Should plus size women have their own gym? Body Exchange in Vancouver says yes. This gym does not allow either men or smaller-size women to become members. Their mission of “fearless fitness at any size” on their website is stated as such:
Our Mission is to remove limited thinking and living due to weight by using fitness and adventure as the vehicle to better living. We are a new approach to health and wellness one that is contrary to the sometimes extreme measures and disappointments of the weight loss industry.
Hundreds of clients have regained and sustained their health and wellness from our approach. They have found a community, a place to relate and challenge themselves and most importantly a place to start living out loud with no barriers.
I was turned off at first. I felt places like Body Exchange would serve only to marginalize larger women further. Why should they be forced out of mainstream gyms?
Bigger women (and men!) going to gyms are often looked at askance. Look at the extreme case of Sandra Ruiz, who was actually told she was too big to use the machines in a gym she’d just joined. Ridiculous. Though the gym eventually (begrudgingly) refunded her money, that’s got to have hurt her ego and inclination to work out in the future.
I thought about my own experiences with gyms. I’ve never been athletic. I dreaded gym class growing up. Gyms are really hard to stick to when fitness and exercise isn’t something you’re good at and doesn’t appeal to you naturally. When you’re made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, you’re even less likely to keep it up.
I’ve joined a number of gyms. Wasted a lot of money on gym memberships I didn’t use. The most comfortable I ever felt? Sadly, it was when I had my eating disorder. I was working out six times a week. I was making myself sick with guilt and obsessive behavior. But I had muscles in my legs. Muscles! I didn’t know that was possible for me. And yet, I weighed 110 pounds and hadn’t gotten my period for months. And I was starving myself, binging and purging. But I felt like my body was thin enough that I didn’t have to feel embarrassed. So I was able to get the muscles I’d never had before. Pretty screwed up right?
The only other time I felt like I belonged was at a women’s gym. There were classes, and some of them were for actual beginners. I started to get to know faces. I felt a kinship with some of the women around me. Sometimes I moved in one direction when most everyone else was going the other way. Sometimes I got so lost I had to stop and watch what everyone around me was doing. When I couldn’t do anymore, I took a little break without feeling like people were judging. It was great.
Unfortunately, the gym was hard to get to. And I started putting in too many hours at work. So I stopped going. I miss that. I’d like to find that again.
My husband Ted and I got a one month membership to a nearby gym heavily discounted—a Groupon. We thought we’d try it out, maybe it was something we could do together. But we didn’t go as often as we should. I was really interested in learning how to use the machines, because I need to build up the muscles in my legs because of my knee problems. Though I knew how to use the machines in the past, I was rusty. Ted didn’t know how to use them either.
According to the gym schedule, there were times when a trainer was on the gym floor to show you how to use the machines. We went at the scheduled time twice. The first, the trainer was on a paid personal training gig and there was no one else around to help us. The second, the trainer assigned to the floor was “busy” helping a muscle-bound guy, joking and laughing with him. He finally helped us for a few rushed minutes before the time slot was up that taught us very little. When we tried to do it ourselves, we felt dumb. Plus other people were waiting, wanting to use the machines. More competent people.
I looked at the gym’s class schedule, then watched an aerobics class and knew the classes there were going to be too hard for me. I’d slunk out of classes that were out of my league before. Frustrated, we decided not to join the gym long-term.
Maybe we should have pushed harder. Or purchased a training session or two. Or tried somewhere else. But when exercise isn’t something that’s engrained in you, it’s so easy to let it drop off. Especially when you’re busy and worried you might stop going. Again. And the gym is kind of expensive, and you’re not sure you really want to spend the money. Besides, you feel out of place and slightly intimidated.
Now we try to go to the exercise room in the basement of our building. We feel so much better when we go. Usually we are the only ones down there. It’s really bare-bones. I mainly just use the bike. I tell myself it’s better than nothing. It’s free, and when I don’t go, I feel less guilty because I didn’t pay for it. I want to go more. I need to work less and manage my time better.
It’s hard enough to get (and stay) motivated. It also can be hard to feel comfortable. You feel like everyone’s looking at you. Even though I’m not as heavy as I used to be, I can feel self-conscious. Because I know I’m not that fit, and I feel inferior to those around me who are in better shape. You’re so vulnerable when you’re exercising. Breathe shortening, face reddening, sweating. Staggering off the bike or treadmill to get a drink of water.
But exercise can also be the best feeling in the world. Your body feels stronger, more alive and you feel parts of yourself you didn’t know were there.
The gym and its staff should be part of the solution, not the problem. They should work harder to make people of both genders, all sizes and skill levels feel comfortable, and equally important and able to get the most out of their experiences. People in the gym should be less judgmental and more supportive. And we should put those people who are cruel or simply neglectful in their places. Or at the very least, ignore them because they are jerks who we shouldn’t let in our heads.
There’s so much buzz about the “obesity epidemic.” And how we all need to “eat healthier” and “work out more.” Yet gyms don’t always make it easy to work out. They need to do better. I’m not letting them off the hook.
At the same time, if there’s a place like Body Exchange that works for some women, and gets them into the gym and keeps them there, why not? Getting fit is so hard and so important, I say do whatever works. Who are we to tell someone else what they should feel comfortable with? Maybe you feel more at home. Maybe your fitness needs are better accommodated. Maybe you just bond with the people there better.
Why give your money to a gym that’s not working for you to make a point? They need to step up their game, or we shouldn’t be opening our wallets to them.