Competition among women
It was four o’clock at the Harold Alfond Athletic Center. Prime exercising time. And it was even more packed than usual. Everyone must have been in a last minute crunch to get a Bahaman beach bod.
After waiting in line for 20 minutes to get a treadmill, I finally settled into my workout. The place was chaotic, but I stuffed my headphone buds in my ears, stretched out a little and started jogging. It wasn’t long before I noticed that the girl on the treadmill next to me kept peering over at my machine. I was confused, and looked down to see if maybe the treadmill was beeping or being obnoxious. No, that wasn’t it. Then she adjusted her speed. She pushed the “up” arrow until she was nearly sprinting. Her feet were absolutely flying. Ambitious, I thought.
After I finished my warm-up, I increased the speed on my own machine a bit. When I pushed the button, the treadmill beeped as the speed increased. My neighbor’s eyes darted back to my machine. Suddenly she was increasing her pace yet again. I honestly thought she might end up flying off the back of the treadmill. Nobody can sustain that kind of speed. But she kept it up for the entire workout. Every time I increased my speed, she increased hers as well, always staying just a little bit faster than me.
It’s not the first time I have seen an incident like this occur at the gym. In fact, it happens fairly often. Girls eye each other down from their elliptical perches. They seem to watch carefully to see what the other girls do for a workout, and then this becomes the standard that they have to “beat.” It’s a perpetual competition.
A few days earlier, I overheard a conversation in the changing room. It went roughly as follows: Girl 1: “Did you see how much I ate at lunch today? Seriously, I was so hungry. And I had two scoops of cake batter ice cream. I couldn’t resist.” Girl 2: “Don’t even worry about it. Just stay on the bike for like a half hour longer or something.” Girl 1: “What did you have for lunch?” Girl 2: “Grab and go…I think. Can’t remember. Girl 1: “So you are just going to have a short workout? Ugh, I’m so jealous.”
It’s a conversation I have heard in various forms all over this campus. Girls vying with each other to see who can eat the least, who can work out the hardest, who can have that beach bod all year round. I hear girls judging each other’s diets, workouts, and body shapes far more often than I hear guys judging the girls. We are each other’s harshest critics. We wear each other down, and, in doing so, we create an environment in which we wear ourselves down every day.
That’s why the signs that were put up around campus last week made me so happy—they were such a divergence from the norm. There was an index card on the door of the girls’ bathroom in Miller that read: “Hey there beautiful, just making sure you know that.” The sentiment made me smile. How often do you hear girls complimenting each other, especially girls who don’t know one another? We certainly know how to criticize, but to complement? Sadly, that seems like a foreign concept.
Imagine the atmosphere we could create if we incorporated the mindset of the Women’s History Month activities into the way we approach every day. If every female student on campus made an effort to cooperate with, and support other women instead of constantly competing, our lives would be altered more drastically than we can even imagine. So how about we give it a shot: if for no other reason than because it doesn’t harm us at all to try.