Dear Gym Culture...Your Fatphobia Has to Go

The other day I was at the gym (yes I’m back to gymming it after a good 2-3 months of not) and I was on the rowing machine and this couple came over and proceeded to very obviously not know what they were doing. I am by no means an expert, but they didn’t know how to get the screen tracker thing on by pulling the rower cord thingy (see I don’t even know what it’s called!).

A trainer briefly pulled themselves from the trainer chat huddle to show them how to make the screen display, then went back to chatting about fat and macros with the other trainers or whatever.

Meanwhile, the woman in the couple (I would guess they were both in their mid/late twenties) proceeded to struggle to figure out the rowing machine while her boyfriend stood and watched and gave unhelpful tips because he didn’t know how it worked either. She was doing the opposite of how you’re meant to row, pulling the handles with all her might, throwing her back dramatically back, and gaining little traction with her legs.

She kept looking at me and finally I couldn’t help but do that thing I knew I would immediately regret: try to help. I said something like “Pardon me for butting in” and that it was easier if you used your legs-arms-arms-legs (which I learned by watching Youtube videos, sooo many people use the rowing machine wrong), while trying to show slowly how it’s done without seeming like some know it all type ugh whyyy do I bother. She stared at me blankly. Her boyfriend nodded and repeated my words like “Yes, that makes sense”, but I got the impression there was a language barrier. 

Finally another trainer came over and tried to show her, but it was clear the message wasn’t getting through and after a minute or so they gave up and left without saying thanks for the advice or anything like that (again I think there was a language barrier though so fair enough I guess).

Then the trainer started chatting to me, asking me what I was “doing” today (I have had this question from trainers before, it's....exhausting). Knowing trainers don’t like to hear “moving my body until I feel like stopping and not treating this gym lark as an exercise in self-flagellation until I reach perfection”, I said what I was doing and why in terms of building my knee strength back up (which was a mistake, obviously).  

She then proceeded to tell me to use all of the machines I am using already and have been for over a year now. I just sort of nodded politely, wanting the conversation to end as quickly as possible before she felt compelled to talk about “health” or weight loss. It is possible she might not have, but I always feel like one wrong word and the floodgates will open, it’s only natural at a gym where every surface is covered with their latest weight loss/”health” or whatever else they are couching diets in scheme or whatever.

It is still hard for me not to feel like a fat target some days at the gym, and that sucks. Maybe much of it is in my head, but I think it’s natural I feel on the defensive in a place that is so conformist to the cult of diet culture. Plus I am coming back into it after a couple of months off, hopefully I will start to feel more comfortable again before long. 

I think eventually I will probably change gyms when I can afford to justify it, there are others that are a bit more mature in clientele/attitude. Although at the same time it’s not like I can avoid diet culture anyway, it’s everywhere we look, so in the past I have treated the skinny girls berating each other for having a candy bar and posing for selfies in front of the mirror with a full face of makeup pre workout as just…part of a world I choose not to participate in any longer, and it has toughened my defences in some ways I think when it comes to self/fat acceptance overall. (I feel like this sounds like I am judging "the youth" for being image obsessed...I genuinely am not, I was one of them once and I feel sorry for some of these girls casting scorn on their perfectly lovely bodies, all to keep themselves off of carbs or whatever. But again, I would never say anything about "Hey why don't you join the "Love yourself as is?" club, because I am a realist when it comes to how people must come to this bopo life of their own volition).

Knowing I will never be anything other than a “before” in the eyes of how my gym targets its members’ attention is unquestionably infuriating at times, I am not some zen body positive goddess who walks around in a cloud of self-love 24/7. It is work not to fall prey to it. 

But it would be nice if they didn’t try to make me feel like a loser even as I’m feeling wonderful and proud post workout by putting up weight loss posters in the f’ing toilet, a place where many a woman has had negative experiences if she has ever had an eating disorder. Talk about a come down.

There is nary a poster that says “Hey, you worked out, awesome job for being here!” Why is that? Because there is no extra cash to be made? Because telling people that their bodies can always be improved upon, can always look better in a swimsuit than they do presently, is where they get that fast cash. I just think it’s a truly sh*tty business model, personally. 

Gyms don’t really care if you are happy and healthy, if they did they wouldn’t think fat shaming is a motivator because it so clearly does not work for the majority of people. There are more and more fat/body positive exercise classes happening in America anyway, and I really hope at some point it translates over to the U.K. and the rest of the world that people in bigger bodies would like to feel more welcome and safe in gym spaces. 

