Exercise, Fat, Health at Every Size, Self-Image

Why People Hate the Gym

So, we recently got rid of the car. It’s no huge hardship in a city with good public transportation, but of course, in the first few weeks of going carless, you become aware of all the places that are suddenly much more of a PITA to get to. 

Over the last several months, I’ve been trying to pick a real gym — specifically, one with a pool — to go to. Before that it was Curves, the yoga studio, or the Pilates studio for any workouts beyond walking. But I really wanted to take a regular water fitness class and maybe start swimming laps, so I started hitting classes at various local gyms on guest passes and non-committal punch cards. I’d narrowed it down to two favorites and was just about to buy a membership at one of them. Then we got rid of the car, at which point I realized that getting to either of those two gyms would require riding at least two buses for a travel time of about 45 minutes, even though they’re pretty close as the crow flies. And I realized that realistically, that meant I would never go to the gym, especially in winter.

So I made with the Google and found a gym that’s a mile away from home, so I can walk when it’s nice and take a bus that goes practically door-to-door in 15 minutes when it’s not. Took a tour, bought a membership, done and done. It’s pretty no-frills, but that means it’s pretty cheap, and they have a pool, which is all I really care about. 

Last night, I went to my first water fitness class there. I was all excited, because this one was called “water Pilates” — but if there’s one thing I should have learned from sampling different water fitness classes at different gyms, it’s that they’re all pretty much the same. I went to one that supposedly involved an element of “water yoga,” but all that meant was that the teacher reminded us to breathe deeply a lot. Likewise, “water Pilates” means you get reminded to engage your abs a lot. That’s about it. Fortunately, I like plain old water fitness, so I can live with that, even if I am inclined to grumble about false advertising.

ANYWAY. All of that is background for the point, which we’ll get to now.

So, the instructor is friendly, the class is going along fine, and then it starts. While we’re doing arm exercises, she babbles: “It’s really easy to fatigue the triceps, because they’re smaller muscles and we don’t use them as much. You know what’s funny? We use our biceps all the time, because —” [mimes bringing fork to mouth]. “If we just did this –” [mimes pushing plate away] “–more often, we’d all be better off! Best diet in the world, and you’re using your triceps!”


Really? Pushing food away is the best diet in the world? But okay, a certain amount of that crap is to be expected from people out in the non-Fatosphere world, especially fitness instructors. Shake it off, Kate!

And then.

“Wow, the pool’s pretty empty today! Usually, we have to deal with lap swimmers splashing everywhere — and since the Olympics started, of course we’ve got a lot more of them! Everybody watches Michael Phelps and thinks, ‘Oh, someday, I could do that'” [makes face]. “And I’m just like, no, you couldn’t, and you don’t look as good in a Speedo, either!” 

I’m sorry, WHAT? I know you’re making what you think are innocuous little jokes here, lady, but seriously? FUCK OFF. First, you’ve got two new students in class today, including me, and you think it’s wise to give the impression that the instructors at this gym make fun of newbies for both technique and HOW WE LOOK IN SWIMSUITS? 

Second, nobody in their right mind looks at Michael Phelps and thinks, “I could do that.” Personally, I wouldn’t look at a freshman on a high school swim team and think, “Someday, I could do that.” I’m never going to get up at the crack of dawn to train for hours, let alone every day. I have zero interest in athletic competition, and even less in trying to sculpt my body to look “better” in a bathing suit. And yet, it was indeed the Olympics that inspired me to finally commit to a damned gym membership so I can spend more time in the pool. Because when I watch swimming on TV, half the time, I’m not even looking at the athletes. I’m looking at the pretty blue water and thinking how much I want to be in there

I fucking love to swim. I especially love to just splash around for fun, which is why water aerobics appeals to me, even if I’m 30 years younger than the target market. But for over 15 years, I almost never got in the water, because I was too ashamed of how I looked in a swimsuit. I could not bring myself to do something I knew to be incredibly fun and good for me, because I didn’t have the kind of body that I believed would earn me the right to appear in public mostly naked. And that’s in part because of assholes constantly commenting on how other folks look in bathing suits (or yoga pants, tank tops, miniskirts, you name it), and who has the right to wear them, and who should really just stay home until they magically become thin enough that their flesh won’t offend right-thinking people. 

For over 15 fucking years, I just stayed home. 

“Harmless jokes” like that are neither harmless nor jokes to me. 

And wait, it gets better. After class, I stopped to talk to the teacher (about the towels, nothing at all loaded). I knew I should say something about how much her remarks had bothered me — if nothing else, point out that joking about pushing your plate away being “the best diet in the world” might not be such a great idea in case she’s got someone recovering from an eating disorder in the class — but frankly, I wasn’t up to it. I do not always have the energy to confront people about this shit, and last night, I just wanted to get dressed, get out of there, and try a class with a different instructor next time.

So she asks how I heard about the class, and I say, “Well, I just signed up here because we got rid of the car, and it’s the closest gym with a pool for me. I knew I wouldn’t keep going to a gym that was hard to get to.” 

Her eyes light up, and she starts telling me how she’s actually a wellness coach — specializing in weight management! — and she’s always telling people stuff like that, how you’ve got to make it easy for yourself and get rid of all the excuses if you want to keep going. At first, I’m nodding, ’cause yeah — obviously, I agree. Then she fires off 85 other tricks — all of which I’ve heard before, and/or done myself — with the strong implication that she assumes this is the first time I have ever considered exercising in my life, and I have actually just asked her for help in learning how to haul my poor flabby ass to the gym. 

And then. AND THEN. Unbidden, she tells me more about her weight management services. “You know, I always tell people there’s no magic bullet –” OH REALLY YOU DON’T SAY “–but you have to change your behavior over time and really find a way to stick with it…” 

Fortunately for her, she did not say the words “lifestyle changes,” which meant I didn’t have to deck her. But man, did I ever want to, especially when she wrapped it all up with this:

“So, do you have any particular… concerns?”

To her credit, when I said no and glared a little, she covered — asking specifically about injuries and whatnot, stuff she should know about as a teacher. 

Me: Nope, thanks, I’m good.

Her: Okay, so you’re… healthy?


Me: Yep. Thanks. BYE.

So. It’s my first class at a gym where I just signed a 12-month contract, and I have to listen to pro-dieting, anti-fat, anti-FOOD commentary throughout (there were more examples than the ones I gave), AND get an unsolicited pitch for “weight management” services before I’m allowed to hit the goddamned shower. AWESOME.

Of course, there are other water fitness teachers at the gym, and I will certainly be trying out their classes. (Though it irks me unreasonably that if I don’t show up to this one again, this woman will write me off as a “typical” lazy fatty who couldn’t stick with it.) I’m also thinking of taking some swimming lessons to improve my strokes and learn how to make lap swimming seem a little less mind-numbing to me — so I can eventually get my water fix without having to interact with other human beings at all. And, if I’m feeling strong enough, I might just go back to one of this woman’s classes and tell her privately that I’m a body acceptance activist who believes in HAES, and I find her patter really troubling and alienating. To be fair, apart from everything I’ve mentioned above — which amounted to maybe 5 minutes altogether, out of an hour — she was a good teacher, and I liked her. So maybe it’s worth taking up my teaspoon for this one. I just hate having to do that, you know? I spend all fucking day reading and writing about this shit, and I want to get in the pool to clear my head, not fill it with more work to be done.

