A little while ago, I was talking to a recent UM graduate and we got on the subject of the CCRB. He’d never been to any of the three recreational buildings in his four years on campus and expressed disdain for the concept of exercising in contained spaces. I brushed it off as a personal preference sort of thing. Having been to all of the recreational buildings on campus myself, gyms have been a part of my social landscape for years.
Since then, I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time at the CCRB and NCRB, playing volleyball and swimming this semester, and I’ve come back to my friend’s comment a few times. Beyond calisthenics and cardio, what exactly are we doing at the gym?
The gym as a social and athletic space may just be a product of urbanization (or winter weather), but how do we explain the subcultural cults that revolve around Zumba or the esteem attached to the person who goes to the gym at 5 AM everyday year-round?
At its basest form, I think the gym acts as a space for us to explicitly act out a social system that rewards striving towards slenderness or muscularity. It doesn’t matter that the reality is laying in some else’s sweat or running like a gerbil on the strong smell of burning rubber – it’s about the glory of having gone to the gym. Sure, I do think that people can derive sincere pleasure and enjoyment from working out at the gym, but, ultimately, I don’t think it’s because the gym is a fun place; rather, it’s a place that’s been denoted as good and healthy by a culture obsessed with “the immortal workout” or “celeb [trainers’ revealing] secrets to a killer bikini body.”
I don’t think the gym is the problem or necessarily our obsession with physical perfection, but I am curious about the weird contradictions that we’re ingraining in our social practices, such as driving or walking to a building where one runs in circles or picks up heavy objects. Is realizing the silliness of this a way to save time and divert work towards more necessary social production, or are we unconsciously choosing these practices to reflect the sick nature of our social systems in some sardonic contortion?
By: Lexie Tourek
(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)