And even when we do see, we refuse to change.
Note to Dear Reader: this is, in fact, an article about how we are around race, and how so much of what we see every day reflects those values. Fair warning.
I’ve been a member of Planet Fitness (PF) now since May. My previous gym, 24 Hour, filed for a messy bankruptcy. Besides, I moved to Eugene, and they had nothing here. So ended my gym membership which began in 1973, was grandfathered in through each successive owner, and allowed me to pay the paltry sum of ten bucks a year for my overused, much-abused, and much-beloved membership.
Best gift my folks ever gave me.
Over the 46 plus years I’ve been lifting I’ve worked out all over the world, and in hundreds of gyms. Here in Eugene, I also work out at a classic chalk-and-fart-and grunt “lunk” gym, which is how I learned to lift years ago. There, I employ an advanced fitness trainer to dovetail the regular workouts at PF. At my age, it’s important to get specialized help, for the culmination of decades of lifting and plenty of injuries means that sometimes I need workarounds.
PF has a business model that is predicated on the notion that absolutely EVERYONE IS WELCOME. There’s a huge statement to that effect near the wall lockers at the front of my gym, with all the proper words highlighted about how EVERYONE and WE MEAN EVERYONE, is welcome here.
Unless, and here’s my point, you happen to be a lunk:
Here’s their mission statement:
We are one of the largest and fastest-growing franchisors and operators of fitness centers in the United States by number of members and locations, with a highly recognized national brand. 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. (author bolded)
Okay. Except you don’t mean ANYONE, because the specific language of the Lunk Alarm bullies, shames and identifies anyone who DARES make a noise while lifting something heavy.
This kind of statement of diversity/practice of Very Public Shaming is so American it makes me ill.
However, this is land of the American Promise (Statue of Liberty : “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”)…
but don’t you dare try to move here, work here, live here, make a living, make a difference, because you ARE different. Even if you were born here, we don’t want you here if you’re the slightest bit different.
BUT YOU’RE SO WELCOME. SEE? IT’S RIGHT THERE ON THE SIGN.
Wink wink, nudge nudge.
My personal observations at PF include plenty of folks wearing mask beards, which is like fucking with a torn condom. People who climb onto machines and use them in ways for which they were not designed, not only risking injury to themselves but those around them. People lifting weights without the slightest idea what they’re doing.
Yeah. They do that. I have to get up and move out of the way, not only to keep from laughing but also from getting killed. I am not trying to shame these folks so much as point out how foolish folks can be without professionals in the gym. They are danger to themselves and others, and their behavior in the gym is irresponsible. You want to do this at home, go ahead Sparky. But you and I have no right to endanger others. PF does nothing about this kind of irrationality in its gyms, and offers no guidance whatsoever to newcomers who are clueless. Most inexperienced folks are clueless about weights and machines, but they aren’t willing to ask for help. Admit to what they don’t know and can’t see.
Lotta white supremacists just like that. With leaders unwilling to do much about it no matter how many folks get hurt.
If I might point out the obvious, the lunks in my gyms were, but for very rare instances, quite pleased to teach me proper form. As a result, after nearly fifty years slinging iron, I have never once injured myself. A trainer injured me once by jerking my arm really hard, but poor form wasn’t the bad guy. Lunks taught me safety, gym manners (which have gone the way of the dodo bird) and gym courtesy. Show me a lunk, and with rare exception, I will show you someone who has done the work of understanding how to move gear around safely, how to protect others around themselves, and who never sit on a machine for half an hour scrolling through Facebook or drop heavy dumbbells right next to a girl doing curls, and she can’t leap out of the way.
In this same way I could point out that the gentility, graciousness, courtesy and kindnesses that I have consistently experienced from immigrants, just for one example, stand in stark contrast to a fair number of my (White) countrymen.
As a lifelong gym rat, and clearly a lunk, I rather agree with this SLATE article:
I understand that there is indeed a place for those who aren’t comfortable, as I am, with the Big Kids Who Grunt.
But if so, why demean those people? Where is it okay to specifically bully and shame anyone for ANY reason when it is written into your mission statement that we mean ANYONE is welcome?
Because this is America. Where the our Founding Fathers wrote up some impressive documents about how all men are created equal and everyone has the right to pursue happiness. Well, it depends, doesn’t it? One of my distant grands was a signatory on the Declaration so if you don’t mind, I have more skin in the game than most. These days, folks are trying to interpret said papers to specifically exclude. Not the way I read that shit.
