Today, I read the story of the personal trainer in New Zealand who asked a seventeen-year-old girl if she was “sexually active” during a routine health questionnaire.
At first, she didn’t report the incident, unsure if the question was normal protocol.
For me, the experiences of this young girl rang especially true. I, too, was harassed at a gym at a young age, unsure whether the behaviour I experienced was “normal” or inappropriate.
I, too, was seventeen when I joined my first gym – a small local setup with only a few machines. I’d never used any of the exercise equipment before, so I jumped at the offer of a free personal training session.
When I turned up for my training session, Matt* was waiting. He was about ten years older than me and seemed like a nice guy, pointing out the change rooms, showers and cold water taps. But when we started “working out”, it was a different story.
While "showing" me how to use the machines, his hands wandered dangerously close to my bum. When he grabbed my upper arm to steer me towards another corner of the empty gym, he got an "accidental" handful of boob, too. As he watched me go through the motions of each exercise, he commented on my body:
"This will really help accentuate that nice ass of yours."
"Your thighs are great already, but this will make them even better."
"You're hot, but you could be skinnier."
"I bet you like to show off those legs in high heels."
At seventeen, I had no idea how to react. It didn't occur to me - and, in truth, perhaps it still wouldn't - that I was just allowed to leave. He was a gym employee, after all. I had agreed to this session. I was invested now, and if I left he'd know something was wrong.
It says a lot about how we're taught to act as women that I was more worried about offending the person who was making me so uncomfortable than about my own wellbeing.