(Unhelpful) Gym Envy: Confessions of a Girl with OC Tendencies

This past summer, I decided to face some of my fears, one of them including working out at the gym. The first few months were tough but rewarding. I worked with a personal trainer who customized workouts for me and held my hand the whole time, as I reached my first performance goals and discovered that working out could be fun. It also made me feel good!

At first, I enjoyed going to the gym, and I was so focused on trying a new hobby that I did not compare myself too much to the other people working out around me. I was intimidated, sure, but my feelings of self-consciousness did not get in the way of me going to the gym. I was able to manage the distress that came along with my insecurities.

I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt intimidated, because gyms are notorious for being environments where people compare themselves to others, whom they believe are stronger, more attractive, or just overall better. Gyms are places where high social comparison takes place, and they are spaces that often make people aware of their body image issues.

A few weeks ago, however, I had an encounter with a pretty girl who was slimmer than me, had strawberry blonde hair, who wore Lululemon leggings and a cute scrunchie in her hair.

I started to notice feelings of envy creeping in, but I still wanted to be friendly, so I complimented her shoes, and did so in a genuine way. She responded by saying, “Thanks. They’re X brand.” (I can’t remember the exact brand). Maybe I did not interpret her tone correctly, but her posture and the way she responded immediately made me label her as a “mean girl.”

My feelings of envy skyrocketed and my secrets desire to revenge popped up. Did I want her to injure herself? No. Did I want her to experience the same shame I had felt a minute ago? Maybe. Did I want to wipe that smirk off her face? Yes.

I hoped that she’d learn her lesson some way or another, maybe by being spoken to the same way she had spoken to me. But then again, I gave her the benefit of the doubt, by telling myself that she had meant no harm at all. I tried to turn my envy into admiration, but it was hard.

In the following weeks, my enjoyment diminished, my feelings of envy increased. My distress levels shot up.  Suddenly, I was envious of every girl who stepped foot in the gym, especially those who were similar in age.

I was envious of their appearance, envious of their clothing, envious of their thin figures, envious of their confidence and the way they walked around the gym not caring about what other people thought of them (although the latter was an assumption on my part).

My encounter with the mean girl with pink shoes and blonde hair had left me feeling bitter, but I did encounter another girl in the change room a couple of days later. She was beautiful, and her curly hair was held in two pigtails.

Again, I couldn’t help it and complimented her hairstyle. I was envious of her too, because she looked like I wanted to look, and she could lift heavier weights than me.

“Since when did that start mattering to me?” I practiced self-enquiry. “Why hold onto the high social comparison if it’s causing me so much distress?”

The second girl I had complimented was friendly and asked me if I wanted to workout together. I was delighted at first because I’d been looking for a gym buddy, and we happened to work with the same personal trainer, who offered to customize the same workout for the both of us, with (easier) variations for me.

I have to “out” myself here and admit that feelings of envy have been getting in the way of me going to the gym with her. I’ve made excuses and told her I’m too busy at the moment.

I know that once we do workout together, I will have no other choice but to cope with feelings of envy, because I’m certain they will show up. But then again, it’s a great opportunity to turn my unhelpful envy into admiration – in the spirit of RO-DBT, and specifically the skill of flexible mind DARES (to let go).

I hope that she won’t judge me, since I’m a beginner, and she’s more advanced. My personal trainer thinks it’s a fantastic idea to work out together and having a buddy could increase my motivation.

Soon enough, I hope to be brave enough to call up my potential gym buddy and schedule a workout together. I plan to use the skill of flexible mind DARES (to let) go, by acknowledging my envy, being willing to change it, and turning my unhelpful envy into admiration, because I do indeed desire a closer relationship with this girl, and I think that we could have a lot of fun together, which is what matters in the end.


Daphnée studies English literature at The University of British Columbia. She works as a Youth Peer Support Worker, enjoys volunteering with inner-city kids, and tries not to take life too seriously.