Why I Don’t Make Eye Contact At The Gym | Gradient

Why I Don’t Make Eye Contact at the Gym

I walked out of the locker room at the new gym I joined, and instantly regretted my attire: running shorts and a tank top with a couple (yes, a couple) sports bras. I scanned the room to see if there were any females to make eye contact with and didn’t see any. So I kept my head down, and took my bag over to the lockers and nervously slipped off my rings. Even if I wanted to keep my wedding ring on, lifting with gloves and rings hurts bad.

While standing there fiddling around, a man approached me with a friendly smile.  As if he sensed my uneasiness he said, “Hey welcome to the gym, it’s pretty chill here! A great place to be.” I awkwardly thanked him and beelined for the treadmills.

I started my run and kept my eyes focused on the little screen as I went up and down speeds for my cardio HIIT. Not looking around, just focused, just allowing myself to escape in the pain of breathing hard, trying to think about nothing while thinking about everything, the usual cardio routine. It truly is the highlight of my days, a time to relax, to push myself, to process, dream. The world melts away a bit.

Well, that is until some stupid guy did that thing that I hate (everyone hates) more than anything. He chose the treadmill right next to me. By my count, there were six others he could have picked. And after that came the moment I dreaded the most, walking through the sea of men to get to the weights. In the mirrors I could see them looking at me. I tried to keep up my “whatever” attitude, but it took an insane amount of concentration. I didn’t make eye contact. I never do.

I made eye contact with a girl killing it with some deadlifts. We smiled big at each other as if to say, “You go, girl. You aren’t alone.”

With a bit more confidence, I started to use one of the machines. And as I did, I had a flashback to my senior year of high school.

18-year-old me was skinnier and had no tattoos, beat popping around in my Under Armour shoes (it was a phase) with my 21-year-old, extremely ripped, Air Force airman of a boyfriend. We would break up a year later, but he taught me everything I know about lifting, and it became my favorite pastime. Anyway, 18-year-old me had just finished a rep and was stretching out my calf muscle. And he comes up to me, put his hands around my hips and says, “If another guy in this gym checks you out, I’m going to deck him in the face.” I laughed.

But I remember thinking, Is that really all that I am to you? Just something you don’t want other guys to look at? And why in the world would a guy be looking at me when I’m dripping sweat anyway?

I realize his comment was probably an effort to make me feel attractive and wanted, and I’m sure some men mean well when they say things like this. But it actually made me feel quite the opposite. And for some reason those feelings haven’t really left, as I realized during my flashback last night. It is a strange tension that exists between feeling complimented and objectified, even when I know the intention of the person making the comment.

I want to be treated as an equal, not having to worry that I’m drawing attention to myself while working out. It makes me extremely hesitant to ask a guy to spot me or to even make eye contact with him at the gym. I don’t want their attention in a sexual way; I just want their respect as an equal athlete getting their time in.  Instead I just feel…self-conscious, isn’t the right word. Maybe just uncomfortable.

Until last night, I had never thought about why I feel the need to wear baggy clothes to the gym and a double sports bra so no one will look at my boobs when they jiggle while I run.

And maybe they aren’t looking at me because I’m a woman. Maybe it’s just because of the tattoos on my thighs or the fact that I shave half of my head. And it’s not like I’m even giving them the opportunity to look me in the eye. I get it; I am stacking the odds against them.

But maybe if every guy I ever dated wouldn’t have made comments about other guys that check me out, or comment on my ass anytime I wore shorts or heels or something tight, maybe then I would feel more like their equal than a set of body parts for them to stare at.