My Archenemy, the Gym: Working on Personal Fitness with Low Self-Esteem

Photo: Lauren Clewes

Photo: Lauren Clewes

“Why don’t you go to the gym? Come join us for Zumba tonight, it’ll be fun! Don’t you have your membership? You literally could have gotten it for free last year! What if I went with you?” These words are what I hear from my dear friends on almost a daily basis. I’m perfectly aware of the merits of going to the gym, that I could have gotten a free membership in my first year for being a Top Scholar student, and that the GAC has a myriad of activities to take advantage of. My problem is that I have absolutely no desire to go anywhere near anything remotely resembling a public gym.

Why, you ask? Well, there is the issue of low self-esteem, the anxiety induced by working out or just by being around other people, the mirrors everywhere, and the general dislike of physical activity, if you must know. There was a time when I would have actually gone to the gym, believe it or not, but those potential workout days disappeared around the time of middle school when I became really self-conscious and thoroughly disliked gym class and everything it stood for. Grade 9 was bearable only because I had to take just one semester of gym class and never step foot in a gym again. But then university hit, and I had to figure out how to stay somewhat fit at a campus where everything is no more than a 5-minute walk away.

I don’t remember exactly when my self-esteem started to plummet, because it was quite a while ago, but the reality is that it has, and can really cause a headache sometimes. I know I’m within the ‘average’ body weight range, but my problem #1 is that whenever I look in the mirror I see someone who could stand to lose a few pounds. Problem #2 is that I hate people watching me, even if I know they’re not, as well as having to look at myself in mirrors, which is why I avoid the place where both things run rampant – the gym. It’s probably irrational but I feel that in this day and age, many people will feel the same way. I don’t want to be self-conscious, and it’s a difficult thing to overcome, but I know I’m slowly chipping away at it and building up my self-esteem again. For example, there was a big period in my life when I would vehemently refuse to wear shorts above my knees. In recent years, this has proved to be a shopping nightmare and I’ve had to learn to deal with it and become comfortable in shorter summer clothing. Once in a blue moon I even wear sleeveless dresses–mainly when it’s just too hot to wear anything longer. It’s these small pebbles that I gain and turn into paving stones to build my path towards confidence.

So, what do you do if you want to avoid the gym while not missing out on the benefits of exercise? I personally try to walk as much as possible, whether it be around the Eaton Centre or to Metro to pick up groceries. There are lots of trails around Glendon as well. My personal favourite runs along the Don river, past Sunnybrook Stables and a dog park, which makes for a nice combination of exercise and adventure. There is an overwhelming amount of videos on YouTube to follow, from cardio to yoga that can be done in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Maybe one day I’ll find that I’ve finally gained enough confidence to actually go to the gym, join a class or take up squash. Until then, working little by little on the mental side of this issue will be my priority.