I don’t look good while working out, and that’s okay

i amI’m nearing the end of my third set of overhead presses. My arms shake from the effort of lifting the dumbbells above my head. I create a force ball of energy deep in my core, and as I push it through my body, through my chest, back, shoulders, and arms, I lift my face and emit a roar as I drive both weights toward the ceiling through reps. power. My instructor smiled appreciatively at Zoom, and said “This is why I love working with you, Rachel. You always give it your all.”

“Yes, and I look and feel very attractive when I do it,” I jokingly reply.

But I caught myself in a moment. Why do I care about how attractive I look when I’ve beasted through difficult, and ultimately empowering, challenges? Even the description I use when reflecting—“beasted through”—has a negative connotation when it comes to my appearance.

I’ve realized how “pretty” I look, versus how strong and beastly I feel, has been on my mind lately when I work out.

I think part of it has to do with the fact that I recently returned to private fitness classes, participating in my first group workout since before the pandemic. And in those classes I couldn’t help but notice how nice and put together my classmates looked. From matching athletic outfits to perfect ponytails to makeup and eyelash extensions, these girls can rock brunch as easily as bootcamp. And is it just me, or has working out become more the norm than it was pre-pandemic when I was going to the gym regularly? And it’s not just IRL, either.

For me, adding the expectation of looking good for a workout is another barrier to working out.

I can barely scroll through Instagram or TikTok without seeing a woman decked out in activewear like she’s heading to an editorial shoot instead of the gym, or an ad serving up expensive, fashion-forward workout clothes. On TV shows, I’ve noticed that when there’s a fitness scene, there’s matching sets instead of oversized sweats and oversized t-shirts. we can to stay Also from the day Monica forced Chandler to exercise friends While wearing gray sweatpants? In some ways, this is an example of art imitating life. According to a Forbes report, athleisure purchases have increased by 84 percent compared to the first year of the pandemic. So maybe we all have more fashionable workout clothes that we’ve been dying to show off for two years.

Or maybe the dopamine infusion makes some people more excited to exercise. In a survey of more than 2,000 gym-goers, 69 percent said that cute workout clothes help motivate them to hit the gym. “Dopamine motivates us to seek rewards,” behavioral psychologist Carolyn Meyer, Ph.D., authors The Psychology of Fashion, previously stated as Well+Good. “So, scientifically speaking, dopamine dressing refers to a person’s motivation to dress in a way that will result in a positive outcome, such as feeling more confident, competent, or happy.” Or perhaps, stronger, faster, or more fit?

That’s all well and good – and dressing up can certainly be fun. But, for me (and the 31 percent of people who don’t get inspiration from their gym clothes), adding the expectation of looking good for a workout session is another barrier to working out. Also, I don’t necessarily find on-trend clothing, such as crop tops, the most comfortable for working out. I know I don’t like to bare my midriff when I work out in public because (as much as I try not to think about it), I can feel the way my stomach looks and it acts as a distraction.

For some people, maybe getting dressed for work is a necessary part of their warm-up, and that’s totally okay. But for me, it’s a relief to have a time when it’s better not to look like I’m in the mood. From Zoom calls to Instagram stories, the pressure to be presentable to the outside world is too much for us to shoulder – more than the dumbbells I’m lifting.

I also wonder if this emphasis on our appearance takes us away from what we should really be focusing on in the gym or studio: pushing our bodies? It doesn’t matter how much I’m wearing or whether my sports bra matches my biker shorts when I’m going through a set like the overhead press. I’m sweating, sweating and pulling my face as if I’m ready to lay siege to an enemy fortress. It’s not “beautiful” in that it’s prim, clean, symmetrical, effortlessly-ideal, put-together, or conventionally “attractive.” But it’s strong, and it’s me.

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