The Rec Scare: no tanks allowed

I’m tired of writing and reading about the same issues at the University, like tenure and faculty unionization. As an editorial board member at the Daily, we talk and debate these issues at length. Though the issues are worth discussion, few of my co-workers know that I secretly dread the word “unionization” or “merger” or anything that has to do with the University’s proactive streamlining restructuring processes. Snoozzzze.
I want to talk about an issue closer to home, an issue that probably many more of you care about: the Rec Center.
Like any fee-paying student, I enjoy the Rec Center. Sure, the weight room could have better equipment and it gets especially crowded in January, but as students we learn to deal with less anyway.
Last week I was working out on a machine, when I was suddenly interrupted by a Rec Center employee. I lowered the volume on my Walkman and looked at the guy standing in front of me.
The employee, wearing the official maroon-colored Rec T-shirt, babbled on that he was new to the job and he spotted me across the room, and, well … the shirt I was wearing was just not appropriate for the Rec Center.
I had violated the Rec Center’s tank top policy.
The policy prohibits people from wearing anything smaller than “a full T-shirt.” Still, people try to get away with things like cutting off their sleeves — or, in my case, wearing a T-shirt with “half sleeves,” said Linda Johnson, the program director for fitness at the Rec Center.
When the Rec Center opened in 1993, an advisory council approved the tank top policy based upon complaints that people wanted a more welcoming environment in the new facility, Johnson said.
The University may be one of the only places in the metro area, or even the state to have such a policy. Even fitness workers at the YWCA had never heard of such a thing.
“That (policy) must be something new going on,” said Larry Benton, an aerobics instructor at the Uptown YWCA who has been in the fitness business for seven years. “At our facility you just have to have appropriate shoes.”
Of course, at the University, things are never this simple.
I guess I’m lucky the man in the maroon shirt didn’t cart me off to the Rec Center jail. Instead, he provided a stuttering response when I asked him to explain the reasoning behind the policy. He said something like, “There’s this policy that we sort of have to enforce. And I guess the reasoning is, once you have people wear tank tops, then the clothing just gets smaller and smaller.”
This explanation did not satisfy me. I suppose if clothing got smaller and smaller, then eventually everyone would want to work out naked like some big orgy.
I probed for more. Eventually, the word “intimidation” came out of his mouth. I imagined some puny guy with no muscles whining to the Rec Center powers-that-be that he felt intimidated by the beefcakes in the weight room. The tank tops give him an unfair advantage in picking up women.
Or maybe it was a stout feminist who complained that tank tops expose women to the “meat market” mentality prevalent at places such as gyms and night clubs. Women might be looked upon solely as sexual objects.
For a moment, I actually thought I was getting a compliment from the man in the maroon shirt. Maybe I looked intimidating (though, to whom, I’m not quite sure). I looked down at my arm to see if I had developed a visible tricep and realized … I wasn’t even wearing a tank top!
The first time I used the Rec Center I went through the embarrassing experience of being told to put my sweatshirt over my leotard. I knew the rules.
Now, they were telling me my V-neck T-shirt with half sleeves was too much — or not enough — for the Rec Center. Suddenly, it’s become the conservative Rec Center. Or, more like the communist Rec Center. How far will the clothing police go?
I suppose if people are intimidated in the weight room, they might also be intimidated in the locker room, where people walk around naked frequently. Should clothing be required in the showers too?
To some degree, the intimidation reasoning is understandable. Some people may be intimidated to look at others in Spandex. I’ll admit, tight clothing is not flattering on everyone. But we’re adults now and we can deal with our own physical insecurities. We’re also big enough to decide for ourselves what to wear.
Let’s not forget that the reasoning behind the invention of Spandex, and other tight-fitting clothing worn during exercise, is to let the body move more freely. Did you ever notice all Olympic athletes wear very little clothing?
If intimidation is the main reasoning, then it needs to be consistent. Director Johnson also said the Rec Center enforces the policy only in the weight room and the racquetball courts, not the basketball courts. The division is because basketball players often play “shirts and skins,” meaning one team wears T-shirts and the other does not.
The inconsistency screams at me: Is there suddenly no intimidation factor in the shirtless, contact sport of basketball? Would they allow me to be on the “skins” team? Certainly, this tank top policy has some holes in it.
The Rec Center is looking out for the common good, but it’s at the expense of our personal freedom. It may sound trivial to argue about the right to wear a skimpy outfit at the gym, but it’s really an example of how some people push their personal taste on an entire population.
Johnson, of the Rec Center, said that initially she got a lot of complaints when the policy was implemented. Now she said she gets a lot of compliments. But now the policy’s established, and maybe people feel that it’s a battle they don’t care enough about to fight.
I almost didn’t think it was an issue worth writing about in a column. But then again, would you rather read about tenure?
Sara Goo is a member of the Daily’s editorial board. Kris Henry’s column will return next Thursday.