We recently asked women, femmes, and gender-nonconforming people of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us stories of the the harassment and/or sexism they've faced when working out. Here's a sampling of the more than 200 responses we received that reveal the all-too common (and often terrifying) reality of exercising while female or perceived female:
Heads up: Some of these submissions contain descriptions of sexual assault, stalking, and other incidents that could be triggering.
1. This runner who put up with whistling and catcalls — but not being filmed:
"I would run in the mornings, usually starting right before the sun rose so I could finish my long runs before work. Whistling, catcalling, and staring were all pretty normal. What WASN'T normal is the day that I noticed a pickup truck following me for several blocks. When I looked back at the driver, I saw that they had been filming me. I ran as fast as I could into a 7-11 and started running later in the day from then on."
2. This person who was stalked from the gym to their office:
"I used to work out at my local YMCA during my lunch breaks at work. After receiving an email from a guy that had introduced himself to me at the gym, on my work email address, I switched my lunch hour to avoid him. His email stated that he followed me when I left the gym and saw the building I parked at so he was able to figure out my email address."
3. This proof that avoiding catcalls and harassment is expensive:
"I started purposely looking for women-only gyms after I had three guys stop their own workout to gawk over me while I did my workout. Every time I passed them, one or all would make disgusting comments to me. One in particular kept licking his lips at me while I was doing squats, which pissed me off so bad I had to just stop and walk to another part of the gym. And it wasn't a one-time thing at all. I even started working out at a local park, just to have a man sit and watch me workout with a gross smile on his face. As a result, I now pay $150 dollars more for a gym membership at a gym for women, just so I can work out in peace."
4. This story that shows that sometimes, there is literally nowhere safe to exercise:
"I was training in Krav Maga after being sexually assaulted and none of the dudes in the classes would spar with me. When the teacher finally convinced them to, they would go on about how sexy it was to fight a woman who could beat them up and how turned on it made them. They would purposely attempt to grab my ass or boobs. I put up with this nonsense for two years before giving up; in the meantime, folks would mansplain the shit out of moves to me. I got so frustrated I basically stopped exercising. Gyms were non-stop with unsolicited touch, advice or pick up lines. Running outside was non-stop comments about being too fat to run on top of all the nonsense. Men have basically taken exercise and made it unsafe. It sucks."
5. This person who was literally told that smiling would improve their form:
"I was minding my own business using one of the weight machines, wearing headphones, and kicking ass when some guy found it necessary to wave at me to get my attention and tell me that I should smile in order to improve my form. I kind of ignored it because I couldn’t believe some guy actually said that to me but he kept staring at me and I started to feel uncomfortable so I talked to gym staff about the incident. When they went to go talk to him I realized he had gone to the gym with another woman. I don’t know if she was his partner, sister, friend, whatever. But who the heck goes to a gym and harasses someone? Especially when you go with a female? What if that happened to her??"
6. This person who only used one day of their yearlong gym membership because of sexism:
"About 10 years ago, I excitedly signed up for a membership at Gold's Gym after trying it out for a week. On my very first paid visit, I was running on the treadmill. One of their associates was training his client, an older male. They looked at me and made some jokes that I could not hear but I was uncomfortable because they continued looking and laughing in my direction. I changed machines. The trainer then laughed and pretended to whisper, 'If "she" can do it (the elliptical), then I know you can do it.' The client stated, 'Oh yeah, she's doing it all right.' I ended my session and walked out. It has been ten years and a full year's subscription wasted because I could never return. The trainer was a Gold's Gym employee and he was the main culprit in making me acutely aware of my gender and his discrimination against it. I felt like I was used for their entertainment. While it seems small now, I will never forget how belittling that experience was."
7. This person who saw men park outside their house after running:
"I don’t run, work out, or bike outside by myself anymore because I was regularly getting followed home by slow moving cars full of men. They wouldn’t yell usually, but they’d park outside my house after I ran home. I try not to work out in the gym alone because I’m scared of the men that pace around the edge of the area and watch me work out."
8. This utterly horrifying license plate ordeal:
"I stopped going to the gym. Any gym. I was tired of the looks, comments, and harassment I would have to endure. A guy once said after I had ignored him multiple times that he took a picture of my license plate and now he could follow me anywhere. I went to the DMV that day to have the plate changed, luckily the person at the counter was kind enough to give it to me for free after hearing the story. I won't go the gym or public workout classes (boxing, yoga, pilates, etc.) with anyone. I work out at home by myself. I close my curtains when I do it to feel like I can be completely safe."
9. This person who was assaulted in a gym parking lot:
"After being followed to my car and assaulted in the parking lot, I still am utterly terrified of going to any gym. I stopped working out for awhile because I was so traumatized by what happened. It was very distressing, but now I choose to work out at home. If I decide to go for a walk or run, I always take my dog with me."
10. This person who loved going for walks — but eventually stopped going on them altogether:
"I loved to take early morning walks in near The Mission in Santa Barbara. As I was walking, a carload full of men slowly passed me, then the car backed up and I heard someone from the car say. 'Get her!' I took off running into the middle of an open grassy area in front of some neighboring houses. In that moment, I feared for my life, believing if they caught me I would gang raped and possibly murdered. When I looked back, I observed two of the men getting back in the car and then drove away. I walked home in fear these men would find me again. I gave up walking that day."
11. This person, who was being stalked while walking their daughter in a stroller:
"I live on a very busy road so I started going to the track at a nearby park to walk after I would drop my twins off at school. I brought my infant daughter with me and would push her around in a jogger stroller. I loved it. Until the creeps that would cut the grass would follow me around the track rather than cutting the grass. What made me stop going entirely was when a man was jogging then slowed down right behind me, and I could see his shadow in front of me and could see he was taking pictures of me. I felt very uncomfortable after that. I didn't want to find out what the next person would do, so I stopped going."
