Sometimes you will spend years building up your confidence, and then one conversation will make you feel like you’re back to square one. There will be times where you stand up for yourself, although those moments of clarity often happen after the dust has settled and the opportunity for a witty comeback has passed. Confidence is something that fluctuates on a daily basis, and in my experience, it is always something I could use just a little more of in my life.
Tonight I was at the gym with my husband. We had had a great workout so far, cheering each other on to do one last rep, to push through and finish on a high note. I often end my workouts by blowing off steam on the monkey bars, jumping as high as I can to reach the next bar up, using my whole body to propel myself into the air, swinging across the rig with a huge grin on my sweaty face. Today, however, I decided to do the monkey bars before our workout and I was successful in all of my jumps and swinging attempts. But, as tired as I was at the end of our arm workout, I went back for more.
My husband and I laughed and joked around, seeing who could lift their legs highest while holding on to the bars. I jumped for the bars but was so tired that I gave up mid-jump and was unsuccessful. I did one last round on the monkey bars, jumping down with a grin on my face.
As we were about to grab our water bottles and head out, a young man about our age interjected.
He told me, semi-jokingly, that I needed to do the monkey bars back the opposite way, and then went on to say that I needed to swing my arms back more while jumping, rather than starting from a standing position.
The comments were coming from a good place, I’m sure of that, but I couldn’t help being defensive. I was quick to cut him off, laughing and saying it’s the end of my workout and that I always swing my arms when jumping. He even demonstrated how to properly jump and I laughed and nodded, eager to leave. We gathered our things and left the gym and as soon as I entered the locker room I dissolved into a teary-eyed mess.
This was not the first time I had been given unsolicited “constructive criticism” from a man at the gym, and although it was one of the more positively-intended interactions I have had it still reduced my confidence to zero. I was having a great workout with my husband and I was feeling elated before this guy told me I wasn’t jumping correctly.
I have been going to the same gym for over a year now, and I’ve been going three times a week since the beginning of the year. You would think that this kind of stuff wouldn’t bother me, right? Surely I could handle a bit of well-meaning criticism? I do so much to make myself invisible in public. I try not to draw attention to myself while I’m working out and I always wear headphones in order to protect myself from unwanted interactions with strangers. And yet, when I let my guard down even a little, it’s like there’s a target on my back. It doesn’t matter if I’m by myself or with my husband, men at the gym still think they have a right to tell me what I’m doing wrong.
It makes me feel unsafe, frankly, but it also makes me feel like I’m never going to be good enough. No matter how many times a week I go to the gym, no matter how quickly I’m able to do the monkey bars or whether or not I can beat my husband in a sit-up contest, there will always be a man to find fault in what I’m doing.
But, luckily for me, confidence is something that fluctuates. I will be able to build myself back up, and as much as I wish unsolicited comments from strangers at the gym didn’t provoke such a reaction from me, I know I’ll be okay.