Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

 I managed to get the local GP to give me a note excusing me from gym PERMANENTLY after my first horrifying day in my rural-Kentucky public high school phys ed class. I was thin and bookish and just thirteen.  First I had to undress in an open locker room  and then put on rough navy blue bloomer outfits worn with athletic socks and Keds.  I had no breasts and no hair that wasn’t on my head, and I was freaked out by all the hormonally altered big girls in my class.  And that was before I entered the chamber of torture known as a gymnasium. 

The health teacher was also the phys ed teacher, and my, my, wasn’t she just full of move move move!!! She had a whistle that she blew when we were to move move move in another direction. This woman honestly expected me to run up and down bleacher stairs. And she then expected me to participate in a game of volleyball, where those Amazons in my class tried to kill me by knocking the ball over the net with the kind of force I had never seen before.  Needless to say, I ducked and put my hands over my face whenever the ball came my way. And I simply walked those bleacher stairs. I was not going to sweat, and I certainly did not want to fall.  The phys ed teacher was extremely unhappy with my lack of interest and participation, even though I explained very thoroughly that I had always been frail and not everyone was meant to do this sort of activity.  The post-exercise group showering and changing back into school clothes was even worse than the initial disrobing, since everyone (but me) smelled of sweat.

I called my favorite GP that day and told him that he simply had to get me out of gym class or I would drop out of school.  I remember that he asked what he should write that would allow me to be permanently excused from the compulsory exercise program. “Frail.  She is frail and anxious and has a fear of balls hitting her,” were my instructions.  “It is the truth. Plus, those outfits itch and are ugly.”

I was excused, permanently, from gym.  The health/phys ed teacher was pleased. My classmates were delighted that they had something else to torture me with. It worked out just fine.

I have been working out with personal trainers since I entered my forties.  Exercise and sweating were never appealing to me, but toned arms, abs, and legs sounded good. But I could never find anything comfortable and attractive to wear. Finally I settled on Danskin tights and a series of white stretch T-shirts covered by a  knit top without sleeves in various attractive colors.  Sort of like scrubs in the OR. But there was only so much I could do with those, either. 

Exercise clothes have become very big fashion moneymakers now.  But I still look at most of them with a baleful eye.  These are my choices for the outfits no one should ever wear in a public gym.



Cleavage-baring tops. The treadmill or the yoga mat is no place for cleavage. Wardrobe-malfunction fears would keep me from lifting those five-pound weights over my head!







camel toe

Pants that cause camel toe! And I see these on the street and in the airport all the time. These are really leggings, not exercise pants, and should have a top that covers the pelvic area, at least. And this fashion advice applies to girls and women of all ages.









Midriff-short tops that expose the belly. The utterly fit fifteen-year-old dancer/model in this outfit looks great.  But how many of us have abs like this at any age? 








mid calf tights

Mid-calf tights hit my leg at just the wrong place, emphasizing the infamous “cankle” that I certainly have.









low rise tights

Low-rise tights: Who wants to stretch and show off the skin on her butt?  And this style always gets too-close-for -comfort to the genital tissue as well.  No one but a gynecologist would tell you this.








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  • Andrea June 19, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Great ,funny,honest essay Dr Pat!! As always you tell it like it is. Lululemon has nice workout clothes but I can also recommend Athleta – fashionable, comfortable,and made for women who have never been and will never be a size 6 or 8!

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen April 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    I love Lululemon work out clothes. The fabric is great and the colors always make me happy.

    I was a very very clever high school girl, Roz. If we were drinkers, I could tell you some stories….but not about S E X or dating. Weighing in at 95 pounds with a triple A bust size and “such a mouth on you” never got me ONE date for four years.


