As any athlete will tell you, you learn a lot from playing sports. I played soccer my whole life and it allowed me to learn the values of teamwork, respect, perseverance and interestingly enough, I also learned how to dress. I learned how to dress for exercise, that is.
From the time I was in middle school and started playing soccer for my school, I always had a practice uniform. For every practice, at least six days a week while we were in season, my teammates and I had to be dressed in a white or gray T-shirt, black shorts, black spandex and black socks. Not only were these guidelines created to make us look unified even when we weren’t in a game, but they were also to ensure we were dressed appropriately. In addition to the limited colors, we also couldn’t wear shirts that were cut in any way and our shorts had to be long enough, to quote my coach, that if we were bending over she “couldn’t see cheeks.”
Some people might balk at the rigidness of this system, but rules and unity are big parts of sports and, even as someone who embraces individuality, I was never upset by these limitations. In fact, I grew to like my workout uniform. So much so that asking me to exercise in something other than a big T-shirt and baggy shorts would be akin to asking my baseball-playing friend to exercise without his hat on: You’d be met with a pretty confused look and nothing would change.
I never thought twice about my workout attire until I started exercising in the University of Massachusetts Recreation Center. One day I looked around the cardio section and realized there was not a single person in the room that looked like me. Whereas I was red in the face, sweating overwhelmingly from every pore on my body and wearing the baggy clothes I was accustomed to, the girls around me looked beyond put together and straight out of a Lululemon catalog.
Women’s beauty standards have changed in the past few years from a tall and leggy Taylor Swift figure to that of a curvier Kim Kardashian, and female fashion has changed with it. Clothes that are now considered fashionable nearly always accentuate women’s curves, and that even applies to workout clothes. You need to look no further than Amber Rose or Kylie Jenner’s Instagram accounts to know this is true.
These celebrities and fashion icons constantly post pictures of themselves in body-hugging workout attire and body-crushing waist trainers, showing young women this is the new beauty standard.
Skin-tight clothes and faces full of makeup that are selfie-ready are the new gym norm and, for someone who does not fit into that mold, the gym can be an intimidating place.
On more than one occasion I have watched girls apply makeup in the locker room before their workout and as someone who is not putting in the same kind of effort, it can make you feel like you are less-than.
I know many girls might say they are not dressing this way for attention or to imitate celebrities, but they choose to do it because it makes them feel confident or even because they feel like those clothes are the most comfortable to work out in – and that is great. But I am also sure there are many girls out there who don’t feel comfortable in the gym or in exercise classes because they can’t compete with their more “fashion-forward” peers. I know I for one considered going on a Nike shopping spree in order to up my exercise attire game before reminding myself it was unnecessary.
To those girls who feel the pressures of society to look picture-perfect while in the gym, I tell you what I told myself: Don’t be afraid to get red in the face, sweat from the most unattractive of places or make weird noises while pushing for that last rep. The gym is where you should be comfortable looking and feeling your worst so that way, outside of the gym you can look and feel your best. Forget about your attire and your makeup and take time in the gym to focus on your body, because it will thank you later.
Tess Halpern is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]