And can I just say, this is one of the many reasons why so many people, fat and thin, hate the fucking gym. It’s not because we’re too lazy or don’t like exercise; it’s because at so many gyms, the culture is all about punishing and depriving yourself, not moving for the joy and genuine health benefits — as opposed to appearance “benefits” — of it. I’m really, really hoping this woman is an anomaly and does not actually represent the culture of the gym. I’m hoping every other instructor I meet will be more of a Terry. But I’m not too optimistic, frankly. And if I do have to deal with little arrows of fat hate coming at me every time I go to a class or work with a trainer there, it is going to be a lot harder to drag my ass there on a regular basis. Not because I don’t like exercise, but because I don’t like the default assumption that any fat person who darkens a gym door hates her body, wants to lose weight, and will give up if professionals don’t take it upon themselves to “motivate” her to work harder. For fuck’s sake, SHUT UP AND LET ME ENJOY MYSELF, and I’ll actually come back here without you having to do a thing.

194 thoughts on “Why People Hate the Gym”

  1. And can I just say, this is one of the many reasons why so many people, fat and thin, hate the fucking gym. It’s not because we’re too lazy or don’t like exercise; it’s because at so many gyms, the culture is all about punishing and depriving yourself, not moving for the joy and genuine health benefits.

    This is exactly it. And exactly why I will never do any exercise in a class situation, or with a personal trainer. I don’t need someone trying to “motivate” me by berating me.

    Where on earth did they get the idea that shaming is a good motivator? Does it EVER work?

    I keep wishing I had enough money to start my own bullshit-free health club. Or that we at least had a Planet Fitness around here somewhere.

  2. Maybe go and swim laps at her while she’s teaching? :D That avoids the ‘lazy fatty’ thing and annoys her like she annoyed you without having to confront her. (I know, it’s a totally petty suggestion, and two wrongs don’t make a right, but the idea made me giggle…)

    I miss being able to swim at a swimming hole. I like leisurely swimming in non-chlorinated water better than anything else, and it’s not something I’m likely to be able to do in a city.

    I totally understand about the gym commute without a car, too. I was just about to join a gym (one I could actually afford! –no classes or pool, though) with a 15 minute commute to where I lived, when we suddenly decided to move. Now all the branches of that gym take 45 minutes plus to get to. :( And when you add my fear of dealing with mean gym people (the last one I dealt with was AWFUL –after going through the routine he put me through to teach me how to use some of the weight machines, I couldn’t lift my arms to shoulder height for a week!), that means that I’d NEVER go.

  3. Or … how about simply printing your entire posting, put it an envelope and write “FOOD for thought” and handing it to her “to read later” as you get in the pool next time. I understand that it is not our job to enducate every idiot about issues of self and/or fat acceptance and health at any size. And DO try all the other classes and instructors. At my gym one makes me want to scream and never come near her again, two are OK, and one I am CRAZY about. He is an openly gay man who makes the hour SO FUN, is encouraging, never makes the above described dumb comments, suggests we all go at our own pace, and make our workouts our own. The hour passes so quickly and his work out is so thorough. I am a 380 pound 52 year old lady and it is a bit of a miracle that I enjoy his class so much. And did I mention FUN? FUN, FUN, FUN. When I do laps by myself I usually get bored after half an hour.

  4. I wish you could get this published as a guest column in a magazine targeting trainers and fitness instructors. (Hell, why aim small — I wish you could get it into Newsweek as a “My Turn” column.) It is so spot on and I think it’s the kind of point that could actually create a “click” moment for a lot of these gym people.

  5. Kate, I’m so sorry about that.

    My water exercise class (actually called H2Bo ’cause we do a bunch of Tae-Bo/kickboxing) includes 15 minutes of actual in-the-water yoga poses AND is taught by a FA activist. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

  6. I am a lap swmmer. I just wanted to encourage you to swim laps, because it is awesome, and also reassure you that swimming laps isn;t particularly exhausting or tiresome.

    I have a minor heart condition that makes it impossible for me to exercise any harder than mildly hard (it gets anaerobic for me pretty quickly, my heart races so) and I can swim a mile no problem.

    Two things that will help you have a good swim are goggles and a snorkel. The goggles make you see and keep the chlorine out, and the snorkel makes it possible to breather deeply and evenly whiole swimming instead of gasping and bobbing. The actual experience of swimming a mile is it gets really hypnotic and you feel like a dolphin, and your arms and legs move automatically after a while.

    Also, start with ten laps and work your way up to wherever you want to be. Don’t get down on yourself for starting small. I always start small at the beginning of summer.

  7. Minneapolis! It’s the YMCA.

    Also: I hear you about lap swimming being mind-numbing. I tried it for a while, when we had a different instructor, and I got bored out of my mind on about the third lap.

  8. Oh Kate. *MY* first impulse was Switch to another teacher, find one that’s better behaved, and quietly inform the management about the reasons for switching – cause some gyms keep track of how many members attend which classes, and sometimes instructors sit in on one another’s classes to learn, so I presume such gyms are interested in training instructors in, uh, gym pedagogy? Whatever you want to call it.

    But quietly speaking to the instructor herself is much better. It’s always unfair, though, that you (collective you: all of us) have to always be the one teaching the teacher.

  9. P.S. I don’t have a car, so I straight-up quit going to the gym for similar reasons – even though I’m fairly well padded in thin privilege. I just do not do yoga to burn calories. I do not do yoga to punish my abs. I don’t even do PIlates for those reasons. And the nearest gym takes great pride in its whittle-down-and-tone-up approach.

    So I quit after a month, invested my money in a mat and some good instructional DVDs, and stayed home until an excellent yoga studio opened up nearby.

  10. I think you should make an appointment to talk to the teacher, separate from your exercise time. I think she would benefit from it.

    If she ends up making you not want to go there, I’d suggest a word with management on your way out. They should know who cost them business in this economy.

  11. And exactly why I will never do any exercise in a class situation, or with a personal trainer. I don’t need someone trying to “motivate” me by berating me.

    I’ve had a very good experience with my personal trainer. She’s a little bit pro-weight loss, but she has NEVER pushed it on me in our sessions. I mainly do strength training with her, and the focus is mostly on getting stronger. She’s not all chipper and hyper, either. She’s very low-key, although she’ll jokingly yell at me to “get mean!” when I’m starting to struggle with my reps.

    She’s not really pro-FA or HAES, but she’s definitely not anti-fat. A couple months ago she confided in me that she suspected her daughter had an eating disorder, and she’s told me more recently that her daughter is now in treatment. So I think she’s more sensitive to body image issues than some other trainers might be. She never asks me about my eating habits, except to make sure that I get a big enough breakfast before going to my training sessions. And I really appreciate that.

    On a different note, my husband and I recently went to Aruba for a wedding, and I was reminded of how much I LOVE the ocean. I’m less fond of pools, but I do really like swimming and being in the water. Maybe I should look into some water fitness classes….

  12. I used to go to a Curves gym. At first I really liked it, because I had plenty of time to go, and the times I went were pretty empty and I could get on any machine I wanted and do my stuff and leave.

