Does it really, cosmically speaking, matter what I wear to the gym?
I was buying gym pants at Ross the other day, and I started pondering this question.
To a great extent, I don’t care all that much what I wear to the gym. I have a very small wardrobe of workout clothes, and when I get dressed for the gym, I spend about fifteen seconds picking an outfit. And yet, when I was looking for gym pants at Ross, I wasn’t just grabbing the first three pairs off the rack and calling it a day. I wasn’t even grabbing the first three pairs in a fabric I liked (breathable stretch cotton, please, no Spandex!). I wasn’t being anywhere near as finicky as I usually am when I shop for clothes… but I was flipping through their entire selection in my size, and picking out maybe one out of every ten or fifteen. I was paying attention to color, and shape, and fit. I was trying them on, not just grabbing them off the rack and heading to the register. And I was keeping some while rejecting others, at least partly, because of how they looked on me.
And I started thinking: Why is that? Why do I care?
If you don’t have a blue-collar job, workout clothes are about the most utilitarian clothes there are. They exist to maintain basic standards of modesty, to maintain a comfortable body temperature, and to be comfortable and durable during vigorous exercise. If you’re hard-core you might care about things like fabrics that wick sweat away, and obviously some sports and forms of exercise have specific sartorial demands (bicycling shorts, running shoes, football helmets). And if you’re someone who cruises at the gym (as many gay men do, for instance), that’s obviously a consideration. But if you’re just doing weights and jogging on a treadmill, and you’re not looking to flirt or hook up… why should you care how your workout clothes look?
And yet, I do care, at least somewhat, about how my workout clothes look. I am somewhat selective about them. And I started wondering: Why?
I tend to wear workout clothes that are fairly body-hugging: not revealing, exactly, but ones that let me see the shape of my body. I don’t wear T-shirts, or loose sweatpants. I wear ribbed racerback tank tops, and snug leggings or bike-style shorts. And I don’t want a lot of distractions. I don’t want bright colors, or even a stripe down the side of my legs. My leggings and bike shorts are plain black or grey; my ribbed racerback tanks are black, with nothing more than a red Rosin Coven logo, or a Longboard Winery surfboard slicing down between my breasts, or the words “San Francisco Dyke March” with “DYKE” in hot pink capital letters stamped on my chest.
Part of this is just so I can clearly see my form, make sure I have the correct angles when I’m doing my weight training. But most of it, honestly, is so I can enjoy the sight of myself, and my body, when I work out.
Here’s the thing. If the experience of looking at myself in the mirror when I work out is enjoyable… that reinforces my desire to go to the gym in the first place. It adds to the pleasure of the experience, makes it more appealing — which makes me more likely to go back, and to keep going back. And gym clothes that let me clearly see my body, and let me see it in a flattering way, add to that pleasure.
I like looking at my body when it’s getting strong, and staying strong. I like reinforcing in myself the idea that beauty is strength, and strength, beauty. If I’ve been hitting the gym regularly, I enjoy seeing how ripped and powerful I look. If I’ve had to take a break (like I did when I had surgery), I enjoy watching my definition gradually returning, watching my muscles start to pop back out through the softness.
And I want to be able to see my body clearly — and see it framed by clothes that look good, or at least that don’t look like crap — when I do.
Ingrid once said that she loves seeing me at the gym, because I stride into the weight room like I own it. I think part of why I stride into the weight room like I own it, why I feel entirely comfortable and joyful and at home in the weight room, why I feel with no question like I belong there even though often I’m one of only a couple of women in it, is that I look like I belong there. I stride into the weight room, and I pick out my weights, and I start my set… and I see my image in the mirror, reflecting the message back to me, “This is you. You are a fucking powerhouse. Look at your biceps, your shoulders, your thighs, your calves. You are strong, and getting stronger. You treasure your health, and your body. You value your body’s ability to give you pleasure. You love yourself.”
And the sharper and more pleasurable that image is, the more clearly that message gets through.
I love my body. I especially love my body when I’m at the gym. Going to the gym is an act of loving my body. And wearing gym clothes that let me appreciate my body is a sign of that love… and helps that love to flourish.