I’m the woman in the back of your gym classes, dressed in baggy black sweats, dancing—or in my case, muddling my way thought HIIT sessions—like no one is watching. Because usually they aren’t. That is, until recently, when one of my fellow class members set up a tripod to record herself and, by default, the group at large, my sweaty face included.
Generally, I love a good Instagram story and will happily mug for the camera, but given that my journey toward body positivity has featured a Hatfield-versus-McCoy level of contention, this sudden starring role didn’t sit well. I tried to explain to her how uncomfortable this made me feel, but the tripod remained for the rest of the class. The following week, our instructor started recording our exercises, presumably for the social channels she faithfully plugs at the beginning and end of every class. Frustrated, I left midworkout and haven’t been back.
My run-in with Instagram at the gym isn’t a totally isolated phenomenon. There have been multiple high-profile cases of social media causing a stir, most notably the case of Playboy Playmate Dani Mathers, who was banned from LA Fitness and prosecuted after mocking a woman in the locker room on Snapchat. Last year influencer Amouranth, who has 1.6 million followers on Instagram, was allegedly kicked out of a gym for livestreaming, denying her actions even though employees were literally watching it unfold on their devices.
Usually, it’s less dramatic—the would-be influencer, the overzealous selfie taker, the dedicated documentarian, and me…a red-faced bit player in the background, wondering exactly how stupid I look doing lunges. Not exactly the kind of self-doubt you want to be entertaining in the middle of multiple reps.
The perceived performance anxiety that comes with knowing you’re being watched by digital devices isn’t my imagination. LA Fitness and 24-Hour Fitness explicitly forbid taking photos or videos in their gyms for exactly this reason. (Of the major U.S. gym chains, only Crunch Fitness explicitly encourages selfies, and even has a dedicated social media hashtag.)
“Being observed can turn an amazing workout into an uncomfortable experience,” says Pam Shaffer, a therapist in Los Angeles. “When we feel like we have to perform to camera or for an observer, many people can get self-conscious and focus more on their appearance than anything else, which is the last thing many people want when they are exerting themselves working out.” The woman setting up her tripod during our HIIT class presumably enjoyed performative activities. I personally do not—at least not while I’m sweating and trying to concentrate on my form. Just knowing you might be on camera is enough to affect your workout, Shaffer says, or—perhaps worse yet—your comfort in the locker room afterward.
I realize my anti-Instagram stance may come across as harsh. The workout-selfie empire is vast—hashtags #gym, #workout, and #fitspo count for more than 383.3 million Instagram posts. And I get it: Tracking your progress (in anything) can be a powerful way to improve, as every personal trainer I’ve ever met has been quick to remind me. Sometimes you’re just feeling yourself. But sometimes you’re not and shouldn’t have to be exposed to the internet mid-burpee.
Like so many facets of social media, the Instagramification of workouts sets unrealistic standards. Even without someone livestreaming my Pilates class, it’s hard not to look in the mirror and feel hopelessly inadequate in comparison to the glowy, toned, perfectly coiffed women in the workout snaps on my feed. It’s demotivating. “If you’ve done a proper workout, your makeup will have slid off and you’ll be red-faced,” says Helen Boast, a London-based fitness photographer. “Real influencers haven’t done a proper workout; it’s been all staged. If you’re taking videos in the gym, you’re likely not concentrating on what you’re doing. It’s an artificial moment.”
Ultimately, my feelings about phones in gyms comes down to respect. “I would never post a selfie unless it was a hotel gym or a private studio where you’ve got it all to yourself,” says Boast. Aren’t we all entitled to a tiny sliver of privacy? Or at least a distraction-free workout? Me and my awkward burpees will thank you.
Originally Appeared on Glamour