    Then the next semester came and my class schedule was different, and suddenly every time I went it was crowded, hot, and noisy, with loud, bad music playing because of some class going on (and of course the classes are full of tiny women yelling stuff about “workin it” and “getting sexy” and whatever) and I had to mill around waiting for whatever machine I wanted to use.

    If gyms were like playgrounds, I’d be happy to go when they’re busy and full. Since they’re more like the gauntlet, I prefer to go when almost nobody is there, and be left the hell alone, and do my stuff, and get out. I especially hate the loud noise and music when I’m trying to do things with my muscles… exercise is almost like a moving meditation for me, and all that racket really interferes with my zen.

  13. There is a really nice ($$$$$) gym in my office building that I used to go to. Everybody there was super nice and friendly, even my trainer ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$) was great, and he never really focused on weight loss, he even admonished me to stay away from the scale. We focused on a lot of things that helped me improve my coordination and balance and just generally get me in better shape.

    And honestly, I never felt unwelcome there, everyone was so super friendly. *I* was the one with the problem in the beginning but I got over it. I actually had the most horrible motto ever to make myself feel better. I twas so not FA, I’m not even going to repeat it, it fills me with shame.

    However I never went to a class, they were all scary things like PilaDanceFightUBerFITNESS, and SpinningForTheOBsessedCrazyPerson.

    I do miss feeling more in shape, but there was nothing enjoyable about going to the gym for me. Even if it was a very nice gym. (Oh and I’m poor now, so i can’t afford a gym where people will kiss my ass anymore.)

  14. Ugh. She probably thinks that kind of talk is terribly helpful and motivating, what with all that “we”-ing. We’re all in this miserable cycle of restriction and self-loathing together, girls!

    My top hate about my gym was the Sky Sports (Men’s bodies are power tools!) and MTV (Women’s bodies are ornaments!) on big screens. As soon as I was healthy enough to go out running again, I cancelled my membership. But no, I couldn’t be arsed to tell them why.

  15. P.S. I realized that I said, in the same post, that my trainer is “pro-weight loss” and “not anti-fat” and realized that these are incompatible statements. So I should clarify. She has never tried to push weight loss on me. I do think she has a bit of the “thin=healthy” mindset, but, in my sessions with her, at least, she has focused solely on helping me become as strong and fit as possible.

  16. Another lap swimmer checking in…

    To curb the lap swimming boredom, you can really mix it up! Try different strokes… try the strokes in different positions (eg, do freestyle while on your side, using only the arm that’s on top)… try just kicking, just pulling, using one leg or arm at a time… You don’t have to do all freestyle for your workout. And you don’t have to keep going and going and going. Watch the swim teams practice. They do different drills in short bursts. They just don’t break long enough for their heart rate to slow down, so it stays largely aerobic. But hec… break for as long as you need to. Like you say… Michael Phelps (pant, drool) may inspire, but it’s not like we’re all gonna be him.

    Some of my favorite drill combinations came from a fantastic coach I had for a while. Wearing fins and with a kickboard, do freestyle kick like any of these:

    * 100 meters (4 lengths in most gym pools), use only right leg going down the pool, and only left leg coming back
    * 100 meters, kick 3 beats right leg, 3 beats left leg, 3 right, 3 left, etc — try it with fewer or more beats
    * 100 meters, kick freestyle for 4 beats (L R L R), kick BUTTERFLY (dolphin kick — both feet at once, use the abs) for 4 beats, repeat
    * 100 meters, kick down the lane slow, kick back FAST

    All of those can be done with a freestyle kick on your back, too. Most of them, you can start doing them at any level — if 100m is too much, try 50m. “Fast” and “slow” are totally relative. Stop after each drill/length/whatever if need be. Mix it up. It’s really fun! And with fins on, you not only go pretty fast (which can make you feel like a superstar), but it really uses the quad muscles.

  17. I have a spinning instructor that I finally worked up the nerve to call out. I’d like to say it’s entirely attributable to me becoming a kickass FA activist; however, I’ll admit it’s more due to moving to a new gym work pays for.

    I’ve endured 3 (THREEEEE!) years of this guy who is a big fish in a small pond of local cycling enthusiasts and rides his bike to the gym to teach the class. He acts as if helping us flabby, unwashed masses is seriously harshing his badass cycling buzz and we should really be grateful he even shows up 10 minutes late… Anyway, my bad for continuing to go all this time but it’s a fantastic workout.

    He tends to harp on and on about those of us “not trying hard enough” and that to “lose weight you’re going to have to crank it up and challenge yourselves.” I find spinning awesome because one can adjust as they see fit…

    My false courage kicked in on the last day I took his class before the big move. Afterward I thanked him for the class as per usual and added, “You of all people should know not everyone exercises to lose weight.”

    I didn’t give him time to say anything because I’m a weenie but I’m glad I finally got it out. I have felt attacked by that shit because my weight has been ALL over the place during the time I’ve seen this guy every single week.

  18. This is just the article I was looking for! I’ve been thinking about joining a gym for ages (They had rowing machines at my school once – they’re the most fun thing in the world! Plus I’m a bit feeble), but I’m worried it’ll be a horrifying exercise in “So how much do you want to lose and where do you want to lose it from?!”

    I talked to someone who goes to Curves and she says they measure and weigh you – I don’t want that. Not in a “scared of my weight” sort of way but more “I just want to be able to run better and crush teacakes with my fist, I don’t see how weight is relevant”. How do you other Shapelings deal with gym things? The whole”you’re only here to lose weight” mantra is the one thing that could really put me off. (That and not having a gym buddy – but most of my friends are pro-diet so I imagine I’d have more fun on my own anyway)

  19. I just went swimming with some Toronto Shapelings I met after we had a meetup resulting from the “Where do I find fat friends?” Aunt Fattie post, and it was AWESOME!!
    We were doing sommersaults and running back and forth between the hot tub and the pool. We were talking about Michael Phelps, but just how he’s a freak of nature (in the best way possible) and has such a huge arm span and can hyperextend his knees, and how that would not be possible for ANYONE ELSE EVER.
    Could you find other Shapelings or FA people in your area and start your own little exercise group, Kate?

  20. Ugh. That’s just… enervating. You know? I don’t blame you for not speaking up; sometimes the wall of ignorance is just so high and thick that you just think, “You know, I

    On the other hand, sometimes good things happen. I went to the Hollywood YMCA yesterday to sign up the fam — my little guy wants to be Michael Phelps when he grows up — and figured what the hey, let’s try out the free personal trainer. And my hackles went up when he asked me my goals. With great trepidation I replied, “I need to increase my strength, speed and endurance.”

    And bless his heart if he didn’t reply, “It sounds like you’re in training for something.” Not a word about losing weight, not a word about lifestyle changes. He just listened to me, thought about what I wanted and used that information to build me a workout. You know, what personal trainers are SUPPOSED to do. Isn’t it frustrating that thoughtful, respectful treatment is rare enough that I’m excited to have received some?

