As a yoga instructor, I've been to my fair share of Bikram classes where I exercised in just a sports bra, and the dude next to me pretty much sported a skimpy Speedo.
We're sweating, we're basically naked, we're breathing heavily -- it's basically like a spiritual porno.
So, you'd think I would have no problem tearing off my baggy t-shirt when it came time to hit the gym rather than the yoga studio.
But, TBH, there's just something about the extremely suspect side-eye I constantly endure from the old man on the rowing machine that makes me want to wear a full-body space suit during the entirety of every HIIT circuit.
Yoga is my comfortable, happy place. When I'm in the studio, nothing can go wrong.
In comparison, revealing my midriff at the gym seemed like it would be just as uncomfortable and awkward as showing up to a party alone and standing in the corner pretending to enthusiastically text someone.
But, in the name of not giving a f*ck, I decided to suck it up, strip it down, and conquer some commandos -- sans workout shirt.
As I headed toward the elliptical for some warm-up cardio, my first instinct was to immediately turn around and grab my shirt from my car.
My belly button suddenly felt like a crime punishable by law, and I could feel sweat beginning to drip down my forehead, even though I hadn't even started my workout yet.
I managed to talk myself out of it, realizing I should probably save my irrational fears of bellybutton-related felony for something more realistic, like my horrendous parking abilities (yup, shots fired at myself).
I finished my warm-up and walked over to the ab mats with my head held high, ready to kill the new HIIT workout I had planned.
I was honestly starting to feel kind of badass and liberated without my shirt.
However, right when I settled down on the mat, an elderly man decided to burst my bubble by motioning for me to take out my headphones.
"Oh no," I thought to myself.
I tentatively removed one earbud and prepared myself from what came next.
He told me I should put my shirt back on because my stomach was really distracting to him and others.
"Oh, I didn't realize that my belly button is so disturbing to you? Is it the piercing? The diamond can be kind of blinding -- I totally feel you."
That was the heavily sarcastic remark I wish I'd had the balls to throw back at him.
Instead, I silently rolled my eyes, gave him a half-hearted nod, and decided to channel my newfound frustration into my workout.
What seemed like a billion burpees later, I was out of breath, drenched in sweat, and feeling on top of the world.
I refused to let this man's comment get to me, or make me put my shirt back on.
And I think that's actually what made this whole experience feel so incredibly freeing.
Other than a handful of not-so-subtle stares from guys my age in between their dead-lift grunts, showing my stomach was actually a lot less scary than I anticipated.
As for that old dude on the ab mat, perhaps he should try to focus on his own workout routine rather than preoccupy himself with a young woman's body. Just a thought, you know?
Luckily, his comment actually provided a sort of natural, pre-workout-esque boost of energy for my sweat sesh, so perhaps I should thank him (nah, I'm good).
I'm sure I'm not the first woman who's experienced this kind of sexualization, and I'm certain I won't be the last.
But if you can't help but be distracted by my midriff, that sounds like a big bowl of "your problem" -- not mine.