An Open Letter To Those Who Feel Judged at The Gym

Dear gentle souls contemplating if they belong in class because they are afraid people are judging them:

If you remember nothing from this post, I hope you remember these fundamental truths:

You are allowed to exist in spaces where movement happens.

You deserve to exist in spaces where movement happens.

You are allowed to do things even if you feel you are not (insert adjective) enough.

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Let me take a step back.

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For 10 years I have taught some sort of fitness (Spin, boot-camp, barre, Pilates). For 10 years, I have heard variations of the same thing over and over:

  • When I lose 10 pounds I will go to your class
  • I am not fit enough to do that
  • I am embarrassed to try it when I look the way I do
  • People will judge me
  • I tried a class but didn’t feel welcome

Somewhere in our culture, we’ve made the rule that you can only go to the gym if you meet a certain criteria.

If you are thin enough. If you are strong enough. If you know the people going. If you know exactly what you’re doing. Once you meet that criteria then you’re allowed to go to be there.

Who made this rule? And why did we all decide to follow it?

To all those who are worried if they belong in class, please hear me when I say:

Your weight does not determine your worthiness in class.

Your modifications do not negate the work you’ve done in class.

Your brand of leggings do not determine where you’re allowed to stand in class.

Arbitrary rules, set by a system designed to discourage vulnerability, do not get to dictate where your body is allowed to be.

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It would be disingenuous of me to not recognize the privilege that I inherently have as a heterosexual, cisgender, white Pilates and Spin instructor.

Do I know exactly what you’re feeling? No.  Do I know the thoughts in your head? No.

I won’t pretend I do. That wouldn’t be genuine or real.

What I can tell you is that I know what’s like to battle your body.

To feel unworthy.

To feel embarrassed to try something new because people may judge you.

To hate what you see in the mirror.

To try and shrink yourself so you don’t offend anybody, most of all myself.

For years, I ran a never ending race to try and be ENOUGH.

I never won though and, eventually, was rewarded with a hospital room and a crabby nurse watching my every move.

And then one day, I decided I was tired of being so damn tired. And hungry. And sad.

I decided I’m done. I deserve more.

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Did the thoughts go away completely? No. I still battle them on the reg. But I was hungry. And tired. And did I mention hungry?

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Slowly, I began to wear the jeans I thought I didn’t deserve to wear, eat the cake I thought I didn’t deserve to eat, and did the thing I thought I didn’t deserve to do: exist.

In all my anxious, passionate, fast talking, nerdy, awkward glory I showed up and kept showing up until one day it felt (mostly) natural.

So, hear me when I say this:

You are allowed, and deserve, to exist.

Showing up is scary but if you keep doing it, it becomes easier. 

At the gym.

At the Pilates studio.

On the Spin bike.

On the dance floor.

You get to be where movement happens, however you can show up.

Here’s the real kick in ass though:

It doesn’t matter what I think. Or anybody else, including any and all “fitness gurus” who may say otherwise.

The permission for your body to inhabit space in the world is yours alone to grant.

Not the person next to you in class.

Not your significant other.

Not your boss.

And certainly not your Pilates Instructor/Personal Trainer/Spin Teacher.

What I am about to say may be blasphemy as a Pilates Instructor/Group Ex-teacher but I’m gonna say it anyway:

We should not teach with the intention of changing your body size or shape.

As long as you aren’t hurting yourself, your body isn’t my business.

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We should teach from a belief that you get to decide the path your body takes.

For me, that means I teach from a place of awareness because I want you to learn how to give kindness and grace towards your body.

My job is to give you space to be vulnerable so you can give yourself permission to move.

My job is to give you tools so you can be aware when it’s time to pull back and when it’s time to push forward.

My job is NOT to move you from a place of judgement.

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If you want to make sustainable changes to give yourself a healthy life, you must stand firmly in the belief that you deserve that life. You must make the choice to move, to rest, to find a balance that leaves you fulfilled.

My job is to stand beside you; celebrating each mind-body connection you make, nudging fear to the side when it begins to whisper you aren’t allowed in the room, and creating a space where you get to decide what to do.

Cuz it’s your body. Your class. Your movement.

I’ll help keep you safe, but you get to decide how this goes.

And no matter what: you have the right to be in the trenches with the rest of us.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you for the great reminder! It isn’t always easy to remember to care for and about ones self… you help me remember to do that!

    • Yay! I’m glad it resonated with you… I’ve found, in my own life at least, that I usually only regret things if I don’t try them.

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