  21. I work out at our local JCC, where the trainer is an amazing guy who totally gets motivation and acceptance. I don’t know if he learned this somewhere or it’s just who he is. The first time I went in I asked him to show me how to use the treadmill. He did, and when I was done, he said “OK! Let’s work out a routine on the machines!” I said “No! No! I can’t do that!” He said “OK, then, come on in whenever you can use the treadmill”. Every time I came in he was happy to see me and had something interesting to say, not related to my workout. A few months later, when I went back and asked for the weight routine, he spent an hour with me getting me set up.

    Over the past few years I’ve been in and out of a routine. He never nudges me, always welcomes me back, and never comments about my weight or my appearance. He does cheer me on when he notices me kicking it up a notch on the treadmill or doing more reps on the machines. I never thought I’d be a gym rat, but he makes it fun (I also really, really like the new individual TV screens on the treadmills and bikes. No more endless nattering financial talking heads).

  22. learn how to make lap swimming seem a little less mind-numbing

    I calculate exponential numbers. If that’s any help.

  23. It’s a business. She capitalizes (literally) on people who feel their body can attain ‘perfection’ with her help. So she tried her sales pitch on you.

    And it didn’t work.

    If she’s a good saleswoman, she’ll just move on to the next mark– I mean customer. If she’s not a good saleswoman, she’ll get out of the business.

  24. I just went swimming with some Toronto Shapelings I met after we had a meetup resulting from the “Where do I find fat friends?” Aunt Fattie post, and it was AWESOME!!

    Oh, yippee!

    Could you find other Shapelings or FA people in your area and start your own little exercise group, Kate?

    Actually, OTM and I have gone to water aerobics together before, but the problem is the gym-location thing, once again. I can motivate to go to her gym (or vice versa) maybe once a month, and she’s said she’ll drop into a class at this new one with me, but neither one of us is going to go through the hassle of getting to the other’s gym a couple times a week.

    Besides, although I love hanging out with her, I’m not personally much of a gym-buddy person, anyway. Yeah, it would help to have reinforcement in terms of dealing with the fat hate (at least, someone to roll my eyes at), but generally speaking, I like to be in my own little world when I exercise, whether in a class or solo. I also like to go at off-times, since I work at home, so I’m a piss-poor gym buddy, basically.

  25. I keep wishing I had enough money to start my own bullshit-free health club.

    Omg, Tari, I would be your first member. WANT.

    I used to go to my local Y in Seattle and deeply enjoyed the (for the most part) lack of bullshit. Weirdly, being around a scale every time I went got triggery for me in a really surprising way; I loved going to work out, but I felt compelled to weigh myself each visit. I have never owned a scale, so that compulsion freaked me out. I think I would not have that reaction now.

    Kate, I hope your other classes suck less. I have been thinking about joining a gym too, even though I could use the campus one, because a) I know I won’t go unless it’s really close to my home, and b) I am not convinced that I want to work out with nubile undergrads.

  26. Omg, Tari, I would be your first member. WANT.

    That was Tal, which I only know because I misread it as Tari so many times, I always double-check now. ::)

    I am not convinced that I want to work out with nubile undergrads.

    Yeah, I never used the DePaul gym when I could have, for exactly that reason.

  27. I hate getting the “you’re over fat for an athlete”. It’s like give me a break! What’s next, “you’re over fat for an anorexic”.
    Most people expect everyone to work out and exercise, but then when you do you get ridiculed and put down. It’s not motivational, it’s discouraging.

  28. I love lap swimming. Hubby and I do it together and when we both use the boards to do a lap we use our legs and chat. Then we’ll alternate that with doing a lap with some other stroke. I do a lot of stuff on my back in the pool too since I love it!

    Goggles are a total must. Although sometimes I wish I wasn’t watching how dirty the pool seems. But the goggles help a LOT when I’m on my back swimming a lap and someone in the next lane is being Splashy McGee and water flies all over the place.

    Our current gym is pretty nice and we’ve never been accosted by weight-loss jerks. The counter folks who check you in are very friendly and such. All in all this gym experience is fabulous compared to others.

    Good luck with other instructors! IF they are all the same, you might want to tell management your concerns. JMHO though.

  29. Jess: that’s already there — you don’t get diagnosed as anorexic if you’re not underweight by a certain amount.

    I just went and looked at gyms again because of this conversation –this time looking for places with water classes. The only one cost EUR 17 a WEEK! *blink*

  30. I’ve never belonged to a gym. For me, it’s always been dance classes. Because dance classes are usually about enjoying yourself and none of that other crap.

  31. I joined a gym in my neighborhood a few months ago and got the “free personal training session”. Which in fact really pissed me off. The trainer assumed, without asking, that I wanted to lose weight and wanted advice about what to eat, and that I was afraid of getting big muscles and therefore should only lift tiny weights 20 times instead of big weights a few times. I kept arguing with him but still wound up doing things that I didn’t want to do, and by the end I was furious. I would hire a personal trainer in a heartbeat if I could be certain they would LISTEN to me and not impose their own goals on me, and not force me through a routine just because it’s the same routine they force everyone through and they can’t stand to deviate from the pattern.

    I think it WOULD improve the gym culture if people who disagreed and were well informed kept speaking up. “Why wouldn’t I want big muscles?” “Why do you assume I want to lose weight?” “Excuse me, I’m recovering from an eating disorder and X is not helpful to me.”

    But, it’s hard to do. Maybe the starting point is a polite-but-firm “I disagree” or “That’s not what I’m here for.”

    It would be awesome if Kate could get one of the trade magazines for gyms/personal trainers to publish a article on “How to treat fat people working out at your gym” or “How to be a body-accepting personal trainer.”

    Or if we had a blog to rate gyms across the country on their fat-postivity and general “healthiness.”

  32. And can I just say, this is one of the many reasons why so many people, fat and thin, hate the fucking gym. It’s not because we’re too lazy or don’t like exercise; it’s because at so many gyms, the culture is all about punishing and depriving yourself, not moving for the joy and genuine health benefits.

    BINGO!!! This is the main reason I don’t haul my 330 lb. ass to a gym, whether it’s the meat market kind like Bally’s, or Curves. So many of them are all about the weight loss and no-pain-no-gain and not about moving to just be moving.

    There is an activity center down the road from me that offers an exercise room for $25 a year. They have a treadmill, an exercise bike, and other equipment. My mom has been there and apparently it’s very low-key and quiet. That’s more my style. Also, the local community college is offering a new class called “Fun Buns” that is supposed to be for people of all sizes, which sounds neat too.

    I agree with whomever said the instructor was trying to eye you as a potential client. and she’ll realize you don’t want to listen to her bullshit, and she’ll find someone else. She’s in the business of shame. You’re just too smart not to fall for it.

  33. Oops, my bad! Sorry Tal. I would still go to your no-bullshit gym.

    Oh, hey, Fillyjonk, I’m sure she doesn’t mind. :)

    I agree with whomever said the instructor was trying to eye you as a potential client.

    Oh, 100 fucking percent, which is part of why it pissed me off so much. Especially since it’s not something she does under the aegis of the gym, so I signed up for one thing and she was trying to sell me another.

    So I just e-mailed one of the swim instructors (sight unseen) and asked about taking some lessons, emphasizing that I do not give a rat’s ass about speed or weight loss, but just want to have some fun and set small goals that make things more interesting. I’m bummed, because there’s a group adult swim class starting soon, but of course it’s on the ONLY night I can’t do it, so if I want to start now, I gotta shell out for privates. On the upside, I love private lessons (at least I’ve loved them in yoga and Pilates) because, you know, I hate other people. And hey, I’m not shelling out for gas anymore…

  34. This is spot on and why I stopped going to a gym. I always felt like I had to LOOK good, not FEEL good, especially when I was working with a trainer.