12. This example of why wearing baggier clothing doesn't stop harassment:
"I have had grown men stop me in the middle of my workout to tell me how great my legs look in my leggings/shorts. Now, I wear baggy shorts and baggy sweatshirts to the gym to avoid anybody looking at me. I just want to work out without somebody looking at me as an object."
13. This person who was taunted for their weight:
"I'm a plus-size woman and I love running, yoga and strength training. I recently stopped running for a few days after some boys recorded me running on their phones and pointed at me and laughed. It caused me to neglect my own health because men thought the idea of a fat woman running was so comical, they HAD to record it for posterity."
14. This person, who has to work out at 5 a.m. to avoid harassment:
"I have started going to the gym at 5 a.m. One of my favorite parts of being there that early is the people who get to a gym at 5 a.m. are there to work out and get on with their day. Five in the morning is the only time I'm not worried about being harassed while I lift."
15. This story of how wearing headphones doesn't drown out the comments and attention:
"One time I went to the gym and learned that I should never go alone again. I walked into the gym one night, in my normal workout gear and began lunging/squatting before a group of guys walked in. I had my earphones in, so I couldn’t hear the group of men behind me mumbling and laughing, however I could feel them staring at my butt. Never again did I come back. One of the boys in the back was recording and they were all smiling/laughing. I walked to my car, and as I passed them, they whistled."
16. This person, who is limited to at-home workout options to dodge getting hit on:
"I don’t get gym memberships anymore because I’m sick of men using 'let me show you how to squat properly' as a gateway to hitting on me. Don’t insult my exercises as a way to talk to me. I only work out at home now which has greatly limited my access to equipment, but I’m making it work."
17. This person, who'll only go to the gym with a group to stay safe — even though that doesn't always work:
"I always go to the gym with a group, never alone. Almost every time, without fail, that we go to the gym, some guy(s) just has to comment on how much weight we lift or how many reps we do, or how its impressive form, or even, 'Wow, you go hard for girls'. And it makes me sick to think that these guys think it's okay and it's just a compliment. But it is creepy and means you were watching me enough to know how long and how heavy of a set I'm doing, which just isn't right. Luckily, I chose a pack of girls that are strong as hell and scare the crap out of most guys who dare comment and harass us when we are just trying to be fit and happy."
18. This spotter-turned-creep:
"This happened when I was fairly new at working out, and I had just started squatting with a barbell. A man several years older than me offered to spot me, and initially I was eager for any free help I could get. However, as soon as I dropped into the squat, I could feel his junk pressed up against my butt. I was mortified, thinking it was my form that had caused this to happen. But when I squatted a second time, keeping my back as straight as possible, it happened again. And again. I told him I was done, even though I had several sets left, and I never let a stranger spot me again. Fortunately I can laugh about it now, but I can only imagine what other women experience."
19. This reminder that often, gym management does nothing to terminate harassers' memberships:
"I was home for Christmas break during my freshman year of college, and while I was at the gym, headphones in and focused on lifting, a man that looked to be in his 30s or 40s came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me and 'helped me fix my form because I looked like I was struggling'. Despite repeatedly asking him to leave me alone, I was ignored and was followed nearly into the locker room before a woman walking out threatened to tell management. He was waiting for me when I came out 45 minutes later as I walked out and straight to the employees. When I told them what was happening, they told me that they couldn’t do anything because he didn’t hurt me. I’ve never been back to the part of town that gym was at because I get scared of what could’ve happened."
20. And another, for good measure:
"I used to teach group fitness at this one gym. While waiting for my class to start, a male member came up to me and tried to kiss me. I backed away and said, 'No, thanks'. He kept insisting that it was 'something he does' and 'not a big deal'. He tried at least three more times before he saw my engagement ring, freaked out and left. Told management, they said they would handle it. I continued to see that same male there every time I went and I heard it happened to another female member. She also complained and ended up leaving once management made it clear they weren't going to terminate his membership. I stopped working there as well."
21. This person who had to stop exercising outdoors, even though it helps their mental health:
"I have stopped running outside. It’s to the point that our neighborhood is so full of creepy people and so many people are being harassed that my husband and I agree that I shouldn’t be running outside anymore. Which sucks for me. A gym membership is more expensive and being in the outdoors and running really helps my anxiety and depression. Once I found a gym, I changed gyms shortly after. The one I went to was full of guys that would watch my every move, it made me feel uncomfortable. I just wanted to work out and not have to think about who’s watching me and harassing me with comments."
22. This person, who's resorted to running with a taser in their own neighborhood:
"I've started running with a taser in my neighborhood. There was an instance of two guys in a work van following me around while I ran, and I got creeped out, so I went home. It's frustrating to cut a workout short because people are weird, but I don't take risks. I don't feel safe running too late after dark, and I don't feel safe listening to music either sometimes. Being a female and trying to exercise has so much background stress that most men don't experience."
23. And this person who just wants to go for a run in peace, just once:
"I’ve chosen to stop running outdoors because there were multiple instances where men in cars would go around the block just to come back and drive past me again. During one run in particular, I had to cut through my neighbors’ backyards to get out of sight because a man had turned around twice and began driving very slowly toward me again. At that point I knew if I didn’t get away, something terrible might happen to me. It never fails that every single time I run outdoors, I’m honked at or yelled at by men passing by, and no, that isn’t an exaggeration. As a woman, it would be awesome to be able to go for a damn run without making me into something to look at."
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.