Why the gym is the worst place in the world
Gyms are a modern hall of mirrors that amplify bulging muscles and oversized egos. Dominic Utton can't think of a more vile place to spend time
By Dominic Utton -05 Jun 2014
First things first. I am not anti-exercise. I’m all for healthiness. Look good, feel good, live long and prosper, that’s what I say. Toned bodies are generally more attractive than flabby torsos (there are exceptions). Keeping yourself in shape is a worthy and worthwhile thing to do. And sport, as someone once said, is where men become as gods.
However. I can’t stand going to the gym. Hang on, I’ll rephrase that: I can’t stand gyms at all. They are terrible places, they bring out the very worst in us. They are temples to vanity, cathedrals of narcissism.
Just in case your ancient Greek is a touch rusty, a little context: Narcissus was a particularly beautiful young chap, who after seeing his own reflection in a pool one day, fell headlong in love with it. Unable to tear his gaze from the splendour of his own image, he eventually chose to die rather than look away. His name has subsequently become a byword for a kind of ruinous, all-consuming fixation with oneself, a proud and awful self-love.
Now let’s consider the gym.
I’m not talking about the places professional athletes train. Nor do I mean the backstreet boxing clubs of Hulme or the Old Kent Road or the other venues that exist to give people an escape, or a purpose to their lives
I mean the kind of gyms that you and I go to. The ones that cost thousands of pounds a year to join. The ones with celebrity endorsement and state-of-the-art facilities. The ones full of estate agents and media types and corporate professionals. They’re the terrible ones.
All those gleaming static bicycles, those rows of treadmills and cross-trainers. The weights, the kettle-bells, the rowing machines and power plates. All that technology, all that expertly engineered mechanics dedicated to the improvement of the human body … and what’s the most important thing in the room? What’s the one part of the gym that nobody can tear their eyes away from?
The mirrors. The mirrors are what the gym’s all about. All those people, working up a sweat, pumped full of endorphins, gazing at themselves. Drunk on self-love and paying handsomely for it.
They’re not there to get healthy – they’re there to make themselves look good. And, more importantly, to look at themselves making themselves look good. In a culture where appearance is more important than substance, the gym becomes a place of worship. And what people are worshipping there is themselves.
Narcissus would approve. Narcissus would be right there on the cross-trainers with them.
Think I’m exaggerating? Then consider the prospect of such a gym without mirrors. If it really were just about getting fit, then all those post-work warriors pounding out the miles on the treadmills would simply … go for a run. All those wannabe Wigginses on the static bikes would spend a month or two’s membership on an actual bike, that actually goes places.
It’s not just the mirrors. According to a survey by sports nutrition company Multipower UK, we’re now becoming obsessed with taking selfies at the gym (so we can keep looking at ourselves even after we get home) – and then posting them on social media so we can share our vanity with the world. A spokesman for the company says: “For many, the gym-selfie has become as part of their workout routine as the treadmill.”
That bears repeating: taking a picture of yourself working out is now as much a part of going to the gym as actually working out.
So, apparently, has hitting on fellow exercisers. It’s not only muscles being pulled in Virgin Active and LA Fitness. The same survey revealed that more than half of male gym-goers described picking up women as “one of the perks of going to the gym”.
Work up a sweat. Gaze at your reflection in the mirror. Take a photo of yourself to show the world. Find a similarly hot chick with whom you can validate your opinion of your own beauty …
And then hit the showers ... where the gym becomes really unbearable.
If the action on the floor is about self-love, back in the changing room it’s all willy-waving one-upmanship. Literally willy-waving, often as not. Strutting middle-aged middle-managers with one leg on a bench, vigorously towelling themselves off whilst talking loudly about their latest work/family/love life triumph. It’s … horrendous. It’s the worst place in the world.
As I say: I’m not in any way anti-exercise (I play football every week, I’ve been known to be pretty handy with a tennis racket, my brother runs marathons – and he runs them fast, too). But I am anti-narcissism.
And that place you’re paying £100 a month to gaze at mirrored reflections of yourself in your tight little shorts and your soaking vest, that place where you take selfies and eye up the similarly self-absorbed girls (those “perks of going to the gym”), that place where you strut around naked in the changing rooms … I’m anti-that.