The Portrayal of Female Gym Rats

*Note: For this post, gym rats refer to those who frequently go to the gym to exercise.

In recent years, there has been a rise in the fitness industry and more and more people continue to find themselves working on their health at the gym these days. Because of this growing trend, the fitness community now functions with its own set of lingo, fashion, and even stereotypes. In fact, some of these stereotypes are visible in popular culture, especially when it comes to females. This post explores some examples of these female stereotypes portrayed in popular culture.

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Before analyzing the way popular culture depicts such stereotypes about female gym rats, it is important to review why they even exist in the first place. To start off, a lot of the ways female gym rats are perceived come from males, and because of that, most women are “gymtimidated” by male dominance in the gym. To stray away from any gymtimidation, women often stick to the areas where male gym rats are rarely at, such as the cardio space in which treadmills or elliptical machines can be found. Men, on the other hand, usually dominate the weights area. In an article from The Guardian, founder of Gymetrix Rory McGown claims, “There’s a stereotype of a groaning bodybuilding guy using the weights area” (as cited in Fry, par. 6). The groaning itself is enough to stray women away, despite their interest in weight training. For that reason, most women are perceived to be doing cardio such as running on the treadmill.  

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In this Apple Music advertisement, celebrity Taylor Swift is seen rapping to Drake and Future’s song “Jumpman” while working out. Of course, she is running on a treadmill. While the advertisement is obviously only meant to promote Apple’s Music feature, it is portraying a female working out by running on the treadmill, which goes back to the stereotype that women only do cardio.

Still not convinced? Let us look at Geico’s recent Flextacular ad.

In this advertisement, Geico is promoting “more ways to save” by using a gym scene of men exercising. Both men are lifting in the weights area at the gym. The purpose of these examples is not to criticize Geico and Apple for being sexist, rather it is simply to show how these stereotypes are being acknowledged in popular culture, whether it is intended or unintended.

Moving on, besides groaning, women often receive other negative vibes from men at the gym. In an article in The Telegraph, writer Radhika Sanghani points out, “If you’re a woman struggling to exercise, the men won’t laugh at you – they’ll just pity you.” In this article, she references Louis Durkin, manager of the men-only gym Muscleworks. According to Durkin, “If a man thinks a woman’s attractive, he’ll flirt. If the woman isn’t as good-looking and he wants to use the equipment, he’ll look at her unfavourably. It’s a caveman mentality.” Because of these perceptions, women continue to face such stereotypes, especially in popular culture.

This YouTube video portrays examples of both the pitiable and attractive female gym rat.

The clip compares the gym to the wildlife, and the narrator (male voice) begins by describing one type of woman at the gym in ways that make her seem pitiable. For instance, he points out that her emergence marks the beginning of the “New Year’s Resolutioners,” as if indicating that women only go to the gym as a New Year’s resolution.

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The filmmaker(s) even portray this woman as timidly entering the gym with a Starbucks drink and looking cautiously around as if unaware of where to situate herself. It is also important to note that the introduction of this clip shows an overview of men lifting weights and women (dressed sexually) doing cardio. Furthermore, about two minutes into the video, the narrator indicates that “Some members of the female species will flaunt their sexually developed bodies in order to attract the attention of a mate.” As the narrator is speaking, the camera is focusing on the breasts of the women. This is an example of popular culture portraying the “attractive” female gym rat. The clip emphasizes how the “female” species will “flaunt” their bodies in order to “attract” the attention of a mate. Not only does the clip make the female appear to be seductive, it also makes female gym rats look like their main purpose at the gym is to seek the attention of men.

On top of these, female gym rats are still perceived as many other things in popular culture. In this one single clip, different types of women are shown, pointing out to its audience “Don’t be that girl at the gym.”

It starts off with two women on the treadmill – one putting on lipstick and the other spraying herself with perfume. While this is obviously an exaggerated depiction, it still shows how popular culture tends to make fun of female gym rats. The next portion revolves around the idea, “Don’t be the naïve girl.” The way the clip films this portion is interesting because it completely displays a guy sexually harassing a woman while teaching her how to exercise. Yet instead of telling the audience not to be that guy who sexually harasses women, the video focuses on reminding people not to be the inexperienced woman who has no idea how to use gym equipment. After that, we are brought to the next portion, “Don’t be the endless talker.” This section shows two men disguised as women having a conversation while working out on the elliptical machines. Here, popular culture is portraying female gym rats as talkative. The next segment is yet again another interesting part, with the title “Don’t be the gym flirt.” It begins with a guy interrupting a few women by asking, “So ladies, can I buy you a protein shake?” As he asks this question, he flexes his body while winking and raising his eyebrows – which are signs of flirtation. Yet even if it is evident that the guy was the first to show signs of flirtation, the clip still focuses on the notion “Don’t be that girl at the gym [who flirts].”

