isn’t made to be thin or muscular or maybe those simply aren’t your goals, you tend to wear clothes that cover you up a bit more. And that’s all well and good, wear what makes you comfortable, whatever, but I have to admit that it’s awesome when you see people who shake things up a bit more. Because let’s face it, going to the gym to get super sweaty in the middle of summer can suck, especially if there’s no air conditioning and you’ve delegated yourself to covering up. And often times, such people who are covering themselves up are not doing it just because they want to, but because they’re self-conscious, when there’s nothing to feel self-conscious about! You look beautiful, so screw the dress code! Wear what you want!

5) Posers

This one, I blame on the fact that there are so many mirrors everywhere. Because you’re there to work out, your muscles are all pumped up and – oh! Oh, I didn’t realize that my shoulders were that toned! Next thing you know, you’re posing in the mirror, checking out your biceps, your triceps, your butt muscles, realizing just now that all that hard work you put in has paid off. And good for you!

6) Selfie takers

These ones are similar to the posers, but different enough to earn their own spot on the list. Like posers, they’ve just realized how much their hard work is paying off, but unlike the posers, they aren’t satisfied with being the only one to realize this. They want everyone to know, but at the same time, they want to be discreet about it. So they sneak out the cell phone, either on the floor or in the change room, and they snap a quick shot in the mirror so that they can later post it online with a caption like “I’ve worked so hard for this body and I’m so glad that it’s finally paying off”. Or “no pain no gain”. You know, something like that.

And now that I have counted down six of the best people at the gym, now it’s your turn! This isn’t a complete list – it’s just a start, because there are so many awesome people everywhere! So tell me, what awesome people do you like to see when you go to the gym?

Why We Need To Teach, Rather Than Bully

I recently heard about a young boy who took to Twitter and wrote something that I, personally, disagree with. “There are only two genders,” this boy wrote, and nothing more than that. No threats. No elaboration. Just a short sentence that disregards the existence of transgender, non-binary, and gender queer individuals. Now, I happen to believe that there are more than two genders. In fact, I believe that gender is a societal construct to begin with. But that is not what I want to focus on. What I want to focus on is the reaction that people had to this boy.

Before I begin, I want to emphasize that this boy was an eighteen year old teenager who was just about to graduate from high school. And when people read his tweet that was, admittedly, unnecessary and bullying, they responded by bullying him. They messaged him with personal insults, telling him that he was cruel and ugly. They sent messages to the universities that he applied to, telling them not to accept him because he was a transphobic piece of shit. And, yes, what this boy said was not okay. Any transgender, non-binary, or gender queer person who happened to be following him on Twitter could have seen that tweet and felt a punch to the gut, a realization that there was just another person out there saying that they didn’t exist, that the ways that they feel and think aren’t valid, and that is never okay. But the reaction that people had to this boy was not morally better.

In this specific situation, the boy was very young – still a teenager. And teenagers tend to say stupid things – not because they’re teenagers, but because they’re young, they’re still learning about their place in society and the place of others in society. And more than that, it is a fact that men and boys have a harder time accepting more than two genders than women and girls do. This is not because men are inherently transphobic, but because men are taught from a young age that they have to “be a man”, that their masculinity is important and needs to be maintained, and so when they see something that they perceive to be an insult to the accepted way that things are, such as a transgender, non-binary, or gender queer person, they react with offence or anger.

And so in this specific situation, what we had was a young boy, still capable of learning, but stuck in his idea of what is right or wrong and having a hard time moving passed that. He reacted by insulting a group of people who are already persecuted regularly, yes, but that is what he was nonetheless. And when he did that, nobody tried to teach him anything. Nobody tried to help him move passed where he is stuck. They just insulted him, belittled him, and tried to ruin his life by limiting his access to the education that he actually needed.

And that’s just what this boy needed: education. He needed someone to reach out to him and say, “I get that you believe that there are only two genders, but this is why I disagree”, and he needed that person to say it politely and with an open mind. Had someone done that to this boy, then he might have seen why his tweet could be considered offensive. He might have changed his mind about what gender can be. Or, at the very least, he might have been more respectful toward transgender, non-binary, and gender queer people in the future. None of that will happen if people respond to him with nothing with hostility. In fact, there is a good chance that it will only increase his hostility toward them, because he will begin to feel like that community hates him.

