In the last two years, I’ve patronised two gyms — on and off, and mostly I like minding my own business.
But noticing a few peculiar people here and there has made me more attentive to my environment than before. And there’s never a shortage of peculiar people at the gym.
Take for instance the really muscled man who loudly puffs and groans as he is lifting weights and looks around to see whether other people are watching him. At first, I thought he was in pain, but later realised it was an attention-seeking strategy. And there’s the other muscled man, a fitness enthusiast who comes to the gym, does his workouts and minds his own business.
Then there’s that lady who is the star of the aerobics and zumba classes, has a lot of endurance, exaggerates all her moves, is always at the front row, and really really likes to show off. Of course, there are always some people who sing along to the music more than they exercise.
Then there’s the shy people who keep to themselves, always at the back of an aerobics class or prefer coming to the gym at off-peak hours when there is hardly anybody around.
There are those who hog the treadmill for so long, even at peak time, yet most gyms have just a few of those. Some gyms have even put up signs on maximum times on the machines, especially for peak hours, but some people still ignore this even when there are many people waiting in line to use the facilities.
There are those first-timers who are still being shown the ropes and are often scared of trying out some exercises or of ruining equipment, though a number of them don’t mind experimenting.
There are those who see first-timers and view them as prey, one once told me: “Kumbe ni siku ya kwanza. Nitakuwa nikikusumbua (So, it’s your first day. I’ll be nagging you).” Need I say that I was shocked and I became so uncomfortable that every time this man passed nearby or our eyes locked, I felt a chill down my spine. I think I’ve noted his gym patterns and I try to avoid being at the gym when he is there. Hopefully I got his schedule right.
There are those who look like hawks in the gym, always looking around, watching people — wait, am I becoming one of them? I could be, because, well, you can learn a lot from observing people in the gym, albeit discreetly so they do not get uncomfortable.
And there are those who keep telling the trainers that they want only certain types of workouts or challenging their expertise or just hogging trainers’ time when everyone else also requires a bit of the attention to make the best of their workouts.
But the most peculiar habits I have encountered are not in the workout rooms but in the locker rooms.
In my first gym some time last year, I encountered a small and overcrowded locker room with people’s clothes hanging on some stalls, shoes all over, and even some clothes strewn on chairs and other hand over the toilet door and shower cubicles. It was not a sight to behold, and the stale smell of sweat and stinking shoes assaulted my nose. What amused me is that, even though there was a notice not to leave dirty gym shoes in the locker room, people often left them on top of their lockers leading to the stench.
It is also in this small locker room, which had only two shower stalls and one toilet stall (all serving as changing stalls), that I encountered people walking around half-naked or changing in the open. But at least they were slightly covered.
My current gym has a good, clean and a more spacious locker room. But the shocker for me was women prancing around naked without a care in the world. The changing area is an open space, and I was shocked the first time I went in and a lady got out of the shower, threw her towel on the bench, and began oiling herself. I did not know where to look, so I looked down and covered myself with my towel as I changed into gym clothes. After working out, I met another lady in the locker room, and an almost similar thing happened. She removed her gym clothes, picked up her towel, walked naked to the shower stall and hang her towel outside the shower stall; all the while I was asking myself what was going on.
And that was not the last encounter; it seems it’s the norm here.
I remember going to a boarding school in high school, and people who had come from primary boarding schools where there was mass showering would just bathe in the open until they were told it was against the school rules to do so. Every year it was the same issue when Form Ones came to school. And for the life of me, I could not understand why. I was shy and always locked myself in the bathroom.
So now in the gym locker room, I get weird looks when I cover myself as I am changing.
A friend recently asked what I hide that others do not have. I had no comeback. But see, I didn’t go to a boarding school where there was mass showering, I only heard about it from people who had done so. And, I didn’t grow up sharing bathrooms with people; from when I was about seven years old I was always uneasy and refused to shower in anyone’s presence.
I get very uneasy seeing people in the nude and most times I wish people would just cover up.
You may be okay with walking around naked, but for those of us who feel assaulted, is it too much to ask that you try and cover up a little? Or at least give us a heads up before you throw your clothes to the ground so we can look elsewhere?
And perhaps all gyms should think about adding changing stalls to their locker rooms for those of us struggling with privacy.