As someone who was raised in the Midwest, I grew up in the outdoors. My days in Minneapolis, one of the healthiest cities in America, were spent playing outdoor sports — whether that was soccer in the summer or ice skating in the winter. When I moved to D.C. last year, I knew I wouldn’t have easy access to the lakes or great parks I was used to. College students are typically stereotyped for not being active so I was surprised by the fit and active culture at GW.
The University only has one gym for traditional students on the Foggy Bottom campus, but I quickly learned that there are many alternatives. There are 13 different gyms and sports clubs within a half mile radius, and they don’t let you forget it. On most days there are people from these neighborhood gyms on or near campus handing out coupons to try out their facilities for free. There is nothing wrong with promoting a healthy lifestyle, but there are many overly aggressive advertisements on campus, online or at the gym that focus on weight loss. Although this pressures some students to live a healthier lifestyle, it can also create a toxic environment that puts undue stress on students to go to the gym. Students and surrounding gyms should continue to promote a healthy lifestyle but need to do a better job of promoting and advertising self-love to students.
After looking at the local gyms’ websites, the one commonality among them is that it can be incredibly hard to find a page where they discuss their goal or mission for members. For example, the first thing that comes up when looking at SoulCycle’s “about” page is a short paragraph labeled “change your body.” In that small paragraph, there is nothing about helping you get to whatever goal you want to set for yourself. SoulCycle writes that they want to “transform the way you look and feel.” Although there is another section that talks about empowering members and building community, the section on their website that only talks about changing your body can be intimidating and discouraging to potential members because it implies that their current body needs to change. Messages about weight loss and improving your body, even when they are handing you a coupon in person, feeds into a customer’s insecurities and can be especially damaging to students on campus.
As someone who stands 5 feet tall, I learned long ago that my body wasn’t “standard.” During the last semester of my freshman year, I didn’t have time to go to the gym. But the pressure of living this fit lifestyle got to me. Constantly seeing people post on social media about their workouts and receiving the advertisements throughout campus started to consume my thoughts and made me question the way I looked. When I went back home for the summer, the first thing I did was get a gym membership and ever since, I have been lifting weights about six days a week. Although I’m stronger than ever before, the root of why I started intensely working out was because of the subconscious pressure that feeds off of the 13 gyms that surround me. I have nothing against anyone who loves these classes or going to the gym, because I do spend a lot of time exercising. But I oppose the pressure that these gyms have created on campus.
Living in a community where we are surrounded by so many workout classes does have the benefit of changing people’s lives and promoting a healthier lifestyle. But it can also create a culture where many become obsessed with image, and this obsession may build from one person to another when you are constantly surrounded by this pressure.
There may not be an alternative to this issue, but gyms need to be less aggressive about changing your body. What they can do is to push a stronger message of body positivity towards students and make it clear that it’s great to take these classes, but it’s also fine to be exactly the way you are if that is what makes you happy. These local gyms need to stop pushing and passive-aggressively shaming potential customers who don’t want to workout to lose weight.
Saara Navab, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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