Ladies Who Gym: Thongs! Gossip! Zumba!

Losing a few pounds is easier when you're with a big group of uninhibited women.

I have been a member of the same South Jersey gym for more than 10 years. You would think I’d be in pretty good shape by now, but I’m afraid that’s not the case. When I first joined, I was recently done with making babies and pushing maximum capacity. I was almost about to have to shop in plus-size stores, and that was my breaking point.

I remember that period well: dropping off my kids at the gym’s daycare center, wearing the biggest t-shirts I could find. I was so self-conscious in the huge, bright yellow, brightly lit gym classroom, but I needed the classes because I was lost out on the floor of weights and cardio machines. Classes also worked for me because if I had a time to show up, I’d show up. I would go early so I could stake out a place in the back.

But what I also remember is the other women there. Even though it seemed they could all bounce higher off their aerobic steps, even though my bangs were sticking to my forehead before anyone else’s were, there was a sense of community. It took me a while to really trust it, but I wasn’t being judged. Everyone was too busy doing their own push-ups to notice how short my range of motion was. Women chatted and complimented each other on their tanks and shoes, as we are prone to do.

I went from double-digit-sized clothing to low, single digits. I became one of the bounciest ladies in step class, in a good way. When new women would come in, wearing their own extra-large t-shirts, I’d help them adjust their steps to the height they’d like, suggest which color resistance band they should start with.

Of course, gossip goes around the gym just as it does anywhere else. A member who was rumored to have an eating disorder essentially lived at the gym. The only time we wouldn’t see her there was when she was outside in her car, smoking cigarettes. There’s a woman who wears thongs to work out. I know this because they are … well situated. It’s hard to concentrate on anything other than the thong’s distribution when you are directly behind her in class. And speaking of hard, there was a woman who I haven’t seen in a while who was rumored to have had a boob job. If you were directly behind her in class it was hard not to be fascinated by how her breasts would not move (obviously the source of the rumor) even when she was bent backward over an exercise ball.

As time went on, my attendance at the gym became far less regular. I’d go once a week at most, and only take spin classes in our black-walled spin room: dark lights, super-loud music—it feels as much as if it’s for my head as for my ass. Even during my periods of sketchiest attendance, I’d show up for Natalie’s Monday morning spin, if only to hear her say, “Turn up your resistance! Just. Because. YOU CAN!!!!”

I blame part of my gym slippage on dating a roofer; rain days took on a whole new meaning in the past few years. I blame most of it on habit: As I slowly fell out of the gym as a lifestyle, it just got harder and harder to get myself to go, to get in any kind of routine.

Now, I find myself once again pushing maximum capacity. I’ve gone back in fits and starts, but have made a new commitment with the new year. In my years of five-times-a-week, without-fail work-outs, I would resent all the January members, roll my eyes along with the other gym rats at how crowded the parking lot and the classes were. Now I am back in a big t-shirt in the bright yellow room, and I am one of “them”—the January interlopers—to many of the members who don’t know me. Stepping out of the dark spin room, I am blinking like a mole, but others help me figure out what to do with the Gliding Discs. Now, I also take Cardio Combat just to throw some street-brawl punches and hear Tonya say, “He’s. Not. Dead. YET!”

Last Sunday I was in a Zumba class with everyone’s favorite Zumba instructor, Kristin. It’s pretty impressive to pack a room with a group of people at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, who aren’t there out of some kind of religious obligation. We danced to world music, and for the whole hour I was just struck by the smiles on everyone faces, just how much fun this room of close to 40 women, of a myriad of ages, sizes, and shapes, were having. Kristin kept up her praise: “Good job!” and her demands: “Shake it for me!,” and women busted moves they never would dare try on a dance floor.

At one point, I saw a woman who had to be pushing 60 and pushing 180 pounds, hop in a circle with her arms outstretched, grinning from ear to ear, after the song had stopped. Watching her do the salt shaker with pure abandon and pure joy, while Kristin’s tassels twirled on the back pockets of her made-for-Zumba pants, is worth getting up early on a Sunday.