A few days ago, I noticed an advert on my facebook newsfeed telling me "make sure you look good" when at the gym. Later, I see an article in the Telegraph explaining why fashionable workout clothes are all the rage. Both things left me a bit stumped. Correct me if I'm the one in in the wrong here, but when I'm exercising, looking good is the last thing on my mind. Or if I am thinking about it, it's in terms of the long term benefits that exercising will have.
However, looking around in the gym or even having a scout about online suggests this isn't the case for many people. This is largely more obvious in women (full makeup, hair carefully coiffed, tiny bikinis for the pool), but I suspect men are victims of this too. Indeed, many forums centre on making yourself appeal to others whilst at the gym. Why?
Considered from one standpoint, one might argue that evolution teaches us to go for the strongest in the pack - so working hard at the gym becomes an act of peacocking to attract a mate. The thing is, if one were really exercising for this reason - really physically exerting ourselves in order show suitability as a mate - we'd care less about looking 'pretty' and more about lifting the most, running the fastest, jumping the highest. We'd all be covered in sweat and, to put it bluntly, looking pretty fucking terrible.
But what about survival of the fittest in modern culture? It's clearly no longer the case that we simply go by base instinct in our choice of partner; instead we base attraction, at least at first impression, on physical appearance. And sure, whilst everyone has their own 'type' about what features they are and aren't attracted to, I think generally we can agree there is definitely an 'ideal', portrayed most commonly in the media. This more closely aligns with what I see at the gym.
Going back to the gender difference, this is probably why one notices it more in women - and indeed why I received the ad on Facebook whilst my (male) partner would never be subject to sexy gym wear. For men it is OK to be grunting, panting, and sweating excessively. These are all signs of strength and working hard. Apply the same features to a woman, and they become unsexy and disgusting. This can even be related to other parts of life. Recall the photo of Angela Merkel a few years ago with sweat patches under her arms - the media reacted with horror. But a similar photo of Barack Obama was welcomed, highlighted as indicating his manly efforts.
And so whilst men's gym clothes remain baggy and pretty separate from fashion, women are expected to purchase tight leggings, tighter tops and sports bras designed for appearance rather than just holding the sisters in place whilst you go for a jog. I can already hear the objections: "but leggings are flexible", "tank tops are breathable", etc. Well answer me this: why then haven't these things gained as large a traction in men's sportswear markets? If they are so suitable and practical, why do men not wear such items when exercising (excluding thermal leggings)?
The most ridiculous part about all this is that nobody else actually cares what you look like. Think about it: you get on the treadmill and, to borrow a slogan, Just Do It. No one goes to the gym to attract a partner, and no one is looking at you whilst you are beetroot red and struggling to breath. Nor is anything bothered that you opted for the blue crop top over the pink today.
So no, Facebook advert, I will not get my sexy on just to go exercise. If I wanted to get hot and sweaty in that way, it certainly wouldn't be the gym I'd be headed to.