Even amongst faithful people, there is much disagreement about modesty at the gym. Having some form of physical activity is important for the well being of the human person. It motivates us, helps us form healthy habits, it gives us a sense of control over our lives. However, while we may go in with this healthy and innately good intent, the vanity and pride of the gym environment can grow to envelop us. And a dual feeling of prideful vanity and insecure self-loathing can swallow up our good intentions. This is the double-headed monster of the gym; ‘nobody look at me’ but ‘everybody look at me.’
I didn’t always feel this way, but after some internal battles with God and myself, I had to ask myself a question. What the heck are we wearing to the gym? Leggings hugging every curve of a woman’s precious body, revealing so much to people that don’t even know her name; cut-off shirts revealing the sculpted arms of someone’s future husband, someone’s beloved son. Why must we reveal so much to strangers in order to cultivate our healthy lifestyle? How are we supposed to avoid objectifying one another, if we aren’t protecting our own bodies?
When I first started going to the gym, I had some “gymtimidation.” I remember surveying outfit choices, and thinking “okay, you wear those spandex-y leggings and a short top…got it.” So I did. One day, I ran into friends at the gym. Later that day, I was told in the boys’ group chat a very objectifying message was sent about my body, after the gym. I felt violated, and I wondered why did I allow so much of my body to be exposed anyway? That’s when I knew that leggings are not pants. And men, by the same token, Cut-offs are not shirts.
These exchanges are happening endlessly at gyms all over our country every day. Women and men committed in relationships, women and men trying to be healthy and good, are met with the revealed bodies of people they don’t know. And then comes a decision. Will I stare at this person’s body parts? Will I ignore their personhood? Will I take the view they are willingly providing, though I don’t care about them? Will I affirm, with my eyes turned elsewhere, that they are more than flesh; they are dignified? Because we are human, it’s pretty hard to say no to those questions. And so a vicious cycle begins. Objectify while being objectified, hate myself for not looking like him, love myself for looking better than her, drooling over arms, captivated by someone’s rear end. We are showing up in the gym revealing too much of the body, and too little of the soul.
I am a twenty-two year old woman. I don’t have the best body in the world by any means, but I know that if I expose it, people will look. I have learned I don’t need people’s eyes to affirm that my workouts are keeping me healthy. I don’t need my body exposed to the entire gym, because I don’t need to give my fellow women reasons to question their own body (in a negative or positive way). I don’t need to be disrespecting men or myself by forcing them to choose my dignity or my body. I cannot be giving away glances at a body I have promised to a man who sees me as a body and soul composite, dignified woman.
I challenge you to whip out your baggy t-shirts or hit the local GoodWill and grab one. Ladies cover that rear and men cover those arms. Keep up your healthy lifestyle, but don’t forget to nourish your soul too. Don’t forget to respect your own and others’ bodies. Whether you have six pack abs or a muffin-top situation, you are dignified and you are good and you are worthy and you are loved by Him who made you. Don’t leave modesty in the locker room. Protect your fellow men and women, and yourself, from pride, insecurity, and infidelity. Ask Jesus for the humility and trust in His work, in order that you may not focus on yourself enough to want everyone to see you or to wish no one to see you.
Ann Molloy was born and raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She is currently a senior, Clinical Psychology major at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is passionate about helping young women find their dignity and worth in this hook-up culture. She works on several healing retreats for women, including one she designed and runs herself; Women at the Well. She will graduate in May and marry a wonderful man in June. She loves singing praise and worship music, going out with friends and family, and drinking coffee.