Powering through anxieties, women make their own space and workout experiences

Women In Gym
Ally Fukada (junior) in the Alumni Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 20, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

Despite being a competitive swimmer for 12 years, Ally Fukada (junior) said she is still intimidated by the gym.

“I have a tendency of not being too comfortable with my body, so I always feel like people are looking at me and judging me,” Fukada said. “[I fear that] people are going to look at the fat rolls on my stomach or my back. [I question myself,] do I have enough muscles, or do I not look strong enough?”

Fukada said she tries to go to the gym every day and considers her workout sessions as time for herself away from schoolwork. Similarly, Skye Garcia (junior) said she goes to the gym five or six times a week. Garcia said she made a lot of friends in the gym through complimenting or just striking up conversations about random things.

“Lifting heavier weights is a non-gendered thing, and it is a desire everybody can have,” Garcia said. “It is really awesome to see yourself get stronger.”

Women In Gym
Ally Fukada (junior) in the Alumni Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 20, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

Katharine Amsden (first year) said she played in a soccer club team for 10 years and used to run cross country in high school. Amsden said knowing where to start can also be difficult, especially when you walk in a gym where everyone kind of knows what they are doing.

“Having the thought of others thinking ‘she doesn’t know what she’s doing’ with the added fact that ‘oh, you are a girl too,’ makes it feel almost embarrassing,” Amsden said.

Garcia said she is lucky enough to have started lifting in high school because of her background in volleyball. Garcia said according to her own experience, she felt that men are introduced to lifting in high school more than women.

“By the time [men] get to college, a lot of them have a more basic knowledge [with how to work out in the gym],” Garcia said. “I found a lot less women who lift in high school, and it can be a lot more intimidating for them to get started in college, especially in a small gym space like Oxy’s where some of the equipment is really coveted.”

Women In Gym
Skye Garcia (junior) in the Alumni Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 22, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

Amsden said she was looking for a change after coming to college because she did not want to run every day, which inspired her to try working out in the gym.

“People think [going to the gym] is a big commitment, but it’s really just about finding out what works for you,” Amsden said. “The gym is an awesome place for me personally. It helps me grow my confidence, especially with changing my view with body image, but that does not happen overnight.”

Women In Gym
Katharine Amsden (first year) in the Alumni Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 20, 2023. Renee Ye/The Occidental

While Amsden enjoys working out in the gym, Ariel Igielski (sophomore) and Mariah Peguero (sophomore) discovered their passion for exercising through the one-unit Zumba class. Igielski said that going to the gym felt more personal, whereas the Zumba class made her feel less pressure on what she was doing individually.

“I was really struggling with [finding the] motivation to go to the gym,” Igielski said. “I felt very intimidated, so I applied for the Zumba class for a way to make friends and get a good workout.”

Peguero said the Zumba instructor, Marisol Gomez, has really good energy to keep people engaged.

“She is very vibrant, and she gives off a kind of motherly energy,” Peguero said.

But for working out in the gym, according to Amsden, having a workout routine planned in advance helps her find confidence.

“Before I went to the gym, I put on TikTok and searched for gym routines,” Amsden said. “And then, the more you go [to the gym], the more confidence builds, which motivates you to try something new or talk to more people who you always see in the gym.”

Despite the posed anxieties, Garcia said the presence of social media has helped build up a community showing women that it is okay to be muscular.

“It is only recently where there are more commonplaces for women to get more muscular and not set their gym goals to be just losing weight,” Garcia said.

In addition to the assistance of social media, Fukada said that it is also inspiring to see other women in the gym training their hearts out.

“Some of the women are beyond amazing,” Fukada said. “They are strong and committed, and they made me feel like we are all here for each other. Over the past year or so, I’ve definitely seen more women going to the gym, which brings me a lot of peace and happiness.”

According to Peguero, a safe workout environment is where you feel like you are free to make mistakes. Peguero said no one in Zumba would ever criticize others for a wrong posture, and it is also less likely to get injured from the sport.

When asked if the predominantly female composition of the Zumba class has contributed to a more comfortable workout space, Igielski said gender didn’t matter so much. She said what makes gym more intimidating is the perceived judgment on one’s form or how much weight one’s lifting.

Garcia took the initiative to change the low mistake tolerance discourse in the gym by becoming an Oxy Barbell Club coach last year. She said she was fully aware of how intimidating it could be to get started in the gym, especially when one accidentally chose the wrong equipment and got injured.

“It made me really happy to help women to be more comfortable in that space through helping them with their techniques,” Garcia said. “Whatever your gym goal is, it is valid, and you deserve that space just like everybody else does.”

Contact Renee Ye at rye@oxy.edu.


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