I am proud to call myself an intersectional feminist. I want to do my best to learn about the experiences of other people, to spread awareness of the issues faced by women, LGBTQ+ people, people of colour, disabled people, people dealing with mental illness, whatever the case may be. But there are many people who feel the same way as me about this who respond to people with differing opinions with hostility.

And I’m not going to pretend that I don’t understand where the hostility comes from, because it comes from a few places. It comes from the belief that all people need is more education and they would change their minds about the matter. It comes from the belief that it isn’t as simple as saying that they have “different opinions”, because these are opinions that involve the very existence of certain people, or the very basic human rights that they deserve. It comes from the frustration that inevitably occurs when you are trying to get your government to recognize that you deserve to be acknowledged and treated equally, but others refuse to allow it when they don’t even know your experience. And it comes from the belief that it is not the life purpose of a person of colour to teach white people about what their experience is, or a transgender person to teach cisgendered people – it is something that you should go out and learn about yourself.

And I get it, I do – as a bisexual woman, sometimes I get tired about talking about the experience of being a bisexual woman. Sometimes, I’d really rather people didn’t see me as just a bisexual woman, but as a person, more than a representative of my community. But I also understand that, if you are not a part of this community, then there is also a good chance that you are too busy dealing with your own dumb life to go out and learn about mine. And it is very easy when society constantly tells you “this is right, and this is what people are” to just accept that message without thinking twice about it.

But more than that, regardless of a person’s reasons for believing something different from me, I love my cause too much to let it earn the hostility that it will inevitably get if I am too dismissive of other people. Personally insulting other people and calling them stupid and wrong makes them upset. It makes them hate the person who called them that, and whether you care about that or not is your deal, but you should care about the fact that it will also make them hate the subject that you are arguing about. It will close them off from ever hearing anything more from you. It will keep them from learning more, from becoming educated, from understanding why it is you feel the way you do.

And I understand that it is sometimes hurtful to hear the sort of comments that are made. It is hurtful to be told that you don’t exist, that your perspective doesn’t matter, that you don’t deserve basic human rights – I understand that completely. And sometimes, when people are hurtful, your instinct is to be hurtful back. But in many cases, even when these people are being harmful, they are not doing it because they want to be – they are doing it because society has made them believe that they are in the right. They believe in what they are saying. And so getting mad at them will get them no where, but talking to them, having a rational discussion where you explain your perspective and you listen to theirs, might. And maybe you won’t turn them into an ally overnight, but you will have introduced something to them that they can think on. Maybe they won’t think on it. Maybe you change nothing. But isn’t it better to be the bigger person and try to make them understand your side, than it is to bully people for not being on it?

The Door to the Rest of My Life

I found the door to the rest of my life, and it is open.

Now, I am expected to walk through it.

Now I have no choice but to walk through it. It doesn’t matter that I never thought I would get this far. It doesn’t matter that my life was supposed to end several years ago, in a bathtub, in a pool of my own blood. It doesn’t matter that I was born to be a sad story stuffed into the smallest corner of the newspaper: TEENAGE SUICIDE, it was supposed to read, and people were supposed to hear about me and shake their heads and say “what a shame” before moving on, forgetting me.

It doesn’t matter, because it didn’t happen. I’m here. I’m alive. And I will never be a teenage suicide, because I will never be a teenager again.

I’m an adult.

I’m a possibility.

I’m alive. And there’s so much that I can do so long as that remains true.

Because death is so final, and life is ever changing.

I can walk through that door. I can follow the plan that I didn’t have until recently, the plan that I never made when I was young because I was never supposed to get this far. The simple plan: job, move, school, career, maybe get married, maybe be happy, run into problems along the way but always push through them. I can do that now. I can live a life.

And what a strange party it is that I hold for myself, alone, in private. No invitations can be sent out because no one can know the reason why life overwhelms me and thrills me all at once. No one can know why I think it’s a miracle to be alive. If they knew they would worry, but they really shouldn’t because I survived. I made it through. I didn’t kill myself and I won’t kill myself. Instead of cutting into my skin, I fortified it with armour so that when the feeling comes back, I’ll know what to do. I’ll have prepared for this.

And for now, I found the door to the rest of my life, the door that was never supposed to exist in the first place. And I am walking through it.

