It’s a constant joke that I was athletically challenged most of my life. I skipped school on the day of every single Pacer test, and when my parents told me I had to play a sport to get into college (my parents both didn’t attend college and genuinely thought you had to play a sport to get in—how pure), I attended one tennis practice and couldn’t show my face to the team ever again. But that doesn’t mean I’m inactive, and after a year of working out consistently at home followed by a short stint in my (better than average) apartment fitness center, I was ready to finally join a gym again.
I never attended a gym until I was in college, but I quickly learned that weight training was my favorite way to work out. So, when I was home on summer break one year, I joined a gym. They asked all the typical questions: what is your favorite way to work out? How often do you plan to come? What are your fitness goals? But then they ask the worst question of all:
“What’s your height and weight?”
I remember thinking, how on Earth is this relevant to me joining the gym? What does saying my weight in this tiny office with this stranger in a gym do to help me achieve any fitness goals? It made me feel uncomfortable every time I saw that gym attendant, knowing that he knew really personal details about me and possibly made up his own judgments about me and my health, all because I told him a few numbers.
I remember thinking, how on Earth is this relevant to me joining the gym? What does saying my weight in this tiny office with this stranger in a gym do to help me achieve any fitness goals?
I put off joining a gym for a long time after that because it felt so daunting to put myself out there. I’m a mid-size cis-woman with a little bit of experience at the gym, and I worried about the judgments that might ensue walking into a weight room full of jacked bros and their protein shakes. Everyone talks about gym intimidation and how awkward being in the gym for the first time is, but no one talks about how uncomfortable and overbearing it can be to just join. After months of working out in my apartment gym, I was starting to feel a little stagnant with the level of equipment available to me, so I decided to join a nearby gym. And it was… in a word… horrible.
I have never felt so uncomfortable as I did when I tried to join this gym. When I arrived, I met with the owner of the gym at a tiny kiosk in the middle of everything. Seriously, a man was like doing squats right next to my face. Not only was I prompted with the dreaded “What’s your height and weight?” (in the literal middle of the gym in front of everyone), but I was pestered and berated about my physical health (by a person who isn’t my doctor!) and questioned over and over about my fitness goals. When I said my goal was to just be healthy, I was, again, berated because I didn’t have any fitness goals. Eventually, I told the owner of the gym I have an eating disorder, and at one point (while tearing into me about my BMI and how I’m at risk to get cancer and have a stroke—again, not a doctor!), he said he wanted to be “gentle with my eating issue.” Then, he proceeded to tell me that if I have no fitness goals, there’s no point in joining the gym. Working out is fun for me and a way to de-stress—is that a crime?
I stood in the middle of this gym while this stranger wrote down some of my most personal health information and threw it all back at me… and then dared to be upset when I wasn’t really feeling it and didn’t want to join his gym. Like sir, you just laid into me about how “unhealthy” I was and how joining a gym was pointless if I wasn’t trying to do a 180 on my body… what makes you think I’d ever want to come back here?
I was so taken aback when I left that I called my mom and told all of my friends how horrible this experience was, and a lot of people echoed my thoughts on how agonizing the experience of joining a gym is. But until then, I’d never heard anyone talk about it. When men join a gym, it’s about them getting ripped, and as much as cis-men experience body image issues too, they’re not taught from a young age that how much you weigh is something to be embarrassed about in the same way women are. And the pressure is even worse when you’re above the threshold of what is an “acceptable” size as a woman.
When men join a gym, it’s about them getting ripped, and as much as cis-men experience body image issues too, they’re not taught from a young age that how much you weigh is something to be embarrassed about in the same way women are.
Aside from a horrible experience with management, I knew pretty early on this gym wouldn’t be for me. When I walked in, I saw guys who resembled Hulk or at the very least men whose dream was to look like the Hulk, and all the women were fit beyond belief. I didn’t see a single person in the gym who looked anything like me, and it was 7 pm on a weeknight, their busiest time. I knew I’d feel self-conscious going to a gym where I was the only one who didn’t train for marathons or body-building competitions.
I ultimately left the gym and never looked back. It was so frustrating because they had a great facility, but I knew I’d never feel comfortable. Why do these gym owners think intimidating me and making me feel like an unhealthy sack of sh*t is the way to get me to join? I’d rather never step foot in your facility than ever feel that way again. Even if I was unhealthy, it’s truly none of your business why I’m at your gym.
What I’m Going to Do Next
As an avid exerciser, I simply can’t swear away the gym forever, even though the thought of walking inside one and signing up sounds like my personal hell after what I went through. Instead, I joined a nearby gym (we stan Planet Fitness in this house) that allowed me to easily sign up online with ZERO weird questions, pestering, or upselling at all. I’m able to go into my gym now without a care in the world and feel completely normal. Plus, the gym is filled with people just like me: just normal people who like to work out, some who look really fit, and some who look like your average Joe, and I love it. I also plan to start going to a few classes once a week or so to change it up and get my fix of working closely with a fitness professional without all the judgment. Plus, classes are so social and fun to do with friends, and I’ve missed it so much in the pandemic.
As far as how I’m coping with this negative experience, I’m choosing to focus on how happy I feel after a workout and remembering why I was so excited to move up in my fitness journey rather than keep up with my same routine. That’s progress, even if some rude, muscular guy at the gym doesn’t agree. Even taking the step of wanting to join a gym is progress! If you have a similar experience, pay attention to all the progress you’re making and get excited about what you’ll make in the future. And I highly recommend writing it out. This article was deeply cathartic.