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Answer: Relax! No matter how much you think everyone is staring at you, they aren't. The typical gym-goer is likely too obsessed with her own body to be paying attention to yours. But if you're still feeling self-conscious, here are some ways to pump up your confidence:
Find a gym that suits your lifestyle. That might mean bypassing a fancy-but-impersonal mega chain for a women-only facility like Curves or Lucille Roberts, or a smaller club that caters to individual needs. Before you sign up, visit the same day and time that you'll be using it so you can check out who's there.
Skip the ratty T-shirt. If you have terrific shoulders, show them off in a racer-back top. If you'd prefer to be more covered, pair looser-fitting yoga-style pants with a shirt in a flattering color. Danskin and Junonia have great-looking plus-size activewear.
Take a friend. A buddy will stop you from paying more attention to your "flaws" than to your form in the mirror. A personal cheering section can also remind you how proud you should be of yourself for taking control of your health. But if you start to obsess about your jiggly upper arms, remember: No matter what shape you're in, there is always going to be someone who looks worse than you, so stop making comparisons.
--All tips from Jude Milner, a certified personal trainer at Fitness Therapy in New York City
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2006.