I didn’t mean to work at a women-only gym. I decided to apply for a job selling membership at the coed gym I belonged to during grad school because, after graduating, I didn’t really think there was a good place for me in the publishing industry. The literary journal where I worked didn’t have the funding for non-student employees, and the thought of working at a textbook company made me cringe.
So I had to decide what I wanted to do to pay the bills while I built up my writing career. In total honesty, I had a crush on a trainer at my gym and did, partly, hope that a job there would lead to friendship with her and, you know, eventually causing her to upend her long-term relationship to be with me, the awkward chick with the boy’s haircut. Not the best logic for making career decisions; thankfully, I didn’t get a job there.
I liked the idea of working at a gym, though. I cared about fitness, my workouts a grounding force throughout grad school. And a gym job would keep me on my feet during the day, more so than any office job; call it ADHD or whatever you want, but I hated sitting still and wanted to find a position that offered some level of physicality. Finally, I figured out if I spent my days walking around, talking to people, I’d be more willing to hunker down at my computer to write my Great American Chick Lit Novel during my off hours.
So I sent my resume to a half dozen gyms in the area, including LadyGym. Friends of mine from grad school raved about it: about the eucalyptus steam room and hot tub, about the comforting all-woman environment. A friend with chronic pain in her neck and jaw found relief from meeting with a LadyGym trainer to strengthen her upper back. Another friend, with cerebral palsy, told me how working with a pilates instructor at LadyGym had helped soothe the spasms in her hips and legs. And so on. I liked the idea of working at a place that made fitness about more than just getting thinner or looking a certain way; I liked that they made fitness accessible to people who wouldn’t necessarily fit in at other gyms. At that point in my life, I had gotten used to not fitting into places– but we can talk about that later.
I was gung-ho about working at LadyGym, stoked when they called me about an interview. The moment the MBTA B-Line dropped me off in front of the building, though, I had second thoughts. I realized I’d actually stepped into the gym once before, while distributing flyers for the vitamin store where I worked; I’d been dripping with sweat from the July day, my white shirt sticking to my back, essentially see-through. I’d walked inside, expecting a cafe (they had a chalkboard sign with specials outside because a registered-dietician-approved restaurant was one of many luxuries offered by LadyGym), and instead found a soothingly-lit reception area with a marble-esque desk, cushy, overstuffed chairs, top-of-the line computers, and orchids. Orchids, guys.
(If there is one way I can definitively describe myself in grad school and the time directly following, it can be as “not an orchid type of gal.” Basil, perhaps? Actually, that’s not even true. For instance, in grad school, I lived with my friends Liz and Mike. Liz has always loved the idea of growing things, be it flowers, herbs, or fruits. At the time, Liz was still… at the bottom of her learning curve? She had a lovely green thing, possibly basil, sitting on our kitchen window. Mike went on vacation for two weeks, and pulled me aside right before leaving: “I’ve been watering Liz’s plant for her. She thinks she’s keeping it alive herself. I need you to keep taking care of them while I’m gone.” He came home to find the plant knocked over, dry dirt on the floor. “You had one job,” he told me, shaking his head. Since then, Liz has greatly improved in her gardening abilities. I have not.)
So I came for my interview, and I found myself standing in front of this monstrosity of a building, wondering if they would realize what an imposter I was. Even though I’d taken the supposedly air-conditioned train to my interview, my shirt still clung to my back with sweat, my hair frizzed in a halo, and make-up dripped down my face. The appropriate term, I think, is “hot mess.”
The club was exactly as I remembered it. As the sales manager guided me through, I ticked off in my mind all the reasons I couldn’t work here. Most obviously, it was too girly, with its purple upholstery on all the benches and machines, the gem-toned swiss balls and elastic bands, the charming films about girl power playing in the “cardio theater.” More importantly, there wasn’t a squat rack, which, for me, a powerlifter, was the center of every one of my workouts; instead, they had a Smith machine, which is like a dumbed-down squat rack, where the bar is on tracks so you’re less likely to hurt yourself, but you also have to stand at a bizarre angle to produce anything vaguely resembling a squat. The dumbbells stopped at 50 pounds, even though I could press far more with one arm. The lone bench press (a bizarre choice for the single piece of “real” equipment, in my opinion) came up midway on my shin, instead of my knee, like most benches. There was a steam room and a sauna and a hot tub, which just seemed like a waste of money and space, because weren’t we here to work out? There was only one male employee, gay, singing show tunes at the top of his lungs (because that was the type of man women could feel safe around? I wondered). And there was an entire studio dedicated to Pilates, the seemingly most pointless exercise routine I’d ever heard of, designed for the woman afraid of the bulking created by regular strength training.
Twenty-five-year-old Kat was appalled by what she saw. Everything seemed so catered to this specific idea of femininity– this idea of femininity I had never, could never achieve. We finished my interview, and I assumed the woman I interviewed with realized what a terrible fit I was for their gym. I’d have to figure something else out– maybe get a job at Starbucks, or give into the wonderful world of textbook publishing.
But, it turned out, they liked me enough to call me in again. The second interview, with the General Manager, went better– perhaps it was getting introduced to the first member, a woman in her eighties with giant glasses and a red-and-white striped shirt. Or maybe it was just that I could tell this woman really cared about getting women into fitness, creating an environment that felt friendly and familiar to them.
When they offered me the job, I took it. I figured if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to be there for long. I figured maybe I could help them change for the better. I never considered that I’d stay there for nearly eight years, or that it would help me change.