An Open Letter to That Girl at the Gym…


Phoebe Potter

Blogger Tabi Melhorn wanted to return to the gym but didn’t want to be judged.

I used to go to the gym with my mom. Especially before my wedding in 2012. I was a tiny girl then, curvy, but small. I was tight and toned. Before husbands and houses and babies… That seems like a lifetime ago. But it’s been awhile since I #sweatitout.

I was tired from having a baby, I was tried from having two babies, it was too far away, I didn’t have time, I’d rather be with my husband when he’s home than have him alone with the kids…

— Tabi Melhorn

Recently, I joined the Y by my house. I’d been going back and forth on going to the gym for months. I had a new excuse for why I wouldn’t go all the time: I was tired from having a baby, I was tried from having two babies, it was too far away, I didn’t have time, I’d rather be with my husband when he’s home than have him alone with the kids… and whatever else I could come up with. But the truth was, it wasn’t a priority, and I was tired and lazy. I just didn’t want to.

And then one day, I did. So the night before I planned to go to the gym for the first time in months, I loaded my phone with my favorite pump-me-up-jams, set my alarm, and then I looked in my dressing room… I forgot this part. What would I wear? I couldn’t go in my old workout clothes, too tight, too revealing. I couldn’t wear my pregnancy clothes, that was too depressing. But at the bottom of a pile of clothes I unearthed some old yoga pants and slid them on. Okay, fine. I stole a top from my husband’s mound of shirts and figured that it would at least be long enough to cover all my post-baby number 2 stretch marks. Okay, fine. I set them with the last pair of sneakers I’d bought. I bought them years ago at a Nike outlet when I was in college. This is as good as it gets, I thought. Everything was set to go.

The next morning, I drug myself out of bed. How many times had Adi needed nursed last night? No sleep had touched my eyes. I tried desperately to pull up my now chopped hair, thanks to it being fried by back to back pregnancy hormones. It wasn’t pretty, but it was up. Do not look in the mirror any more. I was on a mission, I would get to the gym. I drove the 5 blocks or so in the freezing air to the Y. I got out and went inside. Seth had paid for my membership when he had gone in earlier that month, all I needed to do was go to the desk and ask for a key.

Sheepishly I walked to the desk. I was behind a woman with a little boy, they belonged here, you could sense it. And behind me, another woman not much older than me, perfect build, pristine pony tail, flawless tan and gym attire. She was watching me. I could feel her eyes on me as I turned back around, quickly, to avoid her judgment of my lack of put-togetherness.

My turn. I looked at the secretary, her warm smile washing away a small ounce of fear. I told her who I was, quietly. She took my picture for their records. Great. And gave me the key.

And then I had to ask where the workout room was located. Even better, now they’ll really know I don’t belong here. With the last bit of courage I could muster, I whispered over the desk, “Umm, sorry, ummm, which way is the gym?”. The tall woman behind me quickly answered before her “It’s right ahead of you,” she announced bluntly.

I didn’t say thank you. I walked briskly to the door ahead and slipped inside. She came in soon after me, and I watched her, watch me… each move I made reminding that I did not belong here. And in my head I began this letter…

Dear Girl at the Gym,

I see you, watching me, across the room lifting your weights the size of my toddler. I know you think I’m not as strong as you, but I have strength you can’t see.

I see you, looking me up and down. I know what you’re thinking, that my ratty t-shirt, beat up tennis shoes, and loose sweatpants are no match for your matching Nike pros and sport bra from this season’s line. But it’s not because I don’t care how I look. It’s that I was up half the night with a nursing baby, and I got up at 6 today and raced here to workout in the small window of time I have before she needs fed again. And it’s not that I’m ashamed of my body, but I have no one to show off for here. I have a husband waiting at home with my two young children. And I’m still wearing my sneakers from college because I bought my children new clothes last week to stay warm this winter.

I see you roll your eyes as I step onto the treadmill. But I’m starting slow because my body, while young, has seen more wear and tear than you know.

You didn’t see me stretching, but I did it in the locker room so that I would feel more comfortable. But thank you, yes, I know you should do that first.

You probably don’t realize that while I have weight to loose, this isn’t the first time I’ve stepped foot in a room with workout equipment. Oh no. I used to have a smooth and toned body like yours. I wore what you wore, smug smile included. But the truth is you don’t know what my body has been through, or the scars that lie beneath this grey t-shirt my husband let me borrow today. You don’t know me…

But then, upon returning home to pen this letter, it hit me. Not only had I once been the girl I was writing this letter to, but I was also not guilt free of this today… I finished an intense workout and made sure to update my Facebook and Twitter so that people had known I’d been there. I came home looking online for deals on new sneakers, because I was embarrassed and didn’t want to look like the other “moms” at the Y. The smugness, the pride, I saw splashed across that woman’s face… I wore it just as loudly, but in a more acceptable light. Neither are right.

Oh yes, the very thing I despised in this other woman making me feel, I did it the moment I stepped foot inside.

— Tabi Melhorn

I am embarrassed to tell you, I looked around the gym once I entered and felt relief. Because everyone was either twice my age or weight. Oh yes, the very thing I despised in this other woman making me feel, I did it the moment I stepped foot inside. “Well,” I thought, “I may not be the best in shape here, but at least I don’t run like that guy” … and later I shamefully noted “thank God I’ve never been that big”…

I did that. It was me, that had the problem. So here is a new letter, one I’m writing to MYSELF.


Dear People of the Gym,

I don’t know you. I don’t.

I don’t know why you wore what you wore today. Are you ashamed of your stretch marks? Or you, are you proud of your new Adidas warm up that you rewarded yourself with after loosing 25 lbs? Did you buy your son a coat instead of yourself some new gym shoes?

I don’t know why you picked this time of day to come. Were you up with your baby last night? Do you work 3rd shift? Are you squeezing in a little “me” time before having meetings all day?

I don’t know why you are doing the workout your doing. Are you recovering from an injury? Is this your first time? Is this your way to unwind?

I don’t know you. I don’t know where you’ve been, what you do, or your story. I’m sorry for the way I’ve looked at you. I’m sorry that I’ve made you feel small so I don’t feel so insecure while I’m here.

Good for you, for getting up and getting here. Good for you for making time for yourself, and your health. Good for you. I don’t know you, but I should cheer you on.

Don’t let me or my judging eyes get in your way. Keep on.

You just do you. It’s really none of my business anyway.

And again, I am sorry.