There are a lot of women-only fitness initiatives happening at the moment – running clubs, classes at almost every gym, This Girl Can and so on. They are very popular and it’s obvious that lots of women prefer to work out in all-female surroundings. I tend to stay away.
I have always had female friends, and women can be amazing and inspiring and badass, BUT – large groups of unknown women make me feel uncomfortable.
I asked Twitter what others think of women-only fitness groups and lo and behold – I am a minority. Most people thought that female-only fitness initiatives were crucial in getting women to exercise and get involved in sports. It was said that without men involved, women feel safer and less self-conscious in sporty activities.
I can totally see the point. Even though I can’t relate.
It must be that our experiences growing up determine whether we like to get fit in mixed groups or feel safer with just women. I have come across plenty of jerks (male ones) in my life but none of them made me feel bad about my body. Girls, however…
My very first serious bullying memory is from when I was 12 – a group of girls in my school, half of whom I thought were my friends, decided one day that I walked funny. The next weeks (or maybe even months) were not nice.
Next I was bullied about being a bit too large (I wasn’t). I went on a diet and was then bullied about being on a diet.
Plus I had an older sister who was not nice to me about my appearance when we were growing up.
From early on I learned that women tend to size each other up and judge and criticise. Constantly and sometimes totally ruthlessly.
I have never been bullied by boys though, not when I was a teenager, nor later on. I have not had any men ever comment negatively about my body, no matter what size or shape I’ve been in. In my experience men don’t overanalyse women’s bodies the way women overanalyse women’s bodies.
Even these days it’s only women who have given me ‘friendly advice’ like “You should really stop putting on muscle now, it’s not very feminine to look like that.”
Of course these are not my friends, only randoms, but I still stay away from women-only fitness classes. In mixed groups or even with just men I just feel much more relaxed and comfortable. I feel everyone’s just concentrating on the sport at hand and no-one is analysing anyone else’s fitness level or body measurements.
I am aware that these days I’m surrounded by adults and not teenage girls, so the likelihood of every woman I meet judging me and sizing me up are slimmer than they were in the past but my brain has been programmed to fear unknown females in large quantities.
It is awesome of course that women who are opposite of me and feel more relaxed exercising in all-female company can now do so in so many places and in so many sports.
As for me, I love my trusted group of girlfriends, but if I have to get sweaty in a group where I don’t know everyone very well, I hope it’s mostly (or at least 50/50) men.