Why Nudity Can Be Empowering

The relationship that women have with their own bodies is a very odd one in our society. And by that, I am specifically referring to the fact that whether or not women should be clothed and in what situations it is appropriate is actually a very controversial and passionate conversation that our society holds.

Some people say that women should be conservatively dressed at all times, because if they’re going to ‘dress like a whore’ then they deserve to be treated ‘like a whore’.

Some people say that nudity is empowering, and that women should be allowed to wear what they want when they want.

And more recently, I’ve heard the argument that nudity is actually oppressive toward women – not because of that whole ‘whore’ thing that I discussed earlier, but because we live in a patriarchal society. This argument states that women should not dress provocatively, and they should not present themselves in a sexual manner publicly, because that is what society expects from us. Society sees us as sexual objects, and thus we are fulfilling that role for them. We turn ourselves into sexual objects because that is what we are expected to be.

But, personally, I take issue with this third argument. I take issue with the first argument too, but that isn’t my focus now – what I want to talk about is how nudity can, yes, be objectifying, but it can also be extremely liberating. It all depends on the context.

This third argument, in my opinion, is taking a very specific situation and using it to disregard nudity and open sexuality altogether. This argument focuses on the typical model on the cover of a magazine, dressed in as few clothes as possible and tipping her head back, full lips parted, passivity in her eyes. This argument focuses on women like Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears, women who are traditionally beautiful and who frequently pose provocatively, but they do so for a male gaze. This is the age-old argument against pornography: it’s all about the man’s pleasure, and never the woman’s. She can be sexy, but she must also be pure, faithful, silent. And, yes, this is an objectifying and oppressive situation. But it is just one side of the story.

Because as much as there are women who pose provocatively specifically for a male gaze, there are also women who can be openly sexual and be doing it for themselves, for their own pleasure. The pop singer P!nk, for example, who has vocally taken issue with the way that Kim Kardashian uses her own sexuality, has frequently sang songs about sex, posed provocatively for photographs and appeared scantily clad in her music videos, and has in fact been either publicly nude or close to. And yet, the difference between these two celebrities is that one never gets the feeling that P!nk is not in control of her own sexuality and her own body. She is not dressed that way because some male advisor told her that it would be the best move for her career; she is dressed that way because she wants to be dressed that way (or so her public image would suggest). And that creates a world of difference. No longer is the woman in question a sexual object, there to be looked upon by a man. All of a sudden, she becomes an actual person, someone with a body and a sexuality all her own, that she commands. She is in complete control.

And more than that, ‘nudity’ and ‘sexuality’ are not always the same thing. We always assume that, if a person is scantily clad or naked, that must mean that they are inherently doing so for someone’s attention, right? Well, not necessarily.

There are a lot of people in our society who are routinely told by society that their bodies are ugly. In fact, I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of people are told that their bodies are ugly. This message is given to overweight people, scarred people, people with stretch marks, disabled people, transgender people, people with extra skin, people who are older or wrinkled – the list goes on. And when people are told that their bodies are ugly, they are told that they should cover it. So the simple act of not doing that, of forcing people to look at your body when society has made it so easy for them to forget that it even exists, is a liberating one.

And to return to the issue of women and their bodies, women are told even more frequently than men are that their bodies are wrong, disgusting, and simultaneously, sexual objects. Women have been reprimanded for breastfeeding in public, because the act involves uncovering a breast, and people do not want to see that. Instead, the woman must segregate herself from society, feeding her baby in a dirty and busy bathroom. Women are told that they must maintain their bodies in ways that men find sexually appealing, and so if a woman goes into public with uncovered and unshaven legs or armpits, they run the risk of being told that that is disgusting. But the thing about these two examples is that they are not disgusting; they are naturally occurring parts of a woman’s body, but society has made it all to easy to forget that.

One good example of this sort of nudity that we’ve seen in the media recently would Amber Rose’s bottomless photograph that she added to Instagram, proudly showing off her pubic hair – something that women are often told that they should shave if they want to be considered sexy. If Amber Rose was playing into society’s expectation that she be a sexual object, then she would have also played into society’s expectation that she be completely hairless to make it easier for the average man to objectify her, but she didn’t. She wanted people to see her pubic hair because she wanted people to remember that women have pubic hair and that that’s okay. There should be no shame attached to it. It’s just a part of her body.

