I’ve become a gym rat, which is a good thing. I say gym rat, not bunny, because there is a serious distinction between the two, and sadly, I’ve aged out of the gym bunny phase. Not that I ever was one, mind you. Somewhere along the line I missed that stage, darn it. Gym bunnies are those gorgeous, svelte young women who turn heads at the gym even when they haven’t showered and are drenched in sweat. The only head I turn these days at the gym is my own, in an attempt to get my nose far, far away from the smell that is the very byproduct of gym-going. But that’s okay, I’ve resigned myself to my rat status. It’s better than not being a gym creature of any sort (i.e. sofa sloth), a status I had adopted by neglect for a good while there. So it feels good to be back at the gym, even with the assignation of some disease-bearing rodent.
Although being middle-aged at the gym does present its levels of shame, no doubt about it. Take for instance the day I was in an abs class. The gym bunny instructor was blasting music while we strengthened our core (or attempted to, in my case) and I recognized the song from long, long ago (back when I should have been able to enjoy the benefits of being a gym bunny, only gyms weren’t so common back then, even though I still wasn’t bunny material, regardless).
“Now most of you are too young to recognize this,” I said, a hint of joviality to my voice. “But this is the intro music to the Jane Fonda Workout Record.”
Yes, I did say record in that sentence. As in record album, circa two thousand years ago. (As an aside, my son has found it to be very hip-retro to have purchased a record player and now stockpiles cheesy old LPs just because he can occasionally find them at antique stores. Argh, who ever thought one day articles from my era would be considered antiques?! I feel like Martha Washington.)
I looked around the gym, hoping to see a face of solidarity (the kind with telltale crow’s feet). Someone, but someone, who would a) know who Jane Fonda is, and b) fondly recall Jane in her soothing post-Vietnam protest voice reminding us to “feel the burn” while the Jackson Family crooned “Can you feel it?”
Instead, here’s what I heard in a squeal from the instructor: “Oh, I think my mother had that album!”
Shoot me now. But at least she didn’t say her grandma had it. Thank heavens for tender mercies.
The gym offers up so much delusional potential. It hooks you on the fantasy of the you-that-will-likely-never-be. Shy of a hollow-leg budget allowing for endless personal trainers, maybe (and one rife with plastic surgery and liposuction to boot). It’s sort of like Hollywood, luring us in with the fake reality of it all. But we buy into it, hook, line and sinker. Yes, I can look like a gym bunny, if only I try, we tell ourselves. If only I go to every class and succumb to the unspoken peer pressure that is a given, like it or not.
Take for instance Nia. Now, if you take away all of the encumbrances of pride and self-respect, Nia is a really fun class. You flail about in a la-la state, getting a surprisingly good workout, all things considered. The instructor is all flow and grace and wears funky clothes that look amazing on her and you project yourself onto her image, foolishly thinking you too look as sleek flitting about the ballet floor. Until you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and realize that in fact you look like the dancing hippos from Fantasia, and that oversized t-shirt ain’t doing you any favors in the style department. What we sacrifice in dignity for a good workout. But trust me, Nia and it’s contemporary cousin, the hip-happenin’ Zumba, these classes are for gym bunnies, not the rhythm- and physique-impaired like moi.
The peer-pressure factor is hard to resist at gyms. It is subtle, and usually self-imposed. It comes in a few forms: the “I’m not too old to do this” form—always a killer. Or the “if she can do it so can I” method. Natch. What happens with the self-imposed peer-pressure is you kill your gym fantasy with a career-ending injury, like, say, a torn meniscus, that makes it nigh impossible to work out without public tears, something you should never, ever reveal at the gym. Crying betrays your wimp factor and even if you’re near-dying, even if you have to take the elevator after your workout, your knee hurts so badly, you cannot cry.
The moral to the story (at least for me) is you leave the class when the kickboxing music is speeded up to high-on-crystal-meth level, so fast that injuries are inevitable. And when you see the yoga class is called Flying Dragon, you turn the other direction and fly away from it. So what that technically you can do it? Doing it and surviving it are two different things altogether. Repeat after me: anything with the words “flying” and “dragon” in it involving exercise are not for the faint of heart (or failing of physique).
Yeah, I’ll remember that for next time I find myself jonesing to be a gym rat. And remind myself that I’ll never be a gym bunny, so don’t even think I can act like one. Can you feel it?