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Gym Shame: Why Guys Avoid the Gym

Gym Shame: Why Guys Avoid the Gym

Women have formed a social sisterhood that’s helped them accept their curves, flaws, and inner beauty. But what about the men? Why haven’t they found more self-acceptance?

The body positivity movement, aka body pos, has been a defining social touchstone for the past decade. Women have seen increases in specialized fitness programs, celebrated and followed body-pos advocates on social media (way to go Ashley Graham), and supported retailers like Athleta who offer more inclusive sizing. And let’s face it, wearing workout clothes that fit well makes working out more bearable.

 A meta-analysis of over 250 studies from 1981-2012 presented at the American Psychological Association’s 2014 convention reveals women’s dissatisfaction and how they feel about their bodies have gradually declined over time. However, men’s dissatisfaction has remained relatively constant. 

So why haven’t they found more self-acceptance? We think we know the answer. It’s because men, by and large, head to the gym for solo workouts. While some guys are taking Barre classes, yoga, and Pilates, they remain the exception. 

Real Beauty

In 2004, Unilever and Edelman’s Real Beauty campaign for Dove soap launched. The message that beauty comes in all sizes, shapes, and skin tones made an impact on its audience. But the brand went beyond ads by supporting workshops, a play, and other forms of outreach to help change the way we think about beauty. It might be one reason why inclusive sizing is now a thing. But for men, there’s been nothing to address their self-esteem issues and body dysphoria. 

Gym Shyness

According to Mark (who asked that we not use his last name), shame is part of the embarrassment and self-consciousness he feels when he thinks about walking into a gym. “There’s a feeling of doubt in your masculinity,” he says, “and you find yourself questioning how you missed the lessons on caring for your body that other men have mastered.” 

Weighing in at more than 350 pounds, Mark is aware his size plays a role in his self-consciousness in a gym. He feels that other people are judging him and staring at him as he works out on the treadmill. The shame, he says, is the result of realizing his treadmill time is less than 15 minutes, while those around him are sticking it out for longer.

Mark also acknowledges being intimidated by “gym regulars” because he is jealous of how they look and acknowledges his feelings of inadequacy for lacking the amount of time and commitment it takes to get those results. “I find,” he says, “my discouraging inner voice is much louder than the noisy free weights hitting the floor.”

Clothes Impact

While society in general has been talking about ways to make women feel comfortable in their skin, the same can’t be said for men, especially when talking about workout clothes for overweight guys. Working out in a baggy T-shirt and shorts means parts of you are “bouncing around” as you work out. That’s just plain uncomfortable. And, according to Mark, it magnifies your humiliation and self-loathing as well. 

Suck It Up, Buttercup

What’s a guy to do? In almost every instance, nothing is as bad as you imagine. The whole gym really isn’t watching you. So get your foot in the door. Mark advises hiring a personal trainer to coach you. He finds it a great way to ignore everyone else and to feel like you have a partner completely invested in your success. You can also find a pal to workout with and face the challenge together. Working out with a buddy provides a friendly face and voice of encouragement. 

Face the fact you have to fight the fight that everyone has to fight: keep putting one foot in front of the other. Establish a routine you can stick with. Make your workout time a part of your schedule. Acknowledge when you fail, pick yourself up, and start again. Because it’s not how many times we fail that matters. It’s how many times we pick ourselves up and begin again.

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