Lifting Bitch Face

I go to any one of five different gyms around town, depending on what I’m lifting that day and the equipment available, or what neighborhood I happen to be in. This is a pretty good system, though it gets confusing when my husband texts to see where I’m at and I simply reply, “At the gym.” Some of my gyms come complete with heaps of assholes (really only one- and it’s a gym I use in emergencies only), but most are pretty friendly.


Perhaps too friendly. Kind of.

In a passive aggressive raises-my-feminist-hackles kind of way.


Now, some of you, I am aware, will think this is utterly stupid, that I am being overly sensitive, or that my contest prep macros have my attitude in a bad place. But for me, the following described scenario is indicative of a larger, more pervasive problem on a societal level, and the gym is just where I most often encounter it.


I have begun to notice that the people at my gyms- not just one, but many of my gyms, seem to have some expectations that I don’t necessarily quite agree with, or want to be a part of.


They fucking smile. And wave. And nod.

Hear me out on this one.


The people at my gym-and yes, I’ll admit the guilty parties are almost entirely men, in this case- constantly are acknowledging me, to the point of going out of their way to catch my eye for the sole purpose of smiling at me, waving at me, or otherwise seeking my attention. I long ago stopped removing my headphones for all but a very select group of people (we are talking less than 1 person per gym, on average, here), but now I’m literally being flagged down between sets, tapped on the shoulder just for a head nod while writing in my lifting logs, or being interrupted as I lift? This is frustrating to me. I can’t even walk to another area of my gym without someone purposefully making eye contact with me so that they can smile, with the implied expectation being that I will smile in return.


Call me petty, but I don’t want to fucking smile at people in the gym.

    I’m with you, McKayla!


I am not there to cheer people up and provide a pleasant viewing experience.

I am not here to validate your efforts at pleasantries.

And I certainly will not stand for you interrupting my actual purpose for being in the gym just so you can make yourself known.


I do not owe you a fucking smile.

Or a wave. Or a nod.

Or even a hello.

I do not owe anyone anything.


I am not against being friendly, but when it’s the third time in a gym session that I’m having to readjust the muscles in my face to validate you, that doesn’t seem right. To me, this is intrusive, and disrespectful.


I should not have to purposefully avoid eye contact, or the potential for eye contact, in any space. In the same way that I should not have to be told to smile, or look happy, while walking down the street or sitting in a bar, I should not be expected to change my demeanor, my thought process, or my facial expression at the gym. I come to the gym to focus on me, not to decorate this space with my positive and bubbly attitude and infectious smile.

Even though I possess both of these things, let’s just get that straight right now.


Chatting with some friends, I found that I ma not alone in this experience. Some ladies have said that they choose to wear hats to the gym in order to shield their eyes and make eye contact less likely, appearing less “available” for social contact, or the possibility of inviting it. At this point, I have taken to wearing a purposefully angry face in the gym, and keeping my eyes downcast, lest I match eyes with someone who has been waiting for the opportunity to catch my gaze. Yesterday when I left the gym my face was actually SORE from having put on such an impressive display of Lifting Bitch Face.


This isn’t right. This rubs my feminist bone in all the wrong ways. I realize that the gym is largely a boys club. I realize that my presence there might be exciting, or novel, or whatever. But I think it’s high time we throw off this idea that women must always be happy, must smile decoratively, or contribute to the positive atmosphere of a place. I have just as much right to come to the gym, put in my work, and leave uninterrupted as any man occupying the space and engaging in the same actions.

So why am I the only person fending off undesired solicitations to smile?

As I was in the process of writing and editing this post, I came upon this article discussing the work of artist Sally Nixon, depicting women, unposed, performing mundane, everyday tasks. They feel relaxed- alone; finally out of the perceived social judgement of others.


And not a single one is smiling.

On purpose

This one, in particular, resonates with me. Topless eating is pretty much, like 60% of my life. Take from Sally Nixon’s Instagram. 


“I like drawing girls doing their everyday routine — just hanging out, not worried about what others are thinking,” said Nixon. “They’re usually alone or with other girls. Their guard is down.”


These illustrations spoke to me, and assured me that my perception of this small-scale assault of smiles in the gym is not petty, and is not my struggle to face, unsmilingly, alone. #idonthavetosmile


5 thoughts on “Lifting Bitch Face

  1. I’ve run into something sort of similar at my gym. And I find it especially bizarre because my gym is a no-frills, dirty, old, powerlifter and bodybuilder gym. We barely have cardio equipment but we have specialty bars, two squat cages, and 100lb plates. There are people who just say hello or ask “how’s it going” as I’m changing equipment between sets, and I’m fine with that. I’m sort of the gym manager (long story), and the only girl lifting heavy (and just did a figure show) so people often have questions. Catch me between sets and don’t hold me up and I’m ok with it. But the people that go out of their way to stand next to the equipment I’m using so they can try and start a long conversation is getting out of hand. I’ve had to tell a couple of people on different occasions that I have a long workout and things to do when I get home so I don’t have time to talk. Then they have the nerve to get butthurt. *sigh* I don’t mind a form question, or a legitimate question on how to use the equipment, but I don’t understand the people who want to just chat or ask me “how was work?” when they aren’t in my social circle, don’t know where I work, and wouldn’t understand it anyhow!

    Oof. Sorry to vent my spleen at you, but your post reminded me of my frustrations.

    Keep working on that prep, and thank you for sharing your progress with us!


    1. Yes! Yes THIS is my experience! And it sounds like we have very similar gyms, too! Blatant interruption of my lifting shows so much disrespect of my time, and feels so frustrating. I’m sorry your experiences are similar, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one!


  2. I couldn’t agree with this more… I have had men walk up to me at the gym, in the grocery store, walking down the street and tell me, “It’s okay to smile”… WHAT? I know it’s okay to smile, what would make you think I don’t know that? There’s a reason I keep my head down and my earphones in at the gym, almost everyone that frequents the gym enough knows this code so why is it so easy for someone that looks like he sleeps on a cot in the dressing room of the gym to forget this?
    & I hate feeling like a bitch so it really puts me in a predicament when I’m approached and told to smile by a complete stranger.

    I wish I could double like this post!


  3. Hey! So this post has been on my mind more than once since you wrote it. I kind of feel like when you join a gym you’re signing on to a community space you know? I understand your frustration. I often go with my boyfriend and usually end up waiting around at some point during my workout because it ends up also being social time for him and others. I suppose it’s kind of not the same thing at all because people are not having their workouts interrupted between sets and stuff but there’s definitely an air of expectation from some folks that you make nice and be neighbourly. I find though, that I have other things I’d like to do with my time while for a lot of these people, lifting is their only hobby. I have more hobbies than lifting and I’d like to make time to do them also, and I end up sacrificing that time for more gym time. If I want pure efficiency out of my gym time, I’d really need my own garage or basement gym and this is kind of part of my life plan really. In the mean time, I think gyms of all types come with expectations from their community and the public space they represent. I get that those expectations can feel intrusive and annoying but I guess I kind of feel like that’s part of the deal.


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