    I opted for a small elliptical at home with some weights and a balance ball and I do it at home by myself. Just because I want to feel good. And I do.

    But yeah, I miss the amenities, like a pool. If only my townhouse could fit an indoor pool. Humph.

  35. It’s possible that she has an eating disorder. We don’t know that for sure, and it doesn’t excuse her propagation of bs. At the same time, it seems like that kind of rhetoric hurts everyone, including the person spouting it.

  36. Kate, I am so sorry that this happened to you and I’m even more affected by the fact that you feel you have no rest from your (very important) work.

    Please know that there are others of us who are also fighting this fight out here. You may pick your battles knowing that you are not alone. Speak to the instructor, or don’t. You have the right to exercise in peace.

  37. I’ve heard that biceps/triceps thing before. I wonder if it’s part of aerobics instructor training class or something.

    When I have taken classes at a non-size-accepting gym, I’ve found it much more annoying to deal with the other gym members than the instructors. Women are so conditioned to have body-hatred conversations with each other. I can take the instructor aside and point out that I’m not interested in weight loss, but I can’t really declare a fat-hatred-free zone in the locker room without being thought rude.

    I belong to an explicitly size-accepting gym, with no scales. It’s http://everywomanhealthclub.com in Redwood City, Calif. No pool, alas.

  38. This article is all about the reasons I prefer taking long walks instead of going to gyms. It’s a pity, too, because I really miss swimming. Teachers tore their hair out over me because I was always under the water rather than on the surface. I think I may be part dolphin because I only ever come up to breathe. Somehow it seems to panic others.

    If I could find a cheap enough public pool and a plus sized swimsuit that doesn’t assume my little A+ boobs must be DDs, I’d be swimming almost every day, Michael Phelps or no Michael Phelps

    But I have no intention of walking into a gym to be told what a fat ugly fatty I am and how some dingbat’s dorktastic class is the only path to worthy skinniness. I’d rather just take a walk and enjoy the scenery. Walking brings me physical fitness and mental joy. Swimming under the water does the same.

    And if I can’t get mental joy along with the physical benefits, what’s the point in exercising, anyway?

  39. For fuck’s sake, SHUT UP AND LET ME ENJOY MYSELF, and I’ll actually come back here without you having to do a thing.

    You should get this put on a T-shirt and wear it there.

  40. Has there been a compilation of fat-friendly gyms anywhere on the Internet? I suppose it would be a short list, but perhaps there are some hidden gems out there. The gym in my old hometown was not particularly size-accepting, but since it was the only gym in town a lot of fat people went there and I never felt out of place. Also, my sister works there. You’d never believe she’s my sister, since she’s thin (and I’m fat) and has curly dark hair (and mine is straight and fair). But she was always happy to see me there and has never hounded me to lose weight. Unfortunately, I now live in the city and wouldn’t know where to begin.

  41. Teachers tore their hair out over me because I was always under the water rather than on the surface. I think I may be part dolphin because I only ever come up to breathe. Somehow it seems to panic others.

    Well, as a former lifeguard* (yeah, hi, teach, I’ve been in the water before), I can tell you that used to panic me, ’cause I was all, “Wait, where the hell did that one go?!?” (And I was a waterfront lifeguard, not a pool one, so a lot of the time, I couldn’t see kids at all when they went under, and I’d just have to keep scanning to make sure they eventually resurfaced somewhere.)

    And I also love walking for all the reasons you mention, Twistie.

    *Since I made a big deal over not getting in the water for ages because I hated my body, I should point out that this was during one summer when I worked as a camp counselor, and we were all required to train and serve as lifeguards. We were also allowed to wear towels around our waists for modestly when we guarded, and I wore the biggest fucking beach towel I could find, let me tell you.

  42. I think you’re onto something with the “if nothing else, point out that joking about pushing your plate away being “the best diet in the world” might not be such a great idea in case she’s got someone recovering from an eating disorder in the class” thing.

    I mean, statistically speaking, that’s probably quite likely.

    So that may be a good way of introducing that kind of thing to this kind of teacher. The “I have this friend” thing, like, “Y’know, I have this friend, and she’s anorexic, and working really hard to overcome that, and I really wanted to bring her with me to this gym, but I really worry because a few things you said today in this class would be really triggering to someone like her…”

    Just a thought, not for you Kate, but for anyone trying to start a conversation like this. Because, y’know, nobody cares about offending a fat chick, but the idea that maybe something they say may make some actual thin person run off to vomit–that tends to get people thinking. (Sorry, feeling a mite PMSy today).

  43. AND, I’ve just gone completely insane and started HAES Gym Reviews (haes-gyms.blogspot.com)

    If y’all send me your gym reviews about fat-friendliness or HAES-friendliness, I’ll put ’em up! :D

  44. Kate, was your calling bullshit on my comment about anorexia diagnoses about an error on my part (in which case, I’m sorry) or about the DSM definition of the disease?

  45. Sunday I finally read Good In Bed. Your encounter with the teacher reminds me of early in the book when Cannie starts a weight loss program and the nurse comes in to discuss portion control. It becomes immediately clear that the women in the program already KNOW everything the nurse is trying to teach. This is NOT NEW.

    Re: lap swimming, one lap swimmer I know got a waterproof plastic case for her ipod so she can listen to music or books on tape.

  46. I’ve worked front desk at a gym for the past 8 years and believe me, I’ve heard some crazy sh*T from members, co-workers, and even the owner of the gym. I’m 5’1″ and 215 lbs. I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. About 5 years ago, a woman said to me that she was happy to see a woman “of size” working at the gym. I was mortified by the comment then. If she was still a member now, I would tell her how much I appreciated the comment.

  47. This is spot on and why I stopped going to a gym. I always felt like I had to LOOK good, not FEEL good, especially when I was working with a trainer.

    Oh, like how my mother would clean the house before the cleaning woman came over?

  48. Kate, was your calling bullshit on my comment about anorexia diagnoses about an error on my part (in which case, I’m sorry) or about the DSM definition of the disease?

    Oh, the latter! I just wanted to make sure the existence of fat anorexics was noted.

    And yay for new blog! THANKS!

  49. April D, I used to work out with a similar-sized friend at the Pro Club in Redmond and never got crap for being fat. I think it might have been because we were obviously relaxed, chatting, and having fun.

    One nervous-looking new person is easy to pick on. Two new people who are chatting about work and previous workout experiences? Not so much.

  50. Oh, good, I’m glad I didn’t get things that wrong!

    (I nearly stopped eating when I was in middle school. No-one noticed because I didn’t get thin. I stopped when I started fainting in chorus.)

    If anyone wants to help me run the new blog, let me know. (That’ll probably be the first post, frankly –asking for a co-editor or whatever you want to call it.)

  51. Twistie:If I could find a cheap enough public pool and a plus sized swimsuit that doesn’t assume my little A+ boobs must be DDs, I’d be swimming almost every day, Michael Phelps or no Michael Phelps.

