Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

A gym that tries to create a safe place, but doesn’t.

Body-shaming is one of our favorite sports in America, and nowhere is it more prevalent these days than at gyms.

To be fair, there are few people more critical of how we look than ourselves. Self-hate often fuels body-shaming others, but few of realize that. Nobody is more critical of how I look than I am. Not only is that tough enough, I hardly need unsolicited feedback from some angry pea brain any more than anyone else needs it from me. STFU, already will you?

It’s bad enough that those of us who have been isolated for our own safety have likely put on a pound or two (or fifteen) as we waited to be allowed back in the gym, or wherever we prefer to exercise. Many of us now have. We look at ourselves with a bit of ruefulness, but recommit. Many of us began in far worse shape. We know the drill.

I did that recently when I joined the local Planet Fitness for a short while up here in Eugene. I’m waiting for my house to sell, and in the meantime, was in desperate need to sling iron. Planet was close. Cheap. I joined.

In Denver, Planet has a reputation for tossing out anyone who dares to grunt while lifting. Not knowing what to expect, I gratefully lined up in front of the free weights to restart my program, after nearly nine weeks out. The longest I have gone without lifting in nearly fifty years. I was back in my second home, hundreds of pounds of cold iron lined up neatly in front me.

All my serious body builder friends can relate.

I started warming up with a few light ones, fully masked (nobody else was).

Then I looked up. Over the mirror, is a huge Lunk Alarm sign. Big light, alarm bell and a description of potential offenders. It’s a mockery of those men and women with whom I have spent much of my entire lifting career. In here, they are called “lunks,” who wear body building shirts (I have plenty) drink out of a gallon jug of water (what does that have to do with anything?) make noise (really?) and drop weights. Now on that last, I agree.The rest, well. If for no other reason than the percentage of buttheads who act that way in the gyms is pretty small. And I have been to hundreds of them through the years.

Look. Better folks than I am have written about this:

Planet Fitness vs. he lunkheads: Why is a health club trying to alienate people who love to work…
Of all the people whose ire you might actively seek to provoke, you'd think the ones who can bench press 500 pounds…

…but I want to take this a step further. I can seek out my own sweat/chalk/fart house where I fit the fraternity and growing sorority of iron slingers. Doing that right now, in fact.

Imagine having a very very very loud alarm go off for an honest mistake. Maybe an old injury flared up or you happened to try to suppress a belch that some fuckwit interpreted as a lunk grunt.

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA that nasty man over there made a noise.

You might as well hang the poor bastard out a window naked. Sure makes everybody else feel good to be able to publicly shame someone, doesn’t it? Turns the entire gym into a lynch mob over something that perhaps someone couldn’t help.

Kindly, how does that make for a safe, inclusive place to work out, pray tell?

Good gyms have attendants who can and should regulate bad behavior on the gym floor. People who drop weights are dangerous, not only to themselves but to anyone close by. They have to be kicked out. Period. People who openly mock or harass other gym members, the same. But to castigate a group because of a gallon water jug and a shirt?

To my mind, all this does is provide the populace with yet another group to demean, for whatever reasons we need to demean someone else for our own real or perceived shortcomings.

The real kicker is the company’s mission statement.

Our mission is to enhance people’s lives by providing a high-quality fitness experience in a welcoming, non-intimidating environment, which we call the Judgement Free Zone, where anyone — and we mean anyone — can feel they belong.

No. Not anyone. Because by definition, Planet Fitness has identified a group of people to shame. That is the polar opposite of “anyone can feel they belong.”

The entire gym is based on judgment.

You want to police bad behavior at the gym?

Let’s discuss bad behavior at the gym first.

We’d be better off policing the female fashion police. Those catty Karens who love their athleisure and look down upon or comment on those who not only can’t afford such clothing, but who are, in their aging bodies, doing what they can to gain strength and flexibility on the gym floor.

The gym trolls and trainers who snap photos of those with love handles who are doing their best to get a handle on the bulge, but whom those trainers and fellow gym members photograph, mock and demean on line. That’s brutal, ugly and vicious.

The folks who hog equipment by either gathering up tons of dumbbells, or sitting on a machine during busy times, face buried the phone, not doing a goddamned rep. That’s a lunk, in my book.

