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Kelly Yu / Gavel Media

How the Toxic Plex Culture Fuels Body Image Issues

If someone were to gather every stereotype about Boston College students and create a space where those stereotypes run free in their most concentrated form, that stereotype dystopia would be the Plex. Entering the Plex for the first time as a person who doesn’t consistently workout, doesn’t own a colorful matching set or muscle tank, or is generally frightened by large grunting men, is an intimidating experience. Somehow, the large size of the Plex cannot satisfy the gym-crazed population at BC and is a confusing maze for new gym-goers. However, the Plex is able to offer a wide variety of machines, workout classes, and a selection of courts. A wide array of students attend the gym, so why does it feel like everyone has to fit a certain mold to attend? The gym culture at the Plex reflects many of the clichés that we’ve all heard about Boston College. Furthermore, it can be an intimidating space where comparison and body image issues aggregate. Thus, the Plex takes typical gym culture to a toxic new level.

The stereotypical BC student: thin, white, wealthy, and conventionally attractive, thrives at the Plex. Gym-goers are expected to exercise strenuously and look good while doing it, in expensive workout sets, sneakers, and gadgets. In more recent years, the idea of the “BC uniform” for everyday apparel has shifted to a more inclusive standard. There is definitely a pressure to always look “put together” when going to class or the dining hall, but personal style as a form of self-expression is becoming more highly regarded as opposed to having a Canada Goose. Regardless, both “BC uniforms'' require effort and money. However, the old standard of the “BC uniform” persists at the Plex. Expensive brands like Lululemon and Gymshark are very popular and equally pricey. 

Not only should students who work out do so in the appropriate uniform, but they should also already be very athletically capable. Shaming and judging fellow students about their bodies or the ways in which they like to exercise is, unfortunately, not uncommon, especially on student platforms like Herrd where the shield of anonymity breeds toxicity and hate speech. The issue of judging how others work out is exacerbated by the differences between how men and women generally exercise at the Plex. The third floor, home to the main weight area, is heavily male-dominated and is an intimidating floor to even walk through for many. Most of the cardio machines, especially on the fifth floor, are taken up by women. The weight space is particularly difficult for women to enter as lifting is very male-dominated and requires a substantial prior knowledge base that isn’t as available to women as it is to men. The Plex is a breeding ground for body comparison among treadmill-lovers and weightlifters alike. However, this isn’t unique to the Plex alone—I would argue that body comparison is an inescapable aspect of gym culture everywhere. 

Despite the various flaws surrounding the Plex, students shouldn’t be discouraged from trying it out. There are various workout classes offered that allow for virtually any student to find a form of exercise they enjoy, whether that be swimming, taking spin classes, rock climbing, or sunrise yoga. Furthermore, the only way to dismantle the stereotypes and faults of the Plex is to challenge those assumptions and to not be afraid to put oneself in uncomfortable situations. For example, in recent years, weightlifting has significantly risen in popularity for women, and as more women brave the third floor, the culture around it will shift. This principle can be extended to all stereotypes and expectations on campus; the only way to create a more inclusive culture is to curate it ourselves. All in all, going to the Plex can be a source of anxiety for many, but the student body has the power to change the culture surrounding exercise and body positivity in the gym and the campus in general.

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