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?

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 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.

‘Feminism’ and ‘Man-Hating’ Are Not The Same Thing

I have identified as a feminist for quite a while now, and especially recently, I’ve been very vocal about it. I don’t think there’s any shame is being vocal – in fact, I think it’s kind of important. After all, the only way to confront issues like rape culture, the objectification of women, and outdated gender roles is if we actually talk about them. But talking about feminism (and more than that, using the word ‘feminism’ unashamedly) has made me increasingly aware of another issue: the way in which feminism is frequently perceived as man-hating.

When I first started talking about feminism, I had heard women make comments such as “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men”, and so I knew about the association going in. But at the same time, I figured that very few people would associate me as a man-hater simply because I knew that I would be careful about the way that I talked. I would make sure that nothing that I said sounded hateful, and for two reasons: 1) because I don’t believe in fighting hate with hate, or think that I will be taken seriously if I do sound hateful, and 2) because I don’t hate men. I hate toxic masculinity, sure (more on that later), but men as a group are great, I’m not going to dismiss them all based solely on the fact that they associate themselves with a specific gender.

And yet, even while being careful about what I say, I’ve still gotten multiple responses that insinuate that all feminists (and me by extension) are man-haters. I’ve had people respond to a perfectly inclusive feminist discussion by saying, “you’re right; women are better”, when that wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. I’ve had people say, “it’s weird to hear you talk like that, because most feminists are man-haters”, when that isn’t my usual experience. And oddest of all, even when I’m not even talking about feminism at the time, I’ve had people make comments such as, “well, you know how Ciara feels about men”, as though they immediately assume that because I talk about feminism, I have negative feelings toward men.

And I don’t. I really don’t. In fact, part of identifying as an intersectional feminist means that I actively try to avoid having any negative feelings toward any group of people who just happened to be born a certain way.

So why is this such a common assumption that people make?

Well, it isn’t any secret that this idea of the man-hating feminist has become a common one in popular culture. We hear talk of ‘feminazies’, as though somewhere in the world, there are actually group of feminists that round men up and lock them away in concentration camps (just so this is clear, this has never happened in the history of the planet). We hear about bra-burning feminists who scream in people’s faces to get shit done, to turn the order of the world upside down so that women rule and men obey. But the odd thing about this imagine is that, as common as it is to come to people’s minds, it doesn’t at all reflect the reality of feminism and its goals.

Ask anyone who identifies as a feminist, and chances are they will tell you the same thing: feminism is not about giving women, as a group, a position of superiority over men, as a group. If anyone is clambering to turn men into slaves and dogs, they are extremists and do not reflect the views of the average feminist. By definition, feminism is about creating a society of equality, one where nobody is limited by their gender. A society where women can lead the country and where men can express emotion.

And that brings me to another point – feminism does not solely concern women. Feminism primarily concerns women, sure: if a completely feminist world is created, it is women who will see the biggest changes in their lives, but women will not see the only change. Many feminist issues involve men, and not just as the perpetrators. This is because feminism is not a battle between men and women – feminism is a battle between feminists (male and female alike) and the patriarchy.

For those of you who do not know what the patriarchy is, this is the name given to a very traditional set of societal rules that enforce the idea that men and everything associated with male-ness is superior to women and everything associated with them. And believe it or not, the patriarchy hurts men too. The patriarchy is what enforces the idea that men must be tough and unemotional. The patriarchy demands that men be providers for their family, that they make good money, protect their women from any threats, that they have women in the first place and they aren’t, in fact, gay. And the hard truth about many of these expectations is that they aren’t easy to live up to. Some men have a very difficult time providing for their families, and when they do, they confront a sense of failure, an inability to be ‘the man’. All men are born with emotions, but the patriarchy demands that they don’t express them, that they bury them deep down and bear that burden alone, resulting in a difficult time expressing themselves and inevitable feelings of loneliness. And because the patriarchy views men as tough, when they are the victims of rape or abuse, it isn’t rare for people to not believe them, simply because they’re men and should have been able to fight off their attacker, especially if their attacker was a (according to the patriarchy) weak and fragile woman.

The patriarchy also expresses an odd perspective when it comes to men and children, including their own. According to the patriarchy, men are not natural parents in the way that women are, and therefore, when they take care of their children they are ‘babysitting’. Women are considered the primary caregivers; men are merely helping out. This can be a problem for the woman, most certainly, but it is also a problem for the man who wants to be taken seriously as his child’s father.

Furthermore, the patriarchy is also responsible for what is called ‘toxic masculinity’ – a set of learned behaviours that society pushes on men specifically, but are ultimately harmful, both to the man displaying them and to others. An example of toxic masculinity would be a display of violence – an act that is very frequently done to prove a man’s toughness (or maleness), but can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Other examples of toxic masculinity would include misogyny, homophobia, and sexual assault.

