I have never sweat like I sweat in Bahia. The beating 6 am sun jolts me awake, the overcrowded bus leaves tears of sweat dripping down my back, but nothing competes with the gym, where I could nearly flush a toilet with the sweat of a single workout. But oh, how it is good. Last December, after months of inactivity and overindulgence, desperation set in and I joined a gym. Suddenly I was in a world of bright colored floral spandex, open-backed unitards, and some of the best butts I’ve ever seen.
I was so convinced that joining a gym would bring regularity and routine–some reminder of what I once knew and was used to. Yet while group exercise was such a normal part of my life at home, here it continued to feel foreign. My membership was more than a payment and a signature. In fact, I didn’t receive my official gym card (a checklist of workout routines that is the bible of the Brazilian gym experience) until I underwent a physical, full body measurements, a fitness test, and the torture of explaining that there are motives other than weight loss for joining a gym. But the strangeness continued. What is this obsession with all things bumbum? Sometimes, stereotypes are true. Brazilian women either have it, are maintaining it, or are trying to get it, so it’s no surprise that the gym has a few more glute-focused machines than I’m used to. Women strut around wearing ankle weights as if they were a fashion statement, pumping their legs behind them in between sets of lunges. The muscle density of the entire building astounds me, but even more so is the way these accomplished bodies are displayed. Regardless of the intensity of the workout, looking good is integral, so clearly this means spandex everything. Sometimes it even seems as though flashy gold earrings are an elliptical requirement.
And although there are certain norms I’ll never subscribe to, those norms don’t feel so abnormal now. The trainers who wear matching uniforms and roam the floor giving guidance and advice, the personal list of printed exercises I’m handed daily, even the animal print outfits–these things now don’t warrant more than a second glance. Some would say that I’m adjusting to life in Bahia, but I would say I’m just getting in shape.