*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.
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.
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.
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].”
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.
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.
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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.