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The video continues on by demonstrating the female gym rat as competitive, narcissistic, and hypocritical.

Thus, it is no surprise that women continue to go through all these stereotypes just for wanting to be healthy. Again, so many of what we see about them in popular culture comes from the very things that happen in the gym in reality. Majority of these examples came from male perspectives and that is because their dominance in the gym space gives them that advantage. “As long as many women still find gyms – and particularly weights areas – unwelcoming, male-dominated spaces, it will prove difficult to tackle such misconceptions. (Fry, par. 12)” It seems as if the solution Fry is suggesting is that women be not afraid of taking on weight training. In her article, she brings in the statement of David Stalker, CEO of UK Active. He states, “The important thing is that women do not miss out on the opportunity to strength train because of embarrassment or intimidation.”

On the other hand, besides male perspectives, the spatial organization in gyms can also contribute to these stereotypes. A writer from The Ubyssey agrees and points out that “in many gyms, cardio machines are lined up on one side of the room and face the large weight machines. Through a gendered lens, this can be seen as reinforcing the gender binary, particularly for females who focus exclusively on cardio . . .” (Heatherington, par. 7). Heatherington brings in the testimonial of Victoria Felkar, a personal trainer and bodybuilder. Felkar reports her experience: “I’m now sitting on that bike and I’m looking over the field of men training weights and grunting and growling and all of the bromance,” Felkar said. “That’s not exactly the most inviting environment, especially if we’re trying to break down these cultural binaries of the gendered gym environment” (as cited in Heatherington, par. 8). Therefore, another solution to eliminate such stereotypes could be to reexamine the way gym equipment and machines are set up.

After all, many stereotypes only exist because we make them exist. The good thing is that we have a choice on whether or not we want to keep them or fix them.

 

Learning Moments

Taking this course has allowed me to have several “learning moments” that ultimately made my journey in this course one to remember. One of these moments was in Week 2, when we read the article about the Doltish Dad. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/06/what_to_expect_and_up_all_night_the_doltish_dad_on_screen_is_changing_.html

For me this was a learning moment because it allowed me to realize how much television influences the way we see people in society. Because most fathers are rarely shown in TV as stay-at-home fathers who take care of the kids while the wife works, we barely think of them that way in real life. Most of us think of them as “doltish” when it comes to raising kids. After reading that article for our course text that week, I now continue to evaluate and think about how television portrays other identities.

Another moment I had was in Week 6, when we had to analyze Adidas’ House Party Ad.

If I was watching this advertisement outside of this course, I would just think of it as a “cool” ad. However, I was able to completely look at the ad piece by piece and come up with an educated conclusion about it. For instance, I was able to notice some of the appeals they use such as the sex appeal. After this exercise, I now analyze commercials for what it really seems to be doing – rather than just simply saying it is “cool” or “boring.” Overall, taking this course has allowed me to become a much wiser member of a society that revolves around popular culture.

Works Cited

Buffdudes. “GYM WILDLIFE.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Dec. 2015. Web. 15 May 2016.

CarlieStylez. “DON’T BE THAT GIRL AT THE GYM.” YouTube. YouTube, 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 May 2016.

Fry, Lucy. “Women and Weight Training: A Heavy Duty.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 06 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 May 2016.

GEICO. “Flextacular: More More More – GEICO.” YouTube. YouTube, 03 Jan. 2016. Web. 15 May 2016.

Heatherington, Reyhana. “Gendered Gyms: How Equipment Layout Reinforces Stereotypes.” The Ubyssey. N.p., 09 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 May 2016.

Martin, M. Keith. “House Party (Adidas Originals Ad).” YouTube. Adidas Originals, 5 Dec. 2008. Web. 15 May 2016.

Officialbeatsmusictv. “TAYLOR vs. TREADMILL.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Apr. 2016. Web.15 May 2016.

Rosin, Hanna. “TV and Film’s Doltish Dad Gets a Makeover.” Slate Magazine. The Slate Group, 15 June 2012. Web. 15 May 2016.

Sanghani, Radhika. “What Men Really Think about Women in the Gym.” The Telegraph.Telegraph Media Group, 07 May 2015. Web. 15 May 2016.

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4 thoughts on “The Portrayal of Female Gym Rats

  1. Hi Randee-Jo,

    As someone who has tried to join a gym in order to do weight training and had no working knowledge of the equipment, the feeling that “zoo animal” video gave me was all-too familiar. I have to be straight about it though–it wasn´t my only hurdle…I was also in Spain and the idea of asking for detailed instructions from someone who might just laugh at me or not know how to explain it to me with language I understood was daunting. So instead I never went back! It´s terrible. I really loved the rush from weight training too because when I exert myself and feel strong (i.e. adrenaline rush) I practically feel like I embody the stereotypes about men lifting something heavy and then screaming. I really wish that the way men treated women in gyms were different because then maybe I would take advantage of the gym on campus!