    YES YES YES YES YES!!!! Thank you!!

    While I don’t have A-plus boobs, I’ve practically given up on swimsuits because although my boobs are not particularly large, I would actually appreciate some *support* — nursing two kids’ll do that to you — NOT TO MENTION some nipple concealage because for those of us who actually use our swimsuits TO SWIM IN, this is an issue when we get out of the pool and it is cold.

    However, those two stated desires do NOT, actually, combine to yield a desire that my c-cup boobies have nice little foam-dome caves to rattle and flop around in. That, however, has been all that’s available once I find a swimsuit that fits the rest of me. Grrrrr.

    Oh, and Kate, your post was pure brilliance as usual. I want to print it out and leave copies on the table at my gym, where all the trainers and tanning places put their cards and coupons. With a note that says “Just a hint, dears.”

  52. Before I’d discovered your site, I went to my gym (for the first time in years) and hired a trainer via their discount “get people started” program. The first thing he said to me as I hopped on the treadmill was “stick with this and in 6 months you’ll like yourself.”


    I told him “I already like myself.” He had no response to that.

    I bit my tongue though the rest of my sessions with him because I wanted a program I could adapt and grow as I built strength. He wanted me to write down everything I ate, which, at the time, I was calorie restricting and writing shit down. I told him what I was doing and he was just fine with the1,200-1,500 calories I was consuming – with a 5’9″ 225 lb. frame.

    Of course, when I plateaued and my metabolism died – I was doing all the same things and gained two pounds that month – he had little to offer except to decrease my calories and work out more. Crimeny. That’s exactly how to deal with a starvation-mode metabolism.

    Now I am working on HAES, sorting out the crap that others say and that I say to myself. I’m so grateful for your site, Kate. I hope you’ll be around more now that the book is “in the can.”

  53. I find most gyms hostile and not at all interested in getting people to a more healthful place. I think gyms are all about raking in the initial sign up fee, knowing that more than half will never show up after the second week – which means they just got a crapload of profit and won’t need additional personnel for the influx.

    As a member of the much maligned — and deservedly so — mainstream media, I had a gym owner call me and pitch a story about a local bank employee who’d dropped 75 pounds because his boss had paid him $10,000 to do it. That’s right. $10,000.

    I said “no” and the musclehead freaks.

    I explained that I couldn’t imagine anything more depressing or misleading to subscribers or readers who already felt like they were going to die in five years if they didn’t lose weight to read about some guy getting $10,000 for doing something they’ll SPEND much more over their lives trying and failing to do.

    I didn’t feel like perpetuating the unproven assumption that losing weight will add a decade to your life, and that losing weight is symbolically worth $10,000. Or the “million bucks” you feel like for five minutes until, well, the hawt new bod isn’t impervious to pain, irritation or bullshit anymore.

  54. Kate, I think you’ve illustrated perfectly why I DON’T take exercise classes at the gym. I have my own goals, and classes usually have theirs, and they just don’t match up very well.

    I’m very pleased with the gym I go to – we pay our money, we show up, we do what we want to. No pressure, no instructors, no gym teacher yelling that “you’re not trying hard enough”! (Yes, I’m still traumatized by grade school and high school gym classes even though it’s been 25 years.).

    I swim laps because it’s FUN, not because I want to lose weight. I love the muscle toning, but more importantly I love how it releases my stress and how meditative it is. Well, most of the time, sometimes I work out new sewing patterns while I swim. It’s also the closest I’ve ever come to flying. I’ve always dreamed of flying on my own.

    And fun/stress relief/because I enjoy the activity is the only reason I will ever exercise regularly. The rest is nonsense.

  55. and since the Olympics started, of course we’ve got a lot more of them! Everybody watches Michael Phelps and thinks, ‘Oh, someday, I could do that’” [makes face]. “And I’m just like, no, you couldn’t, and you don’t look as good in a Speedo, either!”

    This is just . . . so bizarrely revelatory of a comment to me. She looks at people swimming around Olympics time and doesn’t think “We’re busy – people must have been inspired to try swimming!” she thinks “We’re busy – God, all these delusional fatties think they’re as good as Michael Phelps.”

    Typical, of course, to assume that people aren’t perfectly capable of judging for themselves that they are not an olympic-caliber swimmer, just like they’re not capable of judging when they’re hungry (better than weight watchers or jenny craig) or how fat they are or how healthy they are. Nope, guys, we have to ACT NOW to make sure those fatties don’t continue to have inappropriately high self esteem. It’s a national crisis, y’all.

    And, of course, there’s the “Those lazy fatties are too gross to exercise! They should stay at home until they’re less lazy!” paradox.

  56. Here’s another voice begging you to print out that entire post and give one copy each to the instructor and the manager. Begging!

  57. Also, if you figure out how to make lap swimming less mindnumbingly boring let me now. :-) I’ve contemplated getting one of those waterproof iPod cases they sell in SkyMall, but I’m not in a position with really easy access to a lap pool right now (and I do have an apartment complex pool that sort of mutes my “Must get in the water” urges) so I haven’t made the investment.

  58. This sounds similar to an experience I had with a yoga instructor who taught body awareness yoga classes AT AN EATING DISORDER CLINIC and talked about how standing up straight can make us look five pounds thinner, and about how good yoga is as part of a weight loss program, and actually handed out materials entitled “Yoga for Weight Loss.” Oh oh oh and handed out fliers for her dietitian services, the first of which was “Weight Loss and Maintenance.” AT AN EATING DISORDER CLINIC. alskjf;alsjf

    Anyway. This instructor woman is a total clown. And so fucking what if you did see Michael Phelps or Dara whatsername and they inspired you to swim? Isn’t that what awesome athletes are supposed to do? Inspire us all to challenge ourselves and enjoy moving in our bodies? (Or is that only in Happyland, where I am the mayor and sandwiches are free and the fountains bubble forth quality American microbrews and there’s always a seat on the train?) Judging from her attitude towards fat and her assumptions about weight loss, she should be THRILLED that more people would be inspired to get active instead of being a judgmental, dismissive jerk about it.

    Do they have comment cards or something you can fill out? Or you know, I’ll come to a class and roll my eyes at her like crazy. Or “Yeah, we work the biceps all the time *make jerk off gesture with thumb at the top* when we need to be working the triceps! *jerk off gesture with the thumb facing the body*” That probably loses something spelled out like that.

  59. Sweet Machine – I loved the University Y in Seattle and only stopped going there when I moved across town and it was just too far to go. I went to my first group exercise classes there because they had the “Free to Be Fit” program, which is described as follow son the web site: “Free to Be Fit© is aerobics for large women, taught by a large woman! In Free to Be Fit, the environment is designed to be safe, judgment-free, and fun, so participants can enjoy pleasure-based movement.” How’s that for encouraging? And it really was – there was no assumption that you wanted to lose weight – it was just about getting you in there and moving and exercising, regardless of size or skill level. I loved that class!

    I definitely find myself more comfortable at a gym where I walk in and see a diversity of bodies – size, shape, and age. I used to travel a lot for work and would sometimes be stuck with “whatever was closest to the hotel” and occasionally would find one that would make me less comfortable, but every gym I’ve been a member of has been the type where I (and all the other members) can go in, do our thing, and get fit (or be fit) without judgment from other members or staff.

