After the painfully awkward years of middle school, when making others uncomfortable wasn’t a voluntary activity, I’ve learned how fun it is to make people feel just a little awkward themselves. My favorite is buying a box of tampons, a box of tissues and a box of chocolate at the same time, then making sure I go to a male cashier. Another fun one is being frank with people. For example, telling someone you’re “talking to”  (whatever that means), “Hey, I’m getting mixed signals. Rather than playing this game with you, I’m going to ask you what you want from me. So here I am, please tell me what is on your mind so that there’s no misunderstanding between us and I can move on with my life.” That one really makes people uncomfortable.

However, my new favorite is going to the weight room at the gym.

I’m usually one of the only girls in there, if not the only one, and I’m not surprised. Almost immediately, I feel like a giant elephant in the room. Let’s just run with this theme, because it also makes me feel like an animal at the zoo. It’s almost as if there is an informational sign on my ass, reading, “While you might hold some preconceived notion that this species is usually found in its natural habitat of elliptical machines and Pilates classes, we have placed a rare breed in this specially constructed room with you so that you can lose your shit while she deconstructs your standards.”

Yes, it’s possible to be a little less blatant with your disbelief. Is it that insane to you that a girl could possibly be strong enough to bench press? Is it that foreign to you that a girl has every right to use the pull-up bar, no matter how desperately unsuccessful she is at actually pulling herself up? Is this your space that I am somehow invading?

Maybe I’m like an animal that has escaped at the zoo. Yeah, elephants are majestic as fuck, but you wouldn’t want one running toward you. You wouldn’t want a girl who has enough physical strength to be in your sweaty, grunting, clanging, manly room of mirrors. You wouldn’t want a girl who doesn’t give two shits about how disgustingly sweaty she is. (Oh, did I say disgustingly? I meant impressively.) You wouldn’t want a girl who can lift her fists to the sky with a dumbbell in each hand because goodness, girls are supposed to have slim shoulders that don’t threaten your masculinity. You wouldn’t want a girl who does push-ups instead of letting people push her down; who gives new meaning to “curls for the girls”; who doesn’t need you to spot her, in either sense of the word, because she came to the gym to become stronger, not to get your attention.

Yes, as much as it may startle you, I’m there because I like to work out. That’s it.

At first, I hated it. Walking into that room was intimidating and uncomfortable, and I spent way too much time trying to find the most inconspicuous corners of the room to work out in. And I know I’m not alone. One of my friends has even taken the step of purchasing her own dumbbells to use at home because she doesn’t want to deal with the unrelenting stares and the pervasive sense of hostility. Some of my friends have even given up on the idea of weightlifting because of this. But once I felt like I actually knew what I was doing (thanks, brothers, for teaching me how to properly get shredded), it became clear who was really uncomfortable.

Now, I just like to watch them squirm. Sometimes they stare without even noticing, until I look them in the eye and they freeze like I’m some sort of basilisk. I’m focusing on me, and if you also want to focus on me, fine. I’ll just make more gains than you. You won’t find me in the zoo. You’ll find me doing Tough Mudders, moving out of apartments by myself, and eating lots of peanut butter for that “extra protein.” You’ll find me unabashedly wiping my body-shaped layer of sweat from the bench press. Maybe one day you’ll find me actually succeeding at doing a pull-up. You can stare at me all you want, but you can’t cage me. And I love how uncomfortable that makes you.

Rachael Lacey can be reached at rachaelk@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.