  • Roz Warren April 3, 2013 at 11:36 am

    How clever of you to opt out of gym glass. If only I’d had the imagination. This essay brought back memories of public school swim class. I loved swimming. What I didn’t love was lining up naked in the locker room before class with 30 other girls, and, when you got to the front of the line, having to call out your bra size so that locker room attendant could issue you a bathing suit in your size. Being naked with a group of other teenagers and having to announce your bra size?? Obviously a sadist thought this one up.
    On the topic of workout wear, I recommend Lululemon. Looks great, covers what needs to be covered, shows off what needs to be shown off and lasts forever. And I agree with BOTH Joan Price (read her new book, by the way, if you haven’t already) and Dr. Pat. Women should be welcomed to a workout, but anyone with a sense of aesthetics doesn’t really want to view your jiggling juggling lard. (Or her own either.) Nothing wrong with wearing something that fits, looks great and doesn’t overshare.

  • Ann Buttenwieser February 1, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Dr. Pat’s piece was not about the bodies of the women who are brave enough to show up at the gym, it was a humorous story about how women dress once in the gym. I found the article highly amusing, and it reminded me of how often my trainer has to bring me back from staring at outrageous outfits to concentrate on my own workout.
    PS: how I remember those jammed fingers in basketball and volleyball class!!!

  • mary karr January 27, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    I appreiate and respect all opinions, but I must defend Pat Allen here. I honestly thought she was FUNNY, joking about her own ankles. Accepting our bodies no matter what their shape doesn’t mean not noticing that super-fit women of any age look healthier and stronger and better than the restof us. My Zumba teacher weighs almost twice what I do, but she’s strong, and she looks great–way better than I would–revealing her curves in lowcut tops and shirts.. I also think Pat Allen’s advice is intended to help people feel more comfortable at the gym, i.e., people not used to going to the gym may feel as if they have to spray PAM on them selves in order to squeeze into those tit-flapping, low-cut-on-my-butt-dimples, self-conscious-making, titty-dancer garb. She made me feel better about my tee-shirt and old yoga pants. I almost feel pressure sometimes to strip down. Anybody who knows Dr. Allen’s commitment to women’s health knows she’s a champion for women of all sizes and shapes. That said, I’m always glad for us to be able to talk this stuff out in a good forum.

  • Deborah Harkins January 26, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Stacia and Dr.Pat, I SO know how you felt. Oh, those bloomers! Oh, the notorious high-school “gang showers,”which we were warned about in junior high. And trying to play volleyball (or any sport) wearing thick glasses! As for field hockey, I lurked on the outer edges, fearing for my face.! Hockey? I fail to see the necessity.

    Bookworms unite!

  • Stacia January 25, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Dr. Allen – did we go to the same high school? Because your essay brings back memories of my own Gym Class Horrors! I, too, was a skinny, flat-chested kid who dreaded the locker room, the showers and the sadistic screams of my gym instructor yelling, “Run, Friedman, run!” Unfortunately, I didn’t get excused from class permanently. But how I suffered!!!! I was terrified of projectiles – be they basketballs, baseballs or tennis calls. The most frightening of all were the hockey and lacrosse balls which I was positive would literally “brain” me. Thank you for “outing” the torture chamber of high school gym for those of us who were never team players.

  • Tobysgirl January 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Thank you, Joan Price, for speaking my mind. I am very disappointed that women continue to criticize each others’ bodies. I just finished reading The Obesity Myth and agree with the author that we live in an anorexic, eating-disordered society; women of a particular class are harshly judged for every body “flaw” (a lot of those flaws are what make them women and attractive). It is time that women who know better stop such behavior.

  • Joan Price January 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Let’s lose the impulse to criticize women who have made the fitness commitment to show up at the gym. How does it serve us or them to make them feel self-conscious about what they’re wearing or how it fits?

    I’m glad they showed up. It probably wasn’t easy to make that decision. I’d rather welcome them with warmth and acceptance than gaze with disapproval at their imperfect bellies or the crotch fit of their tights.

    FYI I’ve been teaching at a health club (formerly aerobics and strength training, now line dancing) for 35 years. “I’m so glad you’re here!” goes a long way towards making a new exerciser feel like she belongs there. A fashion checklist does not.

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD January 25, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Will edit it out, Anna. Sorry to offend.

    Dr. Pat

  • anna January 25, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Wonderful advice — but please, Dr. Patricia, lose the mention of wife-beaters! We women don’t need to perpetuate that term.