‘The Gym’ by someone who never goes to the gym.

I joined a gym this week. Not for a summer body (mine is semi-functional in all four seasons), but because I need to build up my strength and fitness very slowly. Very, very slowly.

I’m approaching it with some trepidation; when I think of gyms I think of the people I see on Instagram; the tanned, toned, trim girls in gleaming fitness centres with colourful, perfect fitness wear and more hashtags than I could invent if my life depended on it. These girls are also invariably made up more than I am for my work Christmas party, and, crucially, not sweating. I am on the other hand, wearing an Adidas vest that I’ve had since I was at university (it was black at one point, but barely in my living memory), my ankles, calves and knees are covered in kinesiology tape, I’m practically translucent and the act of pressing the ‘quick start’ button on the cross trainer kicks my sweat glands into gear. Also, helpfully, when I get out of breath, I go slightly purple.

The gym has always been a temple for the aspirational; associated with wealth, health and beauty. However, the health phenomenon has elevated the gym above the nice place you go to get fit, it is now fashionable, and for some lucky Instagrammers, a career opportunity. Green juice is the new latte and for some (myself firmly excluded), it’s the new Friday night pint.

In many ways this is a great thing; young people are binge drinking less, exercising more and are more health-aware. Anything that promotes body confidence and makes us feel good about ourselves is grand with me. However the ‘there is no excuse not to do [X exercise] every day, everyone can do it!’ mantra is difficult, and can make some of us (especially those with a disability, chronic pain, mental health difficulties or a whole host of other things) feel excluded. It can make already anxiety-inducing environments seem unfriendly, almost hostile. Try cycling slowly for five minutes, getting of the bike and leaving the gym and watch the reactions of those around you, then log on to Instagram and browse the ‘#fitisthenewskinny’ feed. It’s not the greatest of confidence boosts.

I’m not suggesting that anyone using Instagram to record their fitness journey is promoting something damaging; I know they are a great source of inspiration for many, and I see that a community of people getting fit (virtually) together can be a wonderful thing. I’m just pointing out that there IS an excuse for many of us not dragging ourselves out of bed for a HIT workout, and anyone who can’t see that is very lucky.

I’m also lucky in that I spend much of my life not in pain, and that I am able exercise steadily. There are many who have much more to deal with, and whose day to day lives are more affected. I’m trying to relish my daily five minutes on the bike, and for the first time in my life, trying to not give in to the pressure I put on myself and overdo it.

We need to start considering how we can make these environments more inclusive and less threatening, and showing understanding that health is lots of different things to different people, is a good start. In the meantime, if you frequent the gyms of East London, please politely ignore me as I (very probably) fall off the cross-trainer.

B x

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Apparently I use eye cream now.

Apparently I use eye cream now. Actually, let me rephrase that. I use anti-ageing products. It’s been a week now.

Since hitting the grand old age of 25, I’m now trying to look younger. Go figure.

If I think back to when I was at school, especially when it came to age restricted things, I remember going above and beyond to try and look older. Be that with make up, or dressing older, whatever. We’d try everything. I remember one time, I must have been about 9, and we were trying to go and see a 12 movie, Miss Congeniality. Now that dates it. It was my friend’s birthday and we were going to see the film. We spent hours before getting ready, we dressed like the older kids in the school did. We shoved tissues down our tops to make it look like something was there and that we’d hit puberty. We must have looked hilarious. We made it in to the film though. That being said, I don’t think it worked. I think the 16 year old working at the cinema probably couldn’t be bothered and just sold us the tickets anyway. But in our minds, we had mastered it. We looked older. We looked 12.

I think to some extent, trying to look older is part of growing up. Like wearing make up, or dressing older or wearing heels. I think even now I do it to some extent, like wear a suit if I’m meeting a particular person, as if I am trying to validate my position or my knowledge.

So whilst I’m trying to look older, I am also succumbing to societies pressures of using anti-aging products, because like the adverts say, it’s better to start younger…

I bought eye cream.
I bought serum.
I bought anti-wrinkle moisturiser.

Setting me back just over £150. I’m not sure I really want to calculate the exact amount.

I started this routine last week, and I think I expected to see visible differences the following morning. Then I think about this, and what was I expecting… Was I hoping to see a fresh faced 18 year old staring back at me?

If I think about it, I suppose that I like looking 25. I like looking my age. I like knowing the things that I do, having learnt the lessons I have and have done the things that I have. Would I want to go back to being 18 or any other age. Honestly, no. Now whilst I have this opinion, I will probably still carrying on using the eye cream, and the ‘miracle’ serum sourced from these mystical places on the planet. I will probably carry on, not only because I’m ‘supposed’ to, but getting older scares me.

