When I first started seeing the dude, chilling at home with him was infinitely more interesting than going to the gym or a yoga class. I fell way, way off the workout wagon. I’m not blaming him. I got off track all the way around (damn you, delicious Nutella!) – by choice.
Now, once again, I’ve got major pounds to lose. I’m going back to the workout routine I established before I met the dude – yoga two days a week, walking home from work (3.5 miles) two days a week, walking in Central Park (4-6 miles) and going to Bikram at least once every weekend. I may need to step it up from there, but I first need to re-establish the baseline – and, more importantly, the habit of working out regularly.
There is one impediment I’ve had to fight through, though. Something that makes working out unpleasant. One word: harassment.
I live in Harlem, and men in Harlem routinely harass women on the street. As one friend said recently, “I couldn’t even walk a dog in Harlem” without hearing annoying, unwanted comments from men.
Women in workout attire, no matter what shape they’re in, seem to draw particular attention. Three years ago, I wrote about the challenges of dealing with street harassment running around Marcus Garvey Park. I’m sad to say that nothing has changed in the three years since that post.
On Saturdays and/or Sundays, I like to get up and go for a walk in Central Park. I live about a mile from the park. The time inside Central Park is peaceful and pleasant. The walk to and from the park is often irritating.
“Hey ma, can I walk with you?”
“That’s right girl, you need to be out here. You need to be doing more than walking.” (Thanks, buddy)
“Damn, look at that ass!” (A comment a black woman in Harlem might hear even if she were wearing a nun’s habit.)
“Get them knees up! Swing them arms!” (Usually said by an overweight guy sitting near the curb on a lawn chair or a milk crate.)
Most days I just look straight ahead and keep walking as if I haven’t heard anything. Occasionally, I come across someone so aggressive that I feel afraid – even though I always go on my walks around midday, walk on well-trafficked streets and paths, and keep my cell phone in my hand in case of emergency.
Often, these guys will say “I’m a trainer” as a way to justify the nonsense they’re about to spew. As someone on Twitter pointed out, “I’m a trainer” is the new “I’m a rapper/record producer.” This past weekend, as I was steps from completing a 6-mile walk/run, some guy sidles up to me.
“That’s right girl, grind it out. How much you do today, ma?”
“Six miles,” I said, looking straight ahead.
“Oh for real? You do that every day?”
“No, I did it today.”
“Oh, see, cause I’m a trainer. You need to do them six miles every day. You do that, you be a’ight.”
Really? That’s your professional opinion? You had to become a trainer to figure out that someone who runs or walks six miles every day is probably going to be “a’ight,” health and physical conditioning-wise?
Trainer-dude was tall and lanky, with zero muscle definition. He might have been a trainer for real, although I doubt it. It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t looking for workout advice, and I certainly didn’t need it at the end of my workout.
The guy who approached me might have been a fake trainer, but I’ve had real trainers say equally ridiculous things to me. When I was going to the gym regularly, a trainer looked at me and said, “I can help you get all that -” gesturing to my hips and thighs – “right.” I was in the gym to get fit, but I didn’t think my body was “wrong” to begin with. For some reason, I ended up hiring him, and it was a disaster. He had one canned workout routine he used with all his clients. I watched him take other women who probably had different fitness needs from me, through exactly the same routine he forced upon me. And he never listened. I told him I couldn’t do squats on advice from my doctor (bad knees). He laughed and told me to quit punking out. I had to fire him, or I would have wound up injured. Lesson learned? Trainers who sell their services by preying on what they think are a woman’s insecurities are parasites.
Unsolicited workout advice from random men may be the mildest form of harassment experienced by women, especially women who work out. And street harassment happens all over, not just in Harlem. But I don’t think men understand just how off-putting and demoralizing these comments are. When a woman goes out for a run, or to the gym, she’s generally not looking for attention. She wants to focus on her workout. Unsolicited advice from “trainers” or gym rats, not to mention lewd comments, are beyond unwelcome. Whether a woman is already fit or working on her fitness, harassment from men can make a woman not want to work out. It’s not encouraging, it’s discouraging.
I doubt this will be seen by the men who need to read it most, but if just one man rethinks how he deals with women he sees working out, it will be worth it. Guys: unless she asks for your training advice, don’t offer it. If you see a woman about to injure herself using an apparatus or equipment at the gym, alert a trainer or the gym staff. Otherwise, leave her alone.
That goes for you trainers, real or imagined, as well.