Overall, I am a pretty confident person. I know I’m a good teacher and librarian. I’m confident in my relationships with family and friends. I also have several random skills that make me proud: my ability to type 90 words per minute, my knack for reading Harry Potter with a divine British accent, and my wickedly delicious jambalaya. Cocky, I can be.
But get me into a gym and I turn into someone very different. My stomach folds in on itself the moment I pull into the parking lot, and I timidly enter as if I’m a child clutching stolen candy. I don’t make eye contact with anyone on my trek to the locker room, where I always seek out the most isolated corner. The mirrors reflect women confidently strolling around in the nude, freshly showered and brazenly blow drying their hair. I always avert my eyes and hide my body, facing the lockers and changing as quickly as possible.
I’ve had many failed attempts to overcome these insecurities. A few years ago I signed up for adult swimming lessons, and after my third lesson I was feeling confident… until a classmate discreetly divulged that the rear of my spandex suit was completely transparent. A quick glance in one of the ubiquitous mirrors proved she was right, so I quickly wrapped in a towel until it was my turn to leap in the pool. I insisted on practicing the back stroke that day, and have never used one of those spinning suit dryers since.
Once I took a prenatal yoga class, where I tried my best when asked to contort my body against the wall (the pose had a real name, but I will forever call it “bug on a windshield”). At the end of class we were supposed to meditate, but I couldn’t help but peek at all the women with far cuter pregnant bellies and wonder if they would have an easier labor thanks to their ability to find zen.
I’ve also tried a step aerobic class, but after ten minutes of shame I tiptoed out because I couldn’t find all the necessary parts to assemble my step.
And it’s funny how there is never a line for the Nautilus machines when I arrive, but as soon as I start my circuit some 80-year-old dude shows up wanting to pump way more iron at a much faster pace. It reminds me of the two times I completed Anchorage’s Gold Nugget Triathlon: I was in my 30’s, but my time was actually worse than every senior citizen who finished the race.
Much of this shame I bring upon myself. I am the dork who wears Spanx under my baggy t-shirts, while other women mount the treadmill with nothing but shorts and a sports bra. I choose to work out after school, which is a popular time for high schoolers who insist upon calling me “Ma’am.” (Honestly, I should just appreciate the respect after a long day of working with middle schoolers.)
It’s not fair, but I like to blame one of my former teachers for these athletic insecurities. Back in junior high, my PE instructor actually told my parents I was “athletically hopeless.” That comment has stuck with me all these years, but it’s more of a crutch than a sword these days.
“Of course I can’t run that race… I’m athletically hopeless.”
“Nope, I can’t join your volleyball league. I’m athletically hopeless!”
“Softball sounds soooo fun, but you don’t want an athletically hopeless person to bring down your team!”
How much fun have I missed out on over the years, playing my “athletically hopeless” card? No one cares if I’m not the fastest runner or best hitter or sveltest swimmer. In my crowd, we just want someone to hang out with while we burn a few calories. Heck, half our workouts end with a celebratory drink. We’re a fun crew.
When I head to the gym today, I need to remember that no one is judging me. No one who really matters, anyway. Because in the end, the only shoes I need to worry about filling are my own.