The Buck Center for Health and Fitness has come to epitomize the Bowdoin experience to athletes and non-athletes alike. In this week’s installment, we explore the College’s gym culture through the eyes of six students.

Caitlin Greenwood ’15 has an aversion to the gym. She does yoga or runs outside, weather permitting.

“I don’t go to the gym,” said Greenwood. “They play terrible music. There are also a lot of clangs and unnatural noises. And there are too many people who are really serious and give off stressed out energy.” 

“Generally, people there make me feel anxious because I feel that they are anxious,” she said.

Unlike Greenwood, Jimmy Donnellan ’16 is a gym enthusiast, to put it lightly. He plays football and runs track at Bowdoin, and works out whenever he has the chance. Donnellan said that going to the gym improves his physical and mental health.

“I feel good when I work out and I feel bad when I don’t,” he said. “It’s that simple. Working out gives me structure throughout the day so I’m able to use my time better.”

As an athlete, he is aware of the merits of physical exercise. However, he was startled by how popular the gym is among the student body.

“It’s really weird that a lot of non-athletes go to the gym,” commented Donnellan. “I was shocked at how ubiquitous the work out culture is here. I’ve definitely noticed that a lot of people work out for the sake of working out.”

Caroline Martinez-Fink ’16 echoed Donnellan’s confusion about why so many non-athletes feel compelled to go to the gym.

“I used to do sports because they’re fun,” she said. “I would get exercise in the process. I could never do an activity that I don’t have fun doing, like run on the treadmill, just to say that I’ve worked out.”

Although Martinez-Fink is not jumping at the opportunity to utilize Bowdoin’s top-notch equipment, she understands why others are drawn to the gym.

“Especially because of the heavy workload here, getting exercise is definitely a good way of dealing with stress,” said Martinez-Fink.

For Martinez-Fink, social interaction at the gym makes exercise recreation.

“I don’t go to the gym unless I’m with friends because I find it boring if I’m not talking with someone next to me,” she said.

Louisa Cannell ’13 agrees that there is safety in numbers.

“Guys like to work out together. They come to the gym in groups,” noted Cannell. “There is definitely this pack mentality—if everyone else is going to the gym, then I have to go too. It’s a very social space. I definitely think there is pressure to work out.”

Sharif Younes ’13 ran track in high school and played rugby during his first year at Bowdoin. Now he is a competitive power lifter with three gold medals under his belt. Younes shared Cannell’s sentiment that the gym is brimming with social activity.

“I have a group of friends I lift with,” said Younes. “There’s a bunch of us. I love to go when a lot of people are lifting. Even though I don’t focus on what other people are doing most of the time, I like it when it’s crowded because the energy of other people motivates me.”

Younes emphasized how competitive the work out culture is at Bowdoin.

“Guys want to be bigger than other guys. They go to the gym because they want to fit in and look better than others, although I’d like to think that they would go anyway,” said Younes.

Martinez-Fink recalled conversations with several of her friends, noting that girls also experience similar pressure to conform to an ideal body type. 

“Some of my girlfriends will tell me, ‘I look fat. I need to work out,’” she said. 

“This always surprises me because they look great to me and I don’t know why they are so concerned.”

Max Blomgren ’14 credited pop cultural influences as the culprit in cultivating excessive work out tendencies.

“We all have this distorted body image and everyone is trying to become something that’s not real,” explained Blomgren. “Guys want to look like the body builder type and women are trying to look like Barbie dolls. We’re all consuming the same stuff.”

According to Blomgren, Bowdoin students see working out as a tangible way to become more desirable to others.

“I think both men and women work out in order to increase their sexual appeal,” said Blomgren.

“Women want to be trim and sleek for men and men want to attain their respective ideal body image to attract women,” he said.

Greenwood agreed with Blomgren that working out is a means to achieving a superficial end.

“Girls work out because there is pressure from men for them to look like people in magazines, and to look like their peers, especially their athletic peers and their naturally fit peers,” she said. “But I think guys have a lot of pressure as well—from men and women. It’s not just men putting pressure on women to look good.”

Bowdoin students are not alone in facing this need to adhere to a certain body image. The obsession to stay trim and toned extends far beyond the Bowdoin community.

Although Blomgren acknowledged the societal pressure to strive toward achieving an perfect body, this standard takes no part in his notion of attractiveness.

“To me, it’s kind of disturbing if a girl is working toward this unnatural image,” said Blomgren. “Why would you have to do that? Why would you want to look like that in the first place?”

However, Donnellan said he is attracted to girls who work out because exercise is a top priority for him. He believes that someone who values going to the gym would also be disciplined in other aspects of her life.

“I would appreciate someone who worked her ass off,” said Donnellan. “It’s not a problem if she’s not in the best shape ever because it shows that she works hard and that she’s a strong person.”
Although Younes can be found in the gym daily, he does not impose the same standards for his dream girl.

“Ideally, I’d be attracted to a power-lifting female but I haven’t met one yet,” said Younes. “But whether they go to the gym doesn’t really matter to me. I’m a big personality guy.”

Bowdoin students like to stay fit intellectually and mentally, so it is far from astonishing that we expect the same for our bodies. However, exercising in order to conform to external ideals is detrimental to the Bowdoin gym culture. Visits to Buck should be motivated by a personal desire to stay healthy, not pressure to fit into a certain image.

To continue this conversation about work out culture, please meet us behind the Café on Monday, March 4 at 4 p.m.