  60. I totally agree with Sylvia Rollins: I hope you do print out this post and shove it under the instructor’s door or into her mailbox. Maybe with a “this is why I’m not coming back to your class” written on top of the envelope. I personally think she really really needs to see this.

    This is probably one situation where being aspie would work to my advantage, as my occasionally jawdropping bluntness would have kicked in. I might have simply internally rolled my eyes about the “pushing food away” comment (although I agree with those who have said you don’t know if you have someone with an ED in your class just by looking, so it’s officially a REALLY FUCKING STUPID THING TO SAY), but if she came up to me afterwards and started probing me like that? She wouldn’t know what hit her. I’d start with, “Well, to be honest with you, I’m really thinking about not coming back, and here’s why.” Not because I’m such a gutsy badass, but because with my neurological wiring, once you push certain buttons on me enough times, you WILL hear noise.

  61. On boobs and swimsuits… I am fortunate in that there are two brands of plus-size suits that at least sometimes work for the Rack o’ Doom (Land’s End and Junonia), but otherwise, I actually feel your pain, Twistie, ’cause they all seem to be made for people in between you and me on the boob scale. (Go figure.)

    As for wanting more support, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about wearing a bra under a bathing suit. That weirds me out a little, but if I do more water fitness classes that involve jumping in the shallow end, I might need to look into it. I’ve heard good things about Decent Exposures, which makes both bras and swimsuits, and designs the suits to be worn over the bras. They have loads of bra sizes, so that could be useful for the As and the G-pluses among us.

    Having said that, the good things I’ve heard are not swimsuit-specific, and I’ve never tried them myself.

    The other thing I’d recommend for support is controversial: the Miraclesuit-type brands that are super-heavy on the lycra and made to suck you in. I hate them philosophically, but they do help me a lot with boob support — AND, during water exercise, they keep my gut from bouncing, which regular suits do not. On the downside, they’re usually fucking expensive, and you might not want or be able to spend that much on a suit you’re going to expose to a lot of chlorine. (Junonia does have a few on sale right now for as low as $40 — the “QuikShape” ones — but $40 is only “low” in context, of course.)

  62. My husband used to swim laps whenever his schedule at work allowed it. Aside from the pleasures of moving in the water, he liked the way it let him think about nothing for awhile. He’d count laps, but otherwise … he just let the water carry him away, and he’d come out of the pool so blissed-out, it was funny.

  63. I was a competitive swimmer for a long time, and a high school coach for 5 years, and I can’t say that it ever stops being mind-numbing, especially when you take out the competition part of the sport. I always liked that about swimming, though. It’s kid of therapeutic for me.
    One way to get cheap, good instruction is to look for a masters team in your area. Most have programs where you can buy a month long membership rather than the annual fee, and most are coached by someone with experience coaching swimmers at all levels. Call around and see if one of the coaches would be willing to give you some stroke instruction during their normal p;practice. I coached masters for a while, and I had college swimmers who had just graduated, and 60 yr olds who had never had any instruction. Most masters programs are similar.
    Since you are comfortable in the water, I would say that taking just a few lessons could really change what you can do. the hardest part about learning to swim the strokes as an adult is the breathing- if you can’t already, learning to breath side to side on freestyle, as opposed to picking your head up could double the distance you can cover. The more efficient your strokes, and the less strain you put on your neck while breathing, the easier it will be to get a good workout. I wouldn’t go with a snorkel, personally. They are kind of cumbersome and unnatural to me, but that might be different if you didn’t learn to breath right at a young age.
    Also, caps and goggles are not just for the competitive swimmers- unless you have really short hair, a cap makes everything so much easier, and goggles are a must.
    I agree with the poster above who said you don’t need to just swim laps- do it like the swim teams do. Warm up, do some drills, kicking, pulling, different strokes, do some short sprints (25’s are fine) and set a goal to get faster, then do a longer swim at around 75% effort and set a goal to add more distance, then cool down. Learn free and backstroke well first. Butterfly is easy to learn, but really hard to do no matter how in shape you are. Breaststroke is the hardest to learn as far as mechanics go, but once you learn you can do it without exerting yourself too much.
    I could go on and on, but- learn how to be efficient and to swim correctly to avoid repetitive use injuries by taking a few lessons. Once you have a few strokes down, there are a lot of free resources online to help you have some variety.

  64. Please print out this post and hand it to the instructor and the gym manager. It’s entirely possible she has never considered the damage her language causes.

  65. Or “Yeah, we work the biceps all the time *make jerk off gesture with thumb at the top* when we need to be working the triceps! *jerk off gesture with the thumb facing the body*” That probably loses something spelled out like that.

    I LOLed anyway.

    And yes about getting in and out of Miraclesuits. That part ain’t fun.

  66. I recently joined the little gym a few blocks from my house for the same reason – I knew that it was the one I was most likely to go to. It’s a bit pricey, but I figured that not having a car and thus not paying exorbitant gas prices, I could afford it. And after years at various 24 Hour Fitnesses and the like, I have to say, I am COMPLETELY in love. Here’s why:

    * When I first came in, the adorable gayboy receptionist eagerly gave me a tour of the facilities, enthusiastically pointed out all the state of the art equipment, talked about how much fun it was to use, described how different machines might work for people with different fitness goals, even gushed about how neat their drinking fountain is (it is pretty cool), made a few comments about strength training and endurance, but never ONCE mentioned weight loss.

    * Within three days of going, I no longer needed to show my membership card because all the employees recognized and greeted me. Not one has ever mentioned weight loss.

    * The exercise bikes have a cool video-game setting where you can race the computer, your friends, or other people in the gym on a variety of virtual bike trails, or even set it up to play a sort of fantasy-tag game where you chase flying dragons around on your bike! I think this is super neat, because I really like the workout I get from riding the bike but usually can’t stick with it for long because I get so bored by the repetitive pedaling in place.

    * In my two weeks there, I have seen a few of the young, thin, muscular, tightly-clothed “gym bunny” body-types that make up the majority of 24 Hour and the college Rec Centers’ population – however, I have also an even greater number of people with a diverse range of body shapes and sizes, not to mention genders, ethnicities, and apparent sexual orientations. And everybody, regardless of body type, seems focused on their workout rather than on how they look.

    * There are mirrors in the dressing room but not anywhere in the workout spaces. I know that looking at yourself in the mirror can be helpful for checking your posture and positioning, but I still feel like this was a positive design choice – for me, at least, because I often find looking at myself in the mirror while working out extremely distracting. (Because I’m so damn sexy, of course.)

    * I have not seen one single scale anywhere in the building.

    * One of the biggest differences from 24 Hour, where they were always trying to sell me stuff (personal training sessions, vitamins, weight loss ‘supplements’, energy drinks, yadda yadda yadda): My gym, which I don’t think has any ‘products’ for sale even if I wanted them, has recently started laying out a great big tray of delicious fresh fruit for members to munch on. That’s right, my *gym* wants to GIVE me FOOD for FREE.

