Letter to the young girl at the gym

Dear young girl at the gym last week,

It’s been a month since I joined our gym, after my doctor had looked at me sternly when I’d confessed to not getting much more exercise than the twenty minute walk into town (sometimes, when it’s not raining or snowing or far too cold – so rarely since September) and climbing the three flights of stairs to our flat.

And I’m not a natural gym-goer, but I’m liking it here. The set circuit of machines and exercises that changes every week; the lovely but hardcore trainers hovering over us to check our positioning, urging us to do the exercises faster, stronger, tighter.

It’s a small gym and so we’re usually only five to ten women there at any time, working our way around the equipment, dutifully moving on each time the gong sounds. The afternoon you came in, I’d already done two circuits of the room and then had stood, hands on knees, knackered, sweating buckets, face like a tomato, but proud of myself.

I moved over to the elliptical machines for the ten minute cool down. You can see the rest of the room, watch the women moving around. My gaze landed on you, maybe twenty. Your hair was neatly tied back, your gym clothes matched your trainers. And you looked so uneasy.

You dawdled at each station before beginning, tried half-heartedly to start before appealing to the trainer for help. On the high-energy stations you’d have ago until their backs were turned and then awkwardly stop and try to look like you were fixing your laces, or adjusting your t-shirt. You didn’t break a sweat and you glanced around constantly like a nervous rabbit.

And yet I was the only one watching you, from over here.

You’re the youngest here, yes, but do you see how little reason you have to be self-conscious? Look around you. There are two women here who are very overweight, needing to walk on the machines rather than run, struggling with even one push up. But they’re here and they’re working at it.

The lady doing the circuit behind you is at least sixty. I think she must have a hip problem because despite her enthusiasm, the trainer keeps adjusting the exercises for her. She’s been inspiring me to keep pushing for the last hour just by her presence.

At least half the women in here are mothers – the softness of their bellies and the lines under their eyes betray it. And here they are, working hard to look after these bodies that have already given them so much.

And me? I’m not overweight, have no stretch marks from babies yet, no hip problems to speak of. But I’ve maybe got just eight years on you and I already feel my body beginning to age. Those jumps she has us doing, they are hard work, when I’m sure I remember jumping with ease and joy off walls and bridges over brooks not so long ago.

We’re all sweating, we’re all red in the face, we’re all puffing through each station, we’re all trying.

You look so awkward, so afraid to break a sweat or make a fool of yourself. But you don’t realise you’re doing just that by not trying, by not pushing, by not deciding your health is more important than what any of us might be thinking of you.

And if we’re thinking of you? Honestly, we’re admiring how good you look, how naturally tight your muscles are and how toned your stomach, and we’re speeding up just a little more. Don’t be embarrassed, sweet girl. This body is your own beautiful temple, and it’s at its best right now. Enjoy it, stretch it, challenge it. Feel the satisfaction that comes with a red face and a sweaty body after an hour’s workout. Let go of your insecurity and relax. I know we women can be mean to each other, but here you’re amongst red-faced friends.

Yours from the elliptical machines,