If I walk down the street or if I’m in work or wherever, I don’t look at older people and go, ‘WOW, YOU’RE SO OLD’. Most of the time it doesn’t even cross my mind. Many older people (and when I say older, I mean older than me) look so beautiful and stunning, which makes me question why I’m scared to get older. Maybe we’re all trying to grow old gracefully…

Going back to my outrageous anti-aging purchases, I wonder whether it is society putting this pressure on me. It’s easy to say that, the culture of Women’s Magazines, which is a whole different subject entirely. But then again, it’s constantly surrounding me. From waking on the tube or taking the bus, I’m surrounded by advertising, telling me which new cream will be the one to solve all my problems. Products with names that sound like they are something out of a fairytale or some magical land, with newly discovered potions and oils. They do a good job of enticing me.

A.

An open letter to the man who used my head as a Kindle rest on the tube.

Dear Middle-aged Man in Suit on the Northern Line,

Working in the publishing industry, I am thrilled to see people reading; paperbacks, hardbacks, e-books, free newspapers, 50 Shades of Grey disguised in a Jane Austen cover, the entire works of Shakespeare, WhatsApp messages of a fellow passenger whose personal space they are forced to invade, I love it. I therefore fully support you in your literary endeavors. I also understand the need to make it difficult for strangers to make small talk with you prior to 9 am. I do, however, take slight exception to the way in which you chose to do so, specifically the bit where you rested the Kindle on my head.

Sir, I am sure you had your reasons. I realise that at a height slightly below average, my head was probably at the optimum level for Kindle leaning. Perhaps I should be thankful that you selected my head; I noticed that the cranial standard on the Northern Line was unusually high that morning and I will admit that a part of me was flattered. Perhaps your arm was tired, perhaps you had been to the gym that morning. Perhaps you were multi-tasking; just sending some emails, browsing Instagram, ordering Deliveroo to London Bridge with your free hand. Perhaps you didn’t realise you were doing it, perhaps you thought gravity wasn’t a thing below ground level. I can only speculate, and would not like to believe that it was because you didn’t care.

Although not more than a minor inconvenience, your act was symbolic. It was an assertion of superiority and an assertion of control. It was for that reason (alongside my insufferable Britishness and reluctance to cause a scene) that I did not feel able to say anything to you. I am a millennial, and courageously tweeted about it in the immediate aftermath however, an act that brought me great satisfaction.

It’s not just me you inconvenienced, but all Londoners too. What with gleards (glittery beards for those with some remaining self-respect), the fact that pints cost a fiver, our unfriendly silence on all public transport and our obsession with avocado toast, we have enough reasons to be hated already. I beg you to not cast us further into social abyss; we do not want to be known as kindle leaners and head borrowers too. Sir, the Kindle of society rests on your head, and I beg you to take it in both of your hands. I believe in you.

Kindest regards,

B

PS. If my letter has moved you not and if you still insist on using women of slightly less than average height as a book rest, might I suggest a paperback going forward?

Apparently I’m A Runner Now

The fact I’ve even written that sentence is ridiculous.

I’ve never been one for sport. As a child, I avoided gym at school like anything. I’d come up with any excuse in the book not to play hockey, netball or let alone athletics, especially when it was cross country day. Growing up, I played a couple of team sports. I was always okay, and then I’d get bored after a year or two and that would be that, on to the next one.

Last year I decided to start running. I’d tried running before, and on the cold winter mornings where it was below freezing and raining, I’d concluded that this wasn’t something I was overly keen on. However, last year, and turning twenty-five, I woke up one morning and thought, yes – running is something I do now. It was a shock to us all.

So one day, I donned my trainers, downloaded a couch to 5k app, and set about running. I’ve always wanted to be a person who can just run. I define that as being someone who can quite happily run a 5k without working up a sweat and in reasonably good time. You know those types of people, one I aspire to be.

This year in an attempt to better myself, I’ve challenged myself to run a 10k every month. As we’re being honest here, I missed January, for good reasons. I was backpacking for the whole month, something of a spontaneous decision. But every month so far, I’ve done my 10k. The first couple of kilometers are horrendous but once I reach four or five kilometers, it gets a little easier and I begin to enjoy it more.

I’m not a fast runner. One day maybe. But right now, I’m pretty much walking pace. And whilst this is the most frustrating thing, I’m also okay with that. I’m trying to stick at it, and the better I get, the faster I run. And I know myself, that if I don’t see improvements, I’ll just give up, but I’m really trying hard not too, because I know that the more I keep going, the quicker I’ll get. One day, I’ll get under an hour for a 10k. One day.

So, why do I run. I run to keep fit. I suppose that is the most obvious one. I’ve never been one for sport, but as I get older, the more I actually want to be fitter. I run also because it is time for me. Time to just put my headphones in, listen to some music and switch off. I run to think and to not be connected all the time. I think that’s probably more important. I think sometimes it is really easy to constantly be online, but actually being present in your own life, in your own head and in your own space, is something that we don’t do enough of, and something that I’m trying to do more. Plus, who doesn’t love a medal!

A.