I've only really been attending a gym since about last summer, although I've been exercising regularly for a year and a half now. There's no real reason why I started at home, besides the fact that I had a sufficient amount of equipment (thanks, mom), it was fairly inexpensive, and it was just easier to do in general. But because of this, I never really had the experience of being a person who was self-conscious of her body going to the gym. By the time I started, I already felt like I was fairly fit - maybe not as fit as I wanted, but still, nothing that I was ashamed of.

But even still, I hear stories all the time of girls who are incredibly self-conscious of their bodies and afraid to go to the gym because they might get made fun of.

Hell, I hear stories all the time of girls who do go to the gym and get made fun of.

And though I've never seen it personally (I'm pretty oblivious to what's going on around me at the gym, with my headphones blaring 80's rock music directly into my brain), I am sorry and disgusted for the girls who have, and the girls who are afraid to go to the gym because of it.

Because the gym shouldn't be an elitist sort of place. In fact, I love the gym because of that. I love looking around at all the different sorts of people that go there. I love the muscle-heads who drop their weights dramatically after every set and walk away, satisfied to have achieved dem gainz. I love the super skinny girl there to show up every guy who automatically assumes he can do better than her. I love the people who are just starting out and don't know what to do yet, because this is all so new to them and who knows, maybe they'll grow to like it. Or maybe they won't. That's okay too.

The gym is supposed to be a place that brings so many different kinds of people together in a non-judgmental, trying-to-improve-your-life-if-you-can sort of way. It is not supposed to be a place that knocks down your self-esteem.

Because regardless of how your body looks, regardless of how much you can lift or how long you can stay on the treadmill, this is supposed to be a space that you can occupy. It is supposed to be a space that can help you - not to lose weight or look better (the two things do not necessarily go hand-in-hand), but to achieve your fitness goals and maybe get a little bit healthier. To build up a endorphins that will make you feel a little bit better throughout the day. To do what you want to do without anyone trying to pull you down because of it.

And that's what I think all of this bullies at the gym forget when the mock someone for how they look. These bullies buy into a very limited ideal of what is beautiful (probably because they've spent so much time and energy simply trying to chase it themselves), and in some strange, cruel way, I imagine that they think they're helping you by giving you inspiration to work harder and lose the weight that, really, isn't holding you back. The gym is a place to get healthier, and fat isn't necessarily a sign that you're unhealthy. It's just fat, and it is as beautiful as anything else on the human body.

These bullies are wrong, and you don't need to listen to them. I know, it can be very hard to do, especially considering (whether they realize it or not), they're preying on the weak. They're attacking things that your very presence in the gym might prove you're self-conscious of. It can be very discouraging to be trying to lose that weight and have some make fun of you because it isn't going away fast enough. They might make you want to give up, to stop trying altogether. But they shouldn't. You have just as much right to this space as they do, and you deserve every chance to make the most of it.

So as difficult as it might be to do, if someone ever tries to tear you down because of how you look at the gym, remember that they're the pathetic ones. They're the ones who have bought into an incredibly limited definition of beauty, ones that is harmful and false, and you don't have to listen to them. All you have to do is keep doing what you do, and rocking what you have. Because it is incredibly beautiful.

Published by Ciara Hall