Why is it such abstract (by current gym ideology) thinking to wish that everyone can exercise if they want, and it is for the greater good of all if we encourage joyfulness, not misery and shame, in how we move and view our bodies? Why is that too much to ask? 

Wouldn't gyms benefit from encouraging a large segment of the populaton in a different way, when the methods they currently use so clearly don't work long term at keeping people motivated? I am very lucky, I know, to not feel too much discrimination at the gym in my body, it is probably how I have managed to tolerate it thus far. But I can't help but wish it was better for all of us.

Anyway, I am off to the gym, lol, not feeling it today to be honest but a girl’s got to keep her knee strength up, because I am going to Norway in a couple of weeks, yay! What is new with you?


  1. You know what?

    This post has finally inspired me to book an induction session at the gym I've been paying for for months but am yet to get to, because my knees are also shot right now and dang, I want my chubby ass represented in there.

    I'm glad that you're able to rise above the posters and the passive aggression most of the time.

    Lis / last year's girl x

    1. Thanks Lisa! I do mostly enjoy working out now, I had a really good day yesterday at the gym. It has made me feel good to get some endorphins flowing the past few weeks, I had just forgotten how irked I get by the weight loss stuff. I hope you find a way back to it, let me know how you get on! xx

  2. I follow two subreddits on reddit, one is about crazy photoshopped instagram photos, and the other one is where they try to reverse the editing, to show what the original photo looked like. It's so crazy to me that these already beautiful people are trying to shrink their waists, enlarge their butts, lengthen their legs... I just don't get it! Our culture seems to put so much pressure on looking "perfect", whatever that happens to be at the moment, I'm worried about all these teens looking at these edited photos and not understanding that they are very heavily edited! The comments on the reddit thread do indicate that a lot of people had no idea these influencers were even doing this!!!

    I would love to see a poster that indicated that just getting motivated to go to the gym deserves a gold star :) Moving your body is good, why does there have to be more of a goal than just that?

    Also,Norway! That sounds fun!

    1. I have to admit I have been a little surprised by how GLAM some of the girls are at the gym are now. I am mostly like "You do you girl", I know it's fun to feel cute in your workout gear and all that, but a lot of the stuff is more fashion than function too imo. But also it is kinda sad to me, there is freedom in not giving a frack how you look at the gym that they are missing out on. It's hard to fiel fully present in movement if you are stressing about your makeup melting off our whatever. I genuinely believe the extreme body part obsessives are a natural result/evolution of decades of diet culture warping the female ideal more and more. It's really sad, and social media has a lot to answer for on that front, but they got it from fashion magazines to start with, it is all just so messed up.

    2. I am very interested in the subreddits you follow, Heather. Can you do a blog post about those? Or a link or something?

  3. Hello, I totally hear you Steff but I immediately had another thoughts about this situation. I would not be surprised if she started speaking with you because
    a) she's there on a probation and needs to prove herself - speaking with customers and appearing to be likeable would not hurt
    b) they are waiting for a mystery shopper so better safe than sorry or
    c) she's just at the beginning of her journey and still has this spark to save the world from whatever - which is great so let her do her and you do you :)

    I never had a trainer approaching me and actually it would be nice sometimes to have a chat because reps can get a bit boring after a while.

    Love, Iga

    1. Hi Iga! I don't think that she spoke to me for any particular reason, but I have looked into various trainers at the gym for the heck of it (I did meet a nice one who I liked but decided was too expensive), and every single one says "weight loss fat loss" etc. in their profiles - which I know is totally normal for the industry, it's just not what I am looking for personally. I know it's a very small niche in the fitness industry who even know about body positivity or HAES, at least in the U.K., so my expectations are reasonable/I would not expect to find a trainer at this gym who is NOT encouraged to promote diet and weight loss. I am ok with that, I just don't want to interact with it for personal reasons if that makes any sense! I do like a chat with the trainer I know because she knows me/my outlook. I just keep myself to myself with the ones I don't because I feel a bit exposed to unasked for opinions about my routine, body, etc. ;-) xo

  4. Damn, I love this post. I love your blog more every time I read it.
    I'm glad we don't have that happening the gym I would go to if I actually went to a gym.

    1. Thanks Becky! I really only go to the gym because my knees are fecked without it. I miss zumba and more fun stuff but my knees do not.