So while nudity can be empowering in the scenario where it is used to foreground the woman’s control over her own sexuality, it can also be empowering when it is used to deny the belief that something about the woman’s body is disgusting or not right. And both of these types of empowerment are incredibly important. We as a society tend to ignore female sexuality, to focus almost entirely on the man and his pleasure, and so it is important to see women who are willing to say, “yes, I am a woman, and yes, I have my own desires”. Women need to know that it is okay for them to explore their own sexuality. And furthermore, women need to know that their bodies are okay the way that they are. When we do see nude or scantily clad bodies, too often they are all very similar – airbrushed, photoshopped, perfected into what the typical man would think of as ‘sexy’, but there are so many different kinds of bodies to have. Women with stretch marks need to know that they aren’t alone. Women with extra body fat need to know that they aren’t disgusting. And women with disabilities need to know that they are still beautiful. And one good way that we can prove this is by showing them examples. And these examples most certainly exist – they’re just told that they need to keep themselves hidden beneath clothing.

And yes, there are situations where nudity can be used as more oppressive than liberating. And yes, there are more ways to empower women than just nudity, and in some cases, some women would prefer modesty. These women are perfectly valid, but so are the women who are empowered by nudity or skimpy clothing. We as a society cannot ignore their experiences, and we cannot assume that every time that a woman dresses herself, she is doing so for the approval or disapproval of men.

Why Positive Thinking is Important

The idea of being positive is not always an easy one.

For people who are clinically depressed, for example, it can seem damn near impossible. Depression is a disease, quite literally – it creeps into your brain and infects it with negative thoughts, stealing away your motivation. Telling a person with depression to ‘just think positive’, and that will make their depression go away, is not as simple as all that. Depression doesn’t just go away because you tell it to.

And more than that, even if you aren’t clinically depressed, negative thoughts can become a pattern, a rut that you fall into, and the only way out of it is a steep, laborious climb. Every time something happens, you assume the worst, over, and over, and over, until it just becomes automatic. Of course the worst is going to happen. That’s what it does. That’s what you assume, every time.

But that being said, just because positive thoughts are difficult to think, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. In fact, quite the opposite: we need to try.

Many of us have heard of the experiment involving two plants: both of which are kept in the same environment, watered the same, treated the same, except that one plant is spoken to with negative words, and the other plant is spoken to with positive words. The plant that is praised grows tall and strong and beautiful, while the plant that is insulted grows stunted and ugly. There is no doubt that words have an immense amount of power; the words that people speak to us, the words that we use toward ourselves. Words have the power to shape our own self-image, the way that others see us. If we say that we are stupid and ugly, then it doesn’t matter if it is true or not; we believe it’s true, and that makes it true. So doesn’t it make sense to say that our thoughts hold the same power? Our thoughts hold the power to shape the world as we know it?

The world is neither good nor bad; it exists with aspects of both, and to each individual person, it becomes characterized by the way that we see it. If we see war, death, division, famine, hatred, then of course the world is a negative place – how could it be anything but? If we see love, joy, peace, innocence, hope, then the world is a positive place. It all depends on what we choose to focus on. And as much as it can be dangerous to accept naiveté and ignore the negative aspects of life, it is also very dangerous to dwell solely on that negative. If we dwell solely on the negative, we become like that plant – twisted and ugly, not necessarily externally but internally. We make ourselves depressed. We strip ourselves of our will to fight, our motivation. We take from ourselves things that we need to live our lives in a full and fulfilling way.

So as much as thinking positively is not always easy, it is something that we need to do. It is not something that is dependant on our situation, not something that time will eventually give to us. We will not stumble upon it when all the planets align and our life becomes perfect, because that will never happen. Your life will never be perfect, but all of our troubles, whether they be great or small, will seem easier to deal with when we teach ourselves to think positively, because that is what we need to do. Positive thinking is something that we need to train ourselves to do, even if we do it gradually. Even if it takes us years to get into the habit. Start by recognizing when your thoughts are unnecessarily negative and telling yourself something positive instead, even if you don’t believe it at first. Because eventually, if you do it enough, you might start to believe it. And eventually, the positive thoughts might even become automatic. Maybe not immediately, maybe not for a long while and with some difficulty, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we try.