While my skin might be White, I don’t suffer the conceit that said skin color means I get to muscle anyone out of my country any more that PF’s stated inclusion statement gives them the right to muscle a musclehead like me out out if I dare to swig a drink from anything other than a sippy cup.
SLATE author Luke (Lunk) O’Neil nails it, I think, when he pens this:
We’ve already seen how the echo chamber of Internet news helps us to ignore any opinions or facts that we don’t want to hear. What if something analogous were to happen in the fitness world? Imagine if every group had its own place to work out — a gym for muscleheads, a gym for fatsos, a gym for vegans, a gym for Slate readers. The pursuit of health might succumb to its own form of groupthink.
Sure, no one likes it when a loud, aggressive dude is intimidating people in the weight room. But there may be something to learn from living (and lifting) in the sweaty melting pot of American exercise. Even the most odoriferous lunk might have something to teach us, after all — whether it’s a reminder of what we’re trying to avoid, or a reassurance that it’s possible to max out. Ultimately we all have to share the same planet. Sharing the gym might be a good place to start.
PF is for me a fine place to work out, for now, as the machines are clean. They’ve turned their members into janitors, which to my mind is a fine thing. I see more people of color in my gym than most other places, for it does, to a degree, offer a safer place. That is one reason I lift here: I am surrounded by color, and for me that makes it feel like home. Safe.
Unless you happen to fall into the category of a lunk. While I don’t openly judge folks (we ALL judge, try not to sometime), I do on occasion wear a muscle tank, I do sometimes swig out of a gallon jug because KIDNEY STONES, PEOPLE, and I do sometimes lift something that will cause me to emit a bit of a grunt.
That doesn’t make me an asshole. It makes me human.
The glaring, blaring dichotomy of a company which screams its inclusivity and yet specifically allows people to not only point someone out for an unintended mistake, then shames them by alarm in front of an entire gym full of people is so American. So Trump.
In other words, institutionalized bullying. Which, if you care to look, is everywhere. Healthcare. Education. Corporations. Government.
So us. That the senior folks at PF have had these things pointed out and of course they have simply doubled down is just so…well.
Of course they did.
Because to rethink such things requires adulting. For if we are missing the ability to own our shit as individuals, how on earth can we own our shit in the larger organizations made up of too many folks who can’t own their shit?
PF is just a snapshot of who we are as a nation. We claim inclusiveness, but reward divisiveness. That business model has been in place forever because it’s how we do things in America, PF just put it on signs all over the premises.
The challenge of true diversity is in part to see, without excuse, what we do and how we do it, the falseness of our public narratives vs our behaviors both public and private.
Medium writers like Marley K., gentle but clear Rebecca Stevens A. and Sharon Hurley Hall are among my go-tos for truth telling, and when I want to go really, really, really deep, I drink from the well of my buddy Rosenna Bakari. The articles that these and other excellent writers on this platform have done what PF’s observant gym goers have done: pointed to the lie of the public statements. Harder, they point out any lies I harbor, like it or not. The grace in that revealing is a different way forward.
If I have the conceit to place a Mission Statement sign of great inclusivity in the house of my heart, then go on to act in alignment with racist ideas and behaviors as so many of us do, then I don’t deserve to keep the sign up until I earn it. This is the hard work we’ve had offered to us this year. Far too many of us just double down on what we already believe in that way of tribal groupthink rather than question how such things apply to me. And if so, what kind of house cleaning is in order?
When PF doubled down when their shit got pointed out, they simply mirrored what we do as a society when our racism is pointed out. There there. You just don’t understand. Let me tell you how it really is around here.
The gym has ever been a place for all of us to face our human frailties, the limitations and possibilities of our human forms. For some, to build the body beautiful. For most of us, to keep standing, or running, or lifting or simply keeping the aging bones strong enough to live vibrantly. It has ever been the most superb melting pot for me, ever for the posing and posturing that is an inevitability of a room full of mirrors. And in many ways, it’s a microcosm of society. All the usual suspects are there.
Those mirrors also show us our souls. If we can’t see how, in a micro-environment like PF, we live that dichotomy, how on earth are we supposed to face our two-faced nature as a nation? How are we going to reconcile the promise of the statue in the harbor of one of the greatest immigrant cities on earth with our hate, our divisiveness, and our history?
I don’t have the answers, but I know that one of them isn’t to double down. It’s to genuinely double our efforts to see with different eyes, question what we think and believe, and be willing to hear truths from those we didn’t choose to hear before.
That to me is part of what this difficult, challenging year has offered us. What little progress I might have made has allowed me to see differently. Notice more. Race is part of all conversations, like it or not. Ignoring it is simply, well,
…you got it.