Women-only gyms boost confidence

With extravagant, high-energy fitness clubs cropping up everywhere to feed the nation’s perfect body obsession, it’s a wonder that small women-only gyms like Curves even survive.

Why do some women prefer and select women-only facilities for exercise? Graduate student Gayra Ostgaard researched this question and presented “Working [It] Out: Gender, Culture, and Women-Only Gyms,” Friday at the Women’s Center as part of its Women’s Research Network series.

The Research Network is run by Mary Krueger, director of the Women’s Center in Hanna Hall.

“The Research Network highlights the scholarly achievements of the University’s female students,” Krueger said.

Female students and professors made up the audience and came because they were all interested in Ostgaard’s topic.

“We’ve talked a lot about gender in my sociology class, it’s interesting to me, I’m trying to learn more about it to get the full picture,” Sarah Bauman, sophomore, said.

Ostgaard was originally drawn to her topic because as a high school student she was very involved in sports and physical activity, and was used to working out among men. However, even in her co-ed gym, Ostgaard noticed an informal segregation among the genders.

The women grouped around the cardiovascular area while the men dominated the weight room.

Ostgaard joined a women-only gym for five weeks and worked out there five days a week.

She conducted interviews with members, employees and attendees between 22 and 55 years old.

The atmosphere was laid back and relaxed.

It catered to women with its lavender walls and pink toilets. Blinds in the front windows blocked any view from the parking lot.

“It’s important to make women feel comfortable in a setting,” Ostgaard said.

Ostgaard also noticed great diversity among the women. The women were of all different ages, sizes and fitness abilities.

“With this level of diversity, the women don’t feel judged and they can work toward any fitness goal they’d like,” Ostgaard said.

Women of all ages agreed on one thing – many of them joined a women-only gym to avoid the “male gaze.”

The members said there were too many men at co-ed gyms; the men make everything a competition and the women were worried about comparing their progress with the men’s progress. In the weight room, the women said the men were physically intimidating.

Another perk the women got from their gym was a network of social support.

“These women were getting more than just exercise when they came to the gym,” Ostgaard said.

The members said that everybody got to know everybody else at the gym.

In addition to the benefits of exercising, one is also receiving the benefits of socializing with other women. Mainstream gyms are much more individualized; members are there to get through their workouts and leave.

“Women’s participation in sport and activity can be empowering when one feels good about herself afterward, or can be oppressive when it is used to strive for the perfect female shape,” Ostgaard said.

The women-only gyms allow members to concentrate less on their body image and more on their health.

“It’s now apparent that a woman’s social space heavily impacts her experience,” Ostgaard said.