Going to the gym is a methodical experience for most people — put on stretchy clothing, hydrate and engage in some form of exercise. But what happens when someone defies the unwritten rules of gym etiquette?
People typically conform to certain norms at the gym, including how to dress and behave properly. Breaking social norms isn’t just about going out and doing weird stuff in public — it’s about eliciting responses from people based on their surprise of someone’s non-conformity.
My goal in this enterprise was to see how people would react when I wore ludicrous clothing to the gym that most people would deem unfit for this particular atmosphere.
My attire included: a loose dress that resembles the appearance of a peacock, a baggy red-and-black striped crop top over the dress, a blue flannel, pink cheetah print pajama pants and Converse. I was looking fierce, featuring an array of prints and patterns. My hair was arranged in a crazy bun at the very top of my head and, in the spirit of working out, I secured one of those sweat bands to my forehead.
Most notably, the outfit wasn’t restricting and I had a full range of motion. Although it might have looked weird, I was comfortable and that’s what matters when you’re at the gym, right? Well, that’s what I was about to find out.
I walked into the ARC and had my card swiped. After taking a gander at me, the guy proceeded to encourage me to “have a good workout,” which was coupled by a faint chuckle. I thanked him and sauntered off, making a beeline for the weight room.
It was 9 p.m. on a Friday night and the room was predominantly populated by men. So, not only was there a woman in the weight room, there was a “weird” woman in the weight room.
I got a lay of the land before heading to the free weights, but I saw that the lightest weight was a 15-pounder. Unsure if they had weights more my speed, I inquired to the guy lifting next to me and he kindly offered me his.
I started using the weights in an incongruous manner, i.e. I did a casual interpretive dance with them and kept deeply lunging with the weights by my side. The mirror in front of me allowed me to investigate people’s reactions behind and around me while I “exercised.”
I noticed that most people glanced in my direction once or twice, but didn’t fixate on what I was doing. The large majority of people are in a “zone,” listening to music and not really paying attention to their surroundings. Some people laughed and pointed to their friends or would try to sneakily peek at me again, but no one made it extremely obvious that they thought I was so out of place.
However, the thing is that people are most likely going to bring it up in some future conversation, saying “Yeah, one time this girl came into the weight room wearing a dress and pajama pants. It was… odd.” I’ve had people voice their opinions to me about what people should and shouldn’t wear to the gym or how they should “properly” work out, which is what prompted me to test it out.
I went up to the man working at the service desk in the center of the room to confirm that most people don’t work out in the type of outfit I was wearing. He substantiated this social norm by saying that he’s never seen anyone wear something similar to me.
Is it socially unacceptable to wear what I did when working out? Because I thought that people just wore what was comfortable for them. And yes, for the majority of people, wearing leggings or shorts and a T-shirt is what’s most comfortable, but there are alternative clothing options as well.
It seems that in the end, people were more inclined to gawk if they were with friends at the gym because they had someone to turn to and laugh with. Otherwise, people kept straight faces and just went about their business, as did I.
Fashion is usually considered subjective, which is why I think it’s interesting that people seem to care so much about what others wear to the gym and is why I broke this social norm.
The results that I got partially confirmed that wearing proper workout attire is considered a norm, but I also established that a fair amount of gym-goers just don’t give a shit.
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