But toxic masculinity is not something that is innate to the male gender as a whole, and it is not a set of behaviours displayed by every man. When I say that toxic masculinity is something that needs to end, I am not referring to men as a whole, nor to masculinity as a whole. All that I am saying is that we as a society need to stop teaching boys from such a young age that they need to turn to such extremes to prove their maleness, because doing so only hurts them and others in the long run.

And these are issues that feminism is trying to fight. Feminism wants men to be able to show emotion, to allow their wife to provide for them if that dynamic works better for them, to not feel any shame if they don’t quite live up to what society demands that they be. Feminism is about equality, and that equality includes men.

Feminism is not an exclusive club either; men can identify as feminists just as much as women can. In fact, many male celebrities have stood up for feminism in the media, including Patrick Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Daniel Radcliffe. Even the Dalai Lama has outright referred to himself as a feminist. These are not men who are actively fighting against their own interests; they are men who believe in equality. Equality for the women in their lives to have command over their own bodies and to pursue whatever they want in life, as well as equality for men to have emotion and be taken seriously as their child’s parent.

Why I Cut My Hair

Women tend to have a strange relationship with their hair.

We’ve all heard the jokes about women going into the hairdresser’s and asking for a trim, and then being horrified when a bit more is cut off than they intended. And as much as it is a joke, it is also a sign of the strong attachment that women have to their long locks.

And trust me, I’ve been there – I get the fear that comes with having long hair. The conviction that your long hair is somehow tied in with your beauty. The belief that cutting it just a little too much will change everything about your appearance because hair can effect everything about your face. I remember feeling that way, back before I cut my hair short.

Perhaps the reason that so many women experience this attachment to their hair is because society itself tends to have a strange relationship with their hair. The majority of beautiful women that you see in the media, from fictional characters to actresses to singers, have long, beautiful locks. There are many men who are rather vocal about their opinion that they “like women with long hair” or think that “women with long hair are more beautiful.” Even from an early age, any girl growing up watching Disney princess movies will see that not only do ten out of eleven official princesses have long hair, but their hair is a focal point, something that symbolizes their personality and what they are going through. Pocahontas is seen with her beautiful, long black hair flowing gracefully around her face. Ariel’s vibrant red hair makes her different and more eye-catching than any other women in her movie; it sets her apart from her seven sisters. And when Mulan cuts her hair, it is only so that she can pass as a man.

A woman’s long hair is connected to her femininity and her beauty, and it is through this message that women are dissuaded from cutting their hair, resulting in this aforementioned strange relationship that women have with their hair. Meanwhile, short hair is connected to masculinity and mental breakdowns – for example, the way in which the media responded to Britney Spears shaving off her long, blonde, beautiful hair.

But personally speaking, although I experienced this attachment to my hair, I also sort of coveted short hair from a young age. I remember reading a series of teen books when I was young that had on its cover a woman with a bright green pixie cut, and I decided that I wanted to look like her when I grew up. I loved Sinead O’Connor’s shaved head, P!nk’s blonde faux hawk. The only thing that kept me from pursuing this look was society’s claim that I needed long hair to be pretty and feminine.

And then, when I was eighteen years old, after I graduated high school and left town to begin university in the city, I decided to chop my locks.

It was a decision that I made to reflect the change in my life, but cutting my hair became sort of an addiction over time. I started with a bob, but I moved through pixie cuts, faux hawks, Mohawks, shaved sides. I discovered that I looked good with short hair and I wanted to try it all out, to see if what all I could get away with. For the most part, the responses that I got were all positive as well. Some people didn’t like my hair, telling me that it really changed my whole appearance and made me look less soft, less beautiful, but they were a vast minority. Now, it isn’t rare for people to even stop me in the street or at the mall to tell me that they love my hair – and I do too. I was never very good at styling my hair when it was long, but now I need to put in half the effort to make it look twice as good.

And it seems that, ever since I cut my hair, more and more women in the media have been doing it too. When I was growing up, my inspirations were reduced primarily to the ones I have already named, but since then, we have seen Katy Perry cut her hair, Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose, etc., etc. Long hair is no longer the only option for looking beautiful, and people are beginning to realize that.

But although I initially cut my hair because I thought it looked beautiful, there was something else about it that I didn’t quite expect but discovered fairly quickly; just how freeing it feels.

When you have short hair, it isn’t because you’re trying to conform to any beauty standard. You don’t even have it because you care if other people think you’re pretty. You have short hair because you want short hair, because you like it. Short hair is about you, not anyone else.

And to return to my discussion of Disney princesses and how they represent short hair, there is actually one princess who accurately represents what short hair is like: Rapunzel. Throughout the whole film, her hair is long because someone else covets it, because someone else wants her hair to be long. Near the end of the film, however, her hair is cut, and through the action, she is freed from the oppressive influence of that person in her life. She no longer needs to live for them; she can be free, make decisions for herself, do what she wishes. And maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that cutting your hair makes you any freer than a woman who keeps her long hair (and nor am I trying to say that any woman who has long hair is at all a prisoner), but it does represent how short hair can make you feel.

Short hair is fun. Short hair is free. And short hair does not at all make you any less beautiful or feminine.