I started going to the gym after a girl rejected me. She was a lawyer in her late twenties. I don’t know what went wrong; maybe I came on too strong or wasn’t as established as she would have liked. Maybe we just weren’t compatible. Or, maybe it was because I was too scrawny.
Afterwards I felt angry and weak … I wanted to feel strong. I would show her — I’d become ripped and burly. I was frustrated with my physique and found it pathetic that there were so many men on television who were more than twice my age and in better shape than I ever have and probably ever will be, namely Matthew McConaughey. I was also annoyed with my family, who thought the idea of me working out was hilarious. So I joined a gym. The only problem was … I had no idea what the hell I was doing. To quote Louis C.K. “I’m just a guy wearing shorts.”
My gym is nestled in the heart of Chelsea. For the most part, it’s populated by ripped gay men and lonely, beautiful women. And then there’s me: thin, straight and desperately trying to whip into shape before I hit thirty.
I chose to go to a gym in Chelsea because this particular one is only ten bucks a month while Equinox is a billion, although the culture at my gym is bizarre. Every first Monday of the month is free pizza night, every second Tuesday they have free bagel mornings and at the front counter are bins of complimentary Tootsie rolls. Most recently they celebrated their twenty thousandth member by throwing a cupcake party. But a cheap good gym is a rare find, especially in Manhattan and the facilities are great.
However, there remain multiple strains of awkward besides unhealthy snacks. One time in the locker room, a ripped black hipster fellow who looked like a cross between Woody Allen and Fifty Cent dropped me a note while I was tying my shoes. “I want to fuck you.” It was very validating. Someone liked me! The only reply I could muster was, “Uh… no thanks. Nothing against you, but I’m straight” before jetting out of there.
Being stared at by gay men while working out made me acutely aware of how creepy guys can be.
In my quest for athletic prowess, I observed others doing their work-outs to study technique, but that always made me self-conscious. The men often thought I was checking them out, which I wasn’t and the women had me pegged for a creeper, which is still unconfirmed. Later, I watched Youtube training videos that were helpful. A co-worker lent me Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book on weightlifting but it was really heavy and I ended up using it to prop up my computer monitor. Eventually, after a lot of practice, observation and badgering of fit co-workers, I started to have a decent routine going.
The exploration of my own masculinity via the gym made me wonder how I became self-conscious. I realized, thankfully, I’m not the only dude going through this. There have been numerous studies showing that men by and large are feeling more insecure and as a result, are spending more money on male-targeted beauty brands such as Gillette, Burberry and Old Spice. It wasn’t until the last few decades that beauty companies figured that men might be as willing to spend as much money as women to look good and accentuate their sexuality. Gyms certainly fall into an extended expense for both men and women, not only to be healthier, but also to forge their bodies into the ideals they are exposed to in advertisements.
Like women, men have many social pressures placed on them to mimic gender stereotypes, to be stronger, more masculine, to fit a certain mold displayed in a GAP or Abercrombie banner. The male icons I ape from film and television are, 007, Don Draper and Rod Serling. The first two being mooth, witty men who get what they want,without being called out on it, and the third being a man who suavely introduced clever science fiction with an allegorical twist.
Unlike women, men don’t talk about the pressures as much and rarely complain publicly, because that would be deemed unmanly.
By the time I was two months into working out, I was started to see results, and even forgot about the girl who launched my fitness campaign. The thin layer of pudge lining my waist that accumulated from sitting eight hours a day had evaporated and my shoulders and chest became broader. I started to date again and got a girlfriend. I even changed my dietary habits, eating more salmon, brown rice and vegetables, instead of hamburgers, lasagna and General Tso’s chicken. I started drinking Muscle Milk, and can be seen walking to the 34th street subway jerking my protein shake bottle furiously like a Shake Weight, as if I were giving an invisible giant a violent hand job.
I still have a LONG way to go. There will always be room in my diet for pizza and I have made many a transgression. On a bad week, which I have too often, I’m lucky if I get to the gym once. When I’m there and I alternate machines with some of the old-timers, I’m talking brawny guys in their 60’s, I have to decrease the weight when it’s my turn. But I suppose what’s most important is that I’m trying.
My motives for working out have also changed. Before it was to fulfill my desire to feel more masculine, to feel powerful, but now it’s geared towards health and looking and feeling good. The best tip I learned about gym going is just to get there. Common sense, sure, but that can be the hardest part. I’m still struggling on fulfilling my weekly routine. Perhaps the best tip of all is to keep to the slogan that’s plastered across the interior of my gym: “No Judgment”.
Thanks, midiman for the photo!
Originally from Maui, Hawaii, Joshua is a writer and humorist. He has written articles for Heeb Magazine, co-wrote the produced game show pilot Geek Vs. Geek for OMFGeek.com and is a contributing joke writer for the Marvel comedy web-series, Marvel Heroes What The?! Joshua is the recipient of a Devery Freeman Prize in Screenwriting, a Brooklyn College Departmental Award for Distinguished Television Writing, and an Upright Citizen’s Brigade Diversity Scholarship.
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