Hilary Fannin: Elderly women of the gym are a powerful tribe

My enthusiasm for the gym fell apart when I realised I could go for a walk for free

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


I joined a gym a while ago. I even bought myself a pair of flip-flops to wear in the shower and some lacerating body shampoo to scour myself with after completing my programme, which I swore I’d do at least three times a week (and didn’t).

I started well, honestly. For weeks I pranced around with my yoga mat, swigged on my water bottle, wiped my dry brow with my charcoal-grey hand towel, and even did a bit of theatrical sighing when I had to wait for a machine.

There were bits of the routine I liked more than others. I quite liked sitting on the floor, in front of the mirror, with the big medicine ball, swinging it from side to side like a pendulum. I also quite liked the bendy thing I did over the bendy machine, with my elbows at right angles to my ears, although more than eight repetitions (note the terminology – you’re not dealing with muck here) made me feel like chucking up my breakfast banana.

I did not enjoy the squeezing and pumping of the weights at all. And then there was that nausea-inducing machine that looked like an electric chair but didn’t have an actual seat to sit on, a machine that invaded my dreams and made my shoulders pop out of their sockets. It was a contraption that would doubtless have been a darling of the Spanish Inquisition if those guys had hung around long enough for Lycra to be invented.

As for the running machine, well, it was okay until some bright spark in Spandex suggested interval training, which means driving yourself to the edge of extinction for 20 seconds, running so hard and fast every couple of minutes that you feel your heart liquefy and your morale turn to jelly.

Anyway, I did it for a while, filling in my little booklet at the end of each wearying session. Weight, repetition, duration – I ticked all the boxes. I swear I was a missing heartbeat away from having a swinging ponytail and a sculpted posterior. (Or should that be a swinging posterior and a sculpted ponytail?)

So close and yet

I was that close to being one of those women who climb into very high cars in three-quarter-length leggings and matching ankle socks, clutching a decaf skinny latte and a facial spritzer.

I was on the cusp of having a modular oven, a panting Lhasa Apso, a husband with air miles and a jock-strap, and a daughter called Serendipity who had been watering down the vodka bottle.

I failed, of course, to keep it up. My enthusiasm for the entire gym project fell apart when the sun finally came out and I realised I could go for a walk on the beach without a membership fee.

But I miss the showers. I liked the short, sharp shock of the water in the functional stalls. I liked the utilitarian nature of the communal changing rooms, of the metal lockers and slatted benches. I liked the way the women – especially the older women, of whom there were many in this particular gym – would chat with their neighbours while they towel- dried their hair, sitting on the long benches to pull girlish socks over gnarled feet.

In pursuit of wellbeing

I admired the older women’s tenacity, their perseverance in the pursuit of wellbeing, the enjoyment they took in stretching stiff bodies in the long, turquoise pool.

They were a powerful tribe, and when I’m grown-up enough to make that kind of calm commitment, I’d like to go back and join them.

I thought about these nameless, elderly, elegant women recently when reading about a young American woman called Dani, a former Playboy model with magnificent teeth, who used her phone to take a photograph of an older naked woman in the changing room of her LA gym and then posted the image on Snapchat with the arrogant and deeply offensive caption: “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either.”

This staggering (and grammatically suspect) missive has landed Dani and her sparkling molars in a lot of trouble.

Should her victim decide to sue, the poor little bunny could be minus €1 million and may even find herself reclining in a penitential onesie (possibly without furry ears).

In the interest of fairness, the young woman claims she was new to Snapchat and thought her “body- shaming” message was private. “Body-shaming”: what a vile, insidious term, another hissing asp in the meaningless lexicon of celebrity culture.

As for Dani, I wouldn’t send her to prison: she would end up selling the movie rights.

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