You want to burn someone for poor behavior, I’d start there. Those folks chase your profit out the door in a hurry. I’ve watched it happen and heard the comments in the locker room. Most of those of us who really love weights don’t waste our time finding people to demean.

A gym has far more to lose from bullying behavior than it does from those of us lunks who chunk weights. Our community has bullies, too. Invite them out. That doesn’t mean the entire community is made up solely of bullies. That’s the kind of ugliness that informs hate directed at any group.

I have made it a practice to offer moral support and encouragement to people whom I see sweating it out- especially obese people, as I have been one. Over the years it has often been encouragement from others which has kept me at it. The confidence I’ve gained from sticking with the program all my adult life has led me to feel great pride for others who step up and give it their best.

The folks who have done that for me have invariably been what Planet Fitness describes as lunks.

Some months ago I was disturbed by an article by fellow Medium and Crow’s Feet writer Jane Trombley’s story about a gym goer. This was a friend, a woman in her seventh decade, who was sniffing about the athletic wear of others at her gym, in that way that people do to express moral superiority. Superiority by way of body type (an accident of genes) hard work, which is tough for all of us, time, which can be damned near impossible for working moms, and money, like two hundred bucks for a fucking workout bra.

I took offense, and said so in my article. Not at Jane, but at the arch attitude of her friend, who apparently felt justified to snark at those whose bodies aren’t perfect, and who can’t be perfectly dressed to sweat to the oldies as an oldie.

While many of us have had to make do with what we had at home for workouts — and my extra bit of padding can speak to that—many of us often prefer the camaraderie, laughter and jokes at the gym rather than the solo sweats while watching Ion TV reruns. I work far harder and am much more disciplined when I have company in our collective misery. Right now that’s precisely what it feels like, until we’re all back on track.

Yesterday at Planet I spoke to a guy who had lost more than half his body weight. He showed me a photo. He had looked like the Great Pumpkin. Here he was two years later, almost back to his high school fighting weight, at 47. I LOVE those stories. They are what keep me energized and excited and motivated. Every gym has them: people who want to feel better, live better, as opposed to getting the Perfect Body.

That man likely saved his life by getting fitter. It never stops. He wants the perfect body for him, not some ridiculous standard.

The gym is not a fucking beauty pageant, nor is it a Mr/Ms Olympia contest. It’s just a place to do the hard work of getting ourselves fitter. Gyms replaced farm work and labor as our population gained education and moved into offices and body-killing nine to five work standard which left us with all kinds of physical problems. They are social environments for some, and places to focus for others, the same as the workplace is.

We are all of us racing time, and we are juggling whatever nature handed us (usually something that’s jiggling) as our advantages, disadvantages, and the choices we made over the years. For better or for worse, this is what we have.

Some of us choose to do that via slinging iron. Others take different paths. While I absolutely understand the need to be proud of our progress, that does not give us the right or privilege to demean or diminish anyone else’s efforts.

That would include, folks at Planet Fitness, mocking, demeaning and openly attacking people who have put in the sweat equity and years to get and stay fit and strong.

There is no difference between calling someone a pencil neck or a lunk.

It’s still an insult to a group of people, people who have preferences, and who have every right to that preference.

It’s not a safe, inclusive place when you put a massive sign and loud alarm on the wall that shames a group of people when your mission statement says that we mean anyone.

NO. You don’t mean “anyone.” You’ve identified a group to loudly and publicly shame. By definition, that’s bullying.

If you want to make a gym an inclusive place, train your people to deal with offenders. Give employees the authority to oust the occasional bully.

Wearing a specific shirt, using a large water source and emitting body noise does not a bully make. Behavior does. By lumping ALL bodybuilders into a certain category, Planet Fitness demeans an entire group. Not only is that uninformed but it encourages shaming. How is that different from any other kind of hate based -ism?

It’s not.

If you want to make your gym an inclusive place, put people over profits. Make it clear that bullies are busted out without refunds.

The Planet Fitness model works for a lot of folks. Ultimately it won’t work for me. I need to find another spot to feel free to sweat profusely, which I do in warm weather, guzzle water, which I need, and occasionally let out a grunt of effort, which I sometimes can’t help. I don’t feel safe in Planet Fitness- in a place where their mission statement says I should.

You want a judgment free-zone? Then stop judging. You can’t have it both ways.

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash