Work, will, and women: Beyond fitness in an all-women’s gym

Going to the gym takes guts; sometimes the feeling of taking one’s fitness into one’s own hands is emboldening, but other times, it’s an act that can reveal one’s deepest insecurities. The journey toward physical fitness is best done in the company of others, which explains the growing popularity of gyms solely for females like Curves and All Women’s Gym—which, beyond helping women achieve their fitness goals, also furnish a sense of belonging in the company for all kinds of women.

To strengthen and reinforce

The stereotypes for the “ideal” physical appearance surrounding women can at times be a burden extrapolated from the high intensity and body image-focused nature of traditional gyms. Contrary to this, the environment in Curves, one of the few all-women’s gyms in the country, is one where women can thrive and enjoy all the benefits of a workout without feeling pressure to look good or restricted because of the male gaze.

Emilie Nolledo-Tan, a lecturer from the University’s Management and Organization Department, is a co-owner of a Curves branch. For a person who feels uneasy going to gyms, Nolledo-Tan was excited to discover the existence of an all-women’s gym like Curves, which focuses more on holistic development and women empowerment—encouraging women to be themselves while promoting health and fitness in the process.  

Compared to regular gyms, Curves provides resistance machines with lighter loads for “tamer” workout routines that are less physically-demanding, so that beginners and even elderly members can execute them. Bebeth de Lemos, a Curves member, adds that she likes “how the workout can be adapted to suit your ability level.”

Another Curves member, Rachel Dalisay, expresses her enthusiasm for a popular half-hour workout—which purportedly targets all of the body’s major muscle groups—finding it a good compromise to fit health and fitness concerns within her busy schedule. “It’s really convenient [because] 30 minutes is already sufficient for our [workout] goals,” she shares in Filipino.

For others, it is the idea of a gym comprising of a female-only community that draws them to all-women’s gyms. Nolledo-Tan mentions a particular case wherein Muslim women, who were once prohibited by their husbands to go to regular gyms, were able to attend Curves because of their all-female policy.

To inspire and empower

But more than providing a comforting space for women to work out in, Curves also creates a community where women can empower others and advocate for challenges that many women face, like breast cancer. As a breast cancer survivor herself, Nolledo-Tan wants to shed light on these different concerns, using Curves as a way for disseminating inspiring messages. She shares, “It’s nice that it’s more than just a gym [because] it’s building a community of women.”

Another one of Curves’s goals is to make the gym feel like home so that members like de Lemos and Dalisay can nurture a relationship with their trainers. “When members come in, we [should] know them, we [should] know their names, we [should] ask them things like, ‘Kumusta naKumusta na anak mo?’ It’s like a family,” Nolledo-Tan discusses. 

(How are you? How are your kids?)

To choose and conquer

This idea of an all-female gym aims to allocate a safe space for women while providing a comfortable fitness experience. By specifying, however, that the gym is only accessible to women in particular, Curves also becomes susceptible to criticism on how limiting such a structure is. But Nolledo-Tan doesn’t believe they’re dividing males and females, “We’re not really segregating; we’re just saying, ‘Hey, there’s a club for you,’—for those [women] who don’t really like to work out. We’re trying to bring you into the fold of taking care of yourself.”

Despite the potential stigma still lingering, the development of this movement has nonetheless cultivated a healthy mindset and a safe space for women to have more liberty to choose for themselves the kind of workout and pace they follow, and more importantly, the community and accompanying values they engage with. 

Fitness clubs and other all-female communities can offer some women a space to transcend and conquer their limits by emphasizing the bonds they forge within the community. “When you come to Curves, you meet other ladies who are with you on your goals,” affirms Nolledo-Tan, explaining that she can easily make friends with her fellow gym-goers. The bond they share evolves becomes a circle of not just friendship, but also a strong sense of sisterhood. As Nolledo-Tan articulates, “As women, we understand every aspect of [how to] other women…We feel protected by one another.” 

As these women work hard to reach their various goals, what seems like an ordinary pursuit becomes a journey of self-discovery, where women are given an avenue through which they can become the best versions of themselves—through power, grit, and grace.

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