I used to love the term, ‘Gym Rats;’ it rolls off the tongue so wonderfully bitterly that it always made me feel a little better about the fact that the only time I went near the gym was when driving past it to get to Aldi. ‘Rats,’ it carries the perfect connotations, doesn’t it? A bunch of oddly proportioned creatures scurrying from their cars into the shelter on a rainy Monday morning, or grouping together en masse in sweaty classes- too many bodies for one small space. It sounds great but, to be frank, the reason the term is so adored is because it summarises the common idea that those who live at the gym are so food-obsessed and oblivious to the rest of the world that they can only gather together; god knows no one else wants to be around them.
It comes from envy, if we’re being real. It’s not a generalised misanthropy but a specified dislike for those who are everything that we wish we were. There’s all those god-awful instagrammers posting pictures in their GymShark leggings trying to sell me ‘fat-busting-tummy-tucking-chubby-busting tea,’ and adverts where an 8stone Alexandra Burke is trying to force-feed me meal replacements; and as much as I want to hate her for shoving that tube down my throat, in reality I hate her for being so slim in the first place. I spend my life criticising people for posting gym-sesh pics because, “it shames other people,” when deep down I know that I hate the images because I can’t take them myself. Here were are again- envy.
From the first post on this blog, I made clear that I have anything but an addictive personality, so motivation for me to go and workout has never been something that came naturally. I’m a dancer (more specifically an aerialist but let’s not get pretentious) and a recovered anorexic and- while both of these things would lead you to believe that I have excellent knowledge of health and fitness- I haven’t the faintest idea how to lead a healthy life. Rats- by nature- are unhealthy; so why are we calling people who frequent the gym with a protein shake and an apple in hand ‘rats’ when we’re the unhealthy ones?
Now I’m not going to pretend that living off green tea and vegan-friendly nutraloaf is healthy, but most people I meet at the gym eat the perfectly calculated amount of protein, carbs and fats every day- sometimes regardless of calorie count. I can tell you now that I ate a protein bar the other day that contained the same amount of calories- maybe more- than a classic donut; the difference is that while the donut would’ve given me nothing but empty carbs, that protein bar gave me genuine fuel. In general, I eat like a rat: I snack through the day on anything colourful and sweet I can get my little gay hands on. If I have a five minute break in my eleven hour shift, I eat something quick and sugar-filled; a caffeine pill, a swig of diet-coke and a cereal bar? Yes please! I pick and scavenge food in true animal fashion, however I have never met a rat that meal-preps every Sunday night to insure they get a balanced diet throughout the week. I’m the rodent, not those at the gym. Are we seeing a trend yet?
The more you think about it, you realise the word ‘rat’ was attached to gym-goers based purely on the selfish need to feel superior on some level that isn’t the amount of squats one can do. Yes, we see them all swarming into the gym at 6am (not me and my poor-person’s off-peak membership) and it is, in some ways, evocative of rodents raiding a bin- but doesn’t it also signify community spirit and dedication? Fitness fanatics have balanced diets and schedules; they fit the gym around family life and work, because god knows you’ve got to have a job to afford a gym membership, and by thinking about that I see all those people I envy as slightly more human.
It’s not vapid or vain to care about your appearance the way they do- because you must care just the same to be envious enough to hate them. ‘Gym rat’ shouldn’t be a pejorative- not only because it is a fundamentally nonsensical metaphor but also because I’m coming to genuinely believe we shouldn’t put others down for wanting to better themselves. I mean, I’d love to be able to bench-press 180- whatever the hell that means.
I did go to the gym this morning, and I am trying to embrace this moment of epiphany completely so as to stop fearing my fellow ‘rats’ so much; what they do is pretty neat. But then again, maybe that’s just the endorphins talking.