Fat Fridays: Gyms Hate Fat People & Intersectional Body Positive Resources

If you know of body positive gyms or workout spaces with an intersectional approach to inclusivity please comment and include links to the venues/location. Alternatively you can e-mail suggestions to sesspoolblog@gmail.com

Marilyn Wann, author of Fat?So! and owner of the Fatso website went to check out a new gym option this week with her partner, and was welcomed at the reception desk with the following, “Are you looking for tires?” After an interaction that increasingly became more bizarre (explicable only as stemming from a culture based in fat hatred) the gym employee’s behavior was justified by another employee as “Oh, that’s just his sense of humor.”


Now, in case you think this is an isolated incident check out this couple’s experience with onsite size bigotry bullying from paid gym representatives. After experiencing constant harassment from a particular personal trainer who engaged in juvenile antics such as pointing, laughing, mocking, and making bigoted fat “jokes” during her workouts, Shayla  tried to get out of her gym contract and was denied that as an option. Here’s another article about a UK gym that took a woman’s sign up fees, refused to give them back since she’d signed their contract, and refused to meet their contract obligations saying she was too fat to be served by them. It seems gyms are happy to gouge fat folks from their money, while providing them with subpar and abusive experiences. In fact there is documented evidence that gyms charge thin women significantly less than their fat peers.

What you may also have noticed is that this video compared 2 white women’s experiences. Here at SESSpool there’s a commitment to an intersectional analysis. So I explored a bit further on how gyms treat other folks. There’s Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas’s sharing her experience of being racially bullied by her gym.  After being ordered by teammates to “perform tasks because she was their slave”, she chose to switch gyms. There’s the suing of Planet Fitness for not allowing a Muslim customer to wear her head covering during workouts. There’s the billion dollar company L.A. Fitness charged with providing gyms in Latina/o neighborhoods with inferior services, including no soap, no toilet paper, and other hygiene and health based concerns such as filthy equipment. Not to mention the gender & racial discrimination that gyms practice against their own employees, such as the lawsuit against 24 Hour Fitness. There are also apartment complex gyms that ban access to their lower income tenants. And gyms that discriminate against children with disabilities. Also, don’t try to work out at a gym if you are gender-nonconforming or gay (unless you research it to ensure you’ll receive the same safe and welcoming experience as straight customers).

Some folks who do not personally experience intersectional stigma may wonder if the focus of this article on fat discrimination by gyms isn’t diluted or lost by the incorporation of other gym based discriminatory behaviors. My response is that as long as a gym is allowed to practice bigotry, have a tiered pricing system, or engage in hostile actions towards their consumers (and employees) that it ultimately isn’t safe space for anyone. Take, for example, the gym that allowed fatrassment (fat harassment) that Marilyn Wann experienced. That same gym was up 3 flights of stairs with an out-of-order elevator making that gym inaccessible to some folks with disabilities. There needs to be a clear message that all bigotry is unacceptable in order for bigotry to be eradicated. 

So what’s a fat gym consumer to do? Some of it depends on what option works for you, the individual consumer. One option may be to try and change these gyms by calling out bigotry  of any kind especially if you are not personally affected.  Having counterpoints prepared for their justifications and working with them to become more accessible can result in a gym changing it’s ways. However, this option can be a really tough choice, because they may not care to listen, may not change, and it means remaining in a very hostile environment that can ultimately be dangerous to one’s health. The choice to stay and fight for inclusivity is valid, but so is the choice to leave. If it hits their financial fitness, they may care enough about their profits to reconsider their tactics and policies.

Are Women’s Gyms an option? The answer is only on rare occasions and never if you’re a fat man. Take for example the women’s gym that asked two women to leave – one woman for being Muslim and wearing too much garb and a different woman for breast feeding and wearing too little garb.

Curves Gyms are out for many reasons, including their current partnership to the ever abusive and hateful Biggest Loser’s Jillian Michaels. Gyms catering specifically to fat women are usually focused less on the joy and health of movement, exercise, and physical fitness regardless of size and more on manipulating women’s bodies into shrinking sizes regardless of if such goals are attainable, unhealthy, or dehumanizing. This is reflected in their name choices such as Downsize Fitness.

Fat Friendly Gyms & Workout Solutions: There are some options out there that seem to generally work. Depending on location, some YMCA’s are committed to an inclusive approach. In Canada Body Exchange is a plus sized women’s gym that concentrates on fitness and enjoying movement (and in interviews the founder, Lousie Green, mentions weight loss isn’t the gym’s focus). In the San Francisco, Bay Area there is Every Woman Health Club and some of their instructors are women of color.

Another option is to make connections with fat positive online community. This is because through those resources you can form in person groups and find workout buddies to do the activities you enjoy. You’ll also find support and respect. One resource specific to fat workouts is Fit Fatties.  Research a new gym before joining it. Search online to see if there are complaints about them. Talk to them in person about what their philosophy is when it comes to gym exercise and accessibility for all their consumers.

Consider alternatives such as finding a yoga for large bodies or size positive dance class. In the San Francisco, Bay Area Your Body Raks even offers a weekly free belly dance class.

Network and research to find personal trainers who don’t focus on your body type. Research videos on youtube (and if you like the workout support them by purchasing dvd’s from their own personal sites). There’s a really fun salsa chair workout I found using this method.

If you don’t enjoy exercising in any format there is never an obligation to workout and you get to remain the amazing, wonderful and valuable human being that you are. If you do enjoy it or you appreciate the benefits of being physically active then you have an absolute right to be treated with dignity in the movement choices you engage in. People do not go to gyms to get bullied, harassed, or belittled. We go to gyms to workout and membership payment should be a financial guarantee of a safe, clean, comfortable environment. This includes the equipment provided and the treatment received.

If you know of body positive gyms or workout spaces with an intersectional approach to inclusivity please comment and include links to the venues/location. Alternatively you can e-mail suggestions to sesspoolblog@gmail.com. I’ll be creating a resource list accessible on the ‘net. No diet nor weight loss hate movement links, please.. Also, just a caveat that I do a quick google on the recommendations with the gym name/fitness trainer name and check out their philosophies. If the venue or trainer mention weight loss methods or other discriminatory practices I’ll modify the comment to not include them on this space. There are other venues where such information can be shared.