    With regards to your analysis, I agree that the representation of women was a lot more like blaming the victim than actually having any kind of accountability. While I really dislike it when ANYONE sprays perfume in a public space (I´m a sensitive weeny when it comes to artificial scents–I fell like I can´t breathe), you are spot on with how it is often the males who initiate the inappropriate behavior and then is somehow the woman´s fault for either a) engaging or b) being “frigid”. I think the stereotype that women only do cardio probably comes from socializing women to want to be thin as opposed to healthy or strong. Popular culture tells us that a lean, flexible body is ideal because, as one of the video´s puts it, they are “sexually trained”. Like, WHAT?? That on top of the myths that weight lifting bulks you up (we´ve all heard the higher reps-lower weight myth) and that cardio will make you thin perpetuate the belief that it is the exercise that will give you the “ideal” female body.

    Thanks for sharing your analysis! I really enjoyed reading your post.
    – Sophia

  2. Hi Randee-Jo,

    Your blog post was very informative for me because I do not go to gyms, so I am unfamiliar with the culture and stereotypes. I loved your paragraph about “gymtimidation”, I remember seeing several commercials for Planet Fitness where the term was used. It was mostly women being stereotyped by men at the gym. I also liked the part about “don’t be that girl”. Many of those stereotypes I have seen in popular culture, especially the ones about women being sexually harassed and being talkative. I usually see the sexual harassment stereotypes more often in sports lessons such as golf or baseball/softball where the men hold the women close to their bodies. I did not know it was also common in gyms. As for the talkative stereotype, in popular culture women often go to the gym as a social activity, so that may reflect negatively on the women that go there alone to workout. I feel it is less common for men to go as a group/pair, but that it is not so uncommon that they only perceive women as being talkative at the gym. Overall I really enjoyed reading your blog post and it was well written.

  3. Hey Randee-Jo!

    I definitely found the topic of your blog post very interesting, informative, and important. I, personally, have been exposed to the issue of the stereotypical views of women who lift weights at the gym. I am very aware with the notion that women who go to the gym will stick to only cardio, while the men gym rats will pump iron like there is no tomorrow. I have only thought about this problem to myself and have never discussed it with another person, which is the reason that your post caught my attention. As a male, I cannot say I understand how it is to feel “gymtimidated” by the dominant presence of males at the gym. I used to think that girls only stuck to the treadmills and ellipticals because they do not take interest in weight lifting. However, over time I have been exposed to the issue that it’s actually just the culture in the gym that is preventing women to participate in weight training. This is a serious problem that I feel like is not exposed to most people. However, I do believe that there are some programs and solutions that are being implemented to help resolve the issue. One practice that was implemented that I’ve seen in gyms is reserving a space for women-only weight lifting. The space is closed to male members and only consists of weights, no cardio machines. I have mixed feelings about this solution. On one side, it seems positive because the gym is recognizing the problem and trying to resolve it. This ultimately takes away any intimidation or discomfort that women may feel. On the other end, the system may be negative because instead of changing the mindset of gym stereotypes, the gyms are just attempting to provide a quick fix. I believe your post is suggesting that the problem must be addressed from the root. I agree with your idea that stereotypes are ultimately what we make them out to be. Gyms need to bring more awareness of this mindset and even encourage discussions, forums, and resources to help others be informed. Finally, we as people who can either contribute or change stereotypical views must take action, as well.

    Thanks for sharing!
    -Josh

  4. Hi Randee-Jo,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post very much! The graphics that you provided were very humorous, as well as the different words that you used that were incorporated with gym terms. As a girl who also loves to go to the gym, I can relate to your post. When I first started going to the gym, it was really hard for me to feel comfortable around a place that was male dominant. I felt like I had to be or look a certain way to feel accepted into the gym. Being a first timer, I didn’t know what to do. I felt inclined to use the cardio machines, when I really just wanted to build muscle. It took a while to gain that confidence to get myself to feel comfortable using the free-weights. But even then, I still got those looks. And even ’til this day, I still receive/hear those stereotypical comments that you have provided for us in your post. It especially hard for girls to be able to wear whatever they want at the gym to feel comfortable without getting judged for it. The reason people want to go the gym is for them to feel better about themselves, and to create a better, stronger, and healthier person. Being a smaller person, whenever I was at the gym, I would get a lot of comments to not try a certain workout because they think i’m not strong enough or think i’d hurt myself. Although safety is always a priority when working out, it’s not fair to limit us girls to not do a certain workout because we seem incapable of doing it. Everything comes with trial and error; we won’t know until we try.

    The gym itself is a place where many stereotypes and judgments are made. But we all started somewhere, and some of us forget that. All of us have a goal to achieve when we’re at the gym. We should all motivate one another to get there, rather than intimidating each other.

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