I walk into my campus gym and I’m immediately met with a swarm of people clad in body-hugging Gymshark and Nike pieces, while I’m in a frumpy T-shirt from my high school theatre days and leggings from Target. As I enter the building, I pass by what’s notoriously known as the “scary room” full of muscular people casually lifting 50-pound barbells. There is no way I can ever go in there.

The voice in my head sounds like Carrie White’s mother trying to dissuade her from going to the prom. “They’re all gonna laugh at you,” it says. It keeps talking to me until I’m done with my workout. It makes me skip the gym for days until I drag myself back there, and the cycle repeats.

2015, Karachi. CORE Gym. Photo: Humayun M.

It’s intimidating going to the gym with so many fit people around you, and they’re not always welcoming to newcomers. Accounts of people stealthily taking pictures of others in locker rooms is a horrifying possibility. The fat-shaming stigma in gyms never made sense to me. If people are trying to get in shape for their own wellness, then why are they getting judged for it?

Instagram boasts unrealistic body expectations for everyone. Extreme hourglass figures, wide hips, thigh gaps, and stick-thin limbs are the ‘ideal’ body types for women these days. Celebrities and influencers perpetuate this vision by aggressively photoshopping their pictures, giving a delusional image of the optimal body type. The mentality of wanting to look like the Kardashian-Jenners is extremely damaging to one’s self-perception.

Sheema Sultan, the founder of Karachi’s CORE gym, knows these problems all too well. In Pakistan, aesthetics are important. Here, she talks about building confidence, motivating yourself, and shares her perspective on one’s personal fitness.

2020. Karachi. Sheema Sultan, Founder of CORE Gym. Photo: Sheema Sultan

How can people feel comfortable and confident in going to the gym?

Joining a gym can be an intimidating experience especially if you have never worked out before. A lot of people feel they are not ‘fit enough’ to join a gym and need to lose weight first! If this is the case, then I recommend starting small and getting comfortable with the idea of working out in front of people. Start with a fitness class or a small boutique-style gym and then move forward. Also, starting your fitness journey with a friend by your side can be a motivating factor and help you stay on track!

How can I form a habit of consistently going to the gym, even when I lack motivation?

Consistency is key! A common mistake I see with most people is taking on too much too fast. I recommend baby steps, start with thrice a week, and try not to over train. If your body is in pain all the time then you will not look forward to going to your workout sessions and start missing days. Your fitness journey should be a soulful experience, unfortunately most people miss out by setting impossible goals. I would also advise newbies to try out a variety of workouts and try to incorporate those to stay motivated.

Is it really necessary to go to the gym to get a workout in?

What are your fitness goals? If you are looking to get healthy and fit in general then no you don’t need any fancy gym. You can easily workout at home and utilize the outdoors. If your goal is to build strength, lose body fat, and gain muscle, then eventually you will have to progress to a gym as you will need to work with heavy dumbbells and equipment to keep progressing.

What is the gym workout culture in Pakistan?

The gym culture in Pakistan is still in its infancy and people are generally inconsistent. Gyms and working out are part of your lifestyle and unfortunately, people focus only on short-term benefits. With the Instagram celebrity boom, clients have become very focused on achieving a certain kind of body type; every young girl aspires to be a Hadid or Kardashian, which is an unrealistic body standard in my opinion. We all should aspire to be the best version of ourselves.

Tessa Hoyos is the writer of this article. She covers beats tech, business, culture, wellness and fashion at Maheen The Globe, a Seattlebased, independent global media outlet.