    I haven’t taken any of the classes yet because they haven’t fit with my schedule, but I look forward to it. I am seriously considering making a permanent move to this neighborhood largely because I am so in love with this gym! It could only be more perfect if it had a pool…

    In any case, it just gives a little bit of hope that a No Bullshit Gym is a viable business possibility. :-)

  67. Rebecca that gym sounds so marvelous! *dreams of a gym without blasted scales everywhere* I hate scales. To boot, everytime I see them in my gym now I can’t help but think of the little quip in “Dodgeball” where the sleezy gym owner says “Add 5 lbs to the women’s scale”. I always used to wonder if doctor’s offices did that too…cause we all know how motivating humiliation and self hatred over a silly number can be… *eyeroll* So where is that marvelous gym???

  68. My last personal trainer experience was really fucking irritating, too. Not because she was all “lol your fat” or anything (probably because at the time, I was like a size ten and about her size), but because I told her I had significant knee problems and couldn’t do weight bearing squats and she kept putting weight bearing squats in my little routine. It’s like… You know, I’m willing to put myself through the difficult, occasionally embarrassing weight routine that you’ve developed for me so it’s not like I’m trying to weasel my way out of one exercise out of the fifteen that I am eagerly willing to do. But she took it as a personal affront that I had, and insisted on her respecting, my physical limitations.

    My friend still sees a PT who told him that it was a GOOD THING that the workout regime he developed for him regularly makes him puke. Even worse, the friend is now convinced that only a vomit-inducing workout is actually effective for reaching fitness goals.

    *rolls eyes, makes bicep and tricep strengthening jerk off motions*

  69. @ twistie:

    “my little A+ boobs” made my day. i think that’s the one thing i still get caught up on and i love that. Thanks!

  70. My friend still sees a PT who told him that it was a GOOD THING that the workout regime he developed for him regularly makes him puke. Even worse, the friend is now convinced that only a vomit-inducing workout is actually effective for reaching fitness goals.

    That came up on one of the sanity watchers-violating troll threads I was reading a while back. The solution apparently is “If you don’t like puking, don’t eat before you go to the gym.” Because lightheaded dizziness is sooooo much better.

  71. because, you know, I hate other people.

    That just summed up how I feel in a nutshell. Except that I really love people, just not in organized clusters. :-)

    I am on my way out now, but I intend to find references for what I’m about to say. Curves, to my understanding, is SUPER pro-birth (as in anti-women making choices for themselves), and maybe a few other things that some feminists may not want to support. Like I said, I read this in passing a while back, but wanted to throw it out there for those who might care. I will look it up when I get home.

  72. This is one of the reasons I’ve never taken any classes at my gym. I go there, walk on a treadmill until I’m bored, and do some work on the weight machines. No one bothers me, and I don’t bother them. I get some sideways looks sometimes, little smiles from thin women who are probably thinking it’s cute that I’m at the gym, and occasionally a great big grateful grin from another fat person. Every once in a while I get some unsolicited fitness advice from someone, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the kind of experience at my gym that you had with this instructor.

    I really hope you find a way to tell her why what she is doing is so offensive.

    On a related note, I think we need a cute Cafe Press T-shirt that says something like “This is not my first time at the gym.”

  73. April,

    I hate scales too. I only recently made the decision to stop using them, so having them around still tempts me to step on and then beat up on myself. But I am getting better! I don’t have one in my house anymore either!

    The gym is called Qi Kinesis – it’s in Denver. Their website is: http://www.qidenver.com. I just noticed that one of the pictures on the front page is of a woman measuring herself with a measuring tape – ick. But on the other hand, I also just came across these blurbs:

    Jessica [the yoga instructor] has been practicing Iyengar-style yoga for fifteen years and teaching for four years in the Denver area as a certified yoga instructor. She believes that yoga should be accessible to all people regardless of body-type and level of athleticism, and age.


    Qi’s Kinesis is the ultimate in training for people in wheelchairs with almost any type of disability! Great for staying fit for everyday life or for the disabled athlete. From just the daily pushing of your chair or a simple transfer to wheelchair racing, handcycling, sled hockey, skiing, basketball, softball, rugby, and other sports.

    In addition to Kinesis, Qi also offers a full line of Technogym’s premium line of machines for training the upper body. Qi’s staff and personal trainers are committed to making a difference in your fitness levels no matter what your abilities.

    And that info is fairly prominently displayed on the site, so that’s neat too.

  74. krisanne, that was my Y! I used to live at 52nd & Brooklyn, so I was literally right around the corner. My only complaint about the place was that there was no pool. But everyone there was nice, and I saw people of lots of sizes and shapes working out. Plus, living so close, I could just go home to shower, which was uber-convenient. Sigh.

  75. For the past 10 weeks I have been working out with a personal trainer. When I started they asked why I was there and about things like eating habits, sleeping habits, stress and general life stuff. Not a word about my weight (349 lbs) and no weighing, measuring, etc. Last week I mentioned wanting to do a 5 k next Spring and the trainer recommended reducing my body fat to reduce the stress on my knees and ankles and recommended eliminating high fructose corn syrup from my diet. It set me off a little bit and she backed off. But other than that it’s all been pretty low key and I would say they are fat friendly.

  76. Let me rant/sing the praises of my gym.

    I have a gym that’s pretty good – they have the awesome individual t.v. screens for the treadmills/bikes/ellipticals, a dark and cooler room with a giant movie screen that they play recent movies on (when I first started working out in just bike shorts without baggy shorts over them I used to use this room exclusively, since no one could see me and I was embarrassed. Now I’ll even take my over-shorts off in the main cardio area – progress!), a women’s only room, and just one scale that’s off in the corner.

    I like to use the women’s only room for weight-lifting, mostly because EVERY TIME I have used the main room, a guy will come up and ask me to move off the bench that I’m sitting on. One time, I moved to THREE different benches, and each time some dude asked me to move. I was like, “Can’t you see that I, too, am lifting? I also am strengthening my muscles? Why do you have the right to this bench when I got there first?” Once the guy who asked me then just stood next to the bench chatting up some girl for twenty minutes before doing the Really Urgent Lifting that required him to ask me to move. I hate people.

    Anyway, I was inspired to comment after reading your comment about mirrors, Rebecca. I HATE looking/seeing myself in the mirror during a workout. Or ever, really. The only time I see myself full-length is when I buy clothes. Every time I see myself I just feel really bad – kind of like an anxiety attack, with the blood draining, feeling faint, and the almost-crying. It ruins my whole mood. Because not seeing myself means I can forget myself and what I look like, and just live. My gym has lots of mirrors, on almost every wall on the first floor, and it’s kind of hard work not to catch a glimpse of myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been practicing this for years (I can even approach glass doors in just the right way so as not to see my reflection), and I can do it, but sometimes I forget.

    Anyway, all this to say, I really think they put the mirrors up to make people feel bad. Studies have shown that women at least feel worse about themselves when exercising in front of a mirror than when there are no mirrors, so why do gyms put them up? Maybe because when we feel worse about ourselves we’re more likely to come back and punish ourselves harder to try and get thin?

    Sorry this is so long, but I guess it hit a nerve… :)

  77. High fructose corn syrup is not a good food choice for many people for lots of reasons: there’s some data out there that suggests it may have negative impacts on many people’s liver function.

    Since most people don’t get regular liver enzyme tests, it might be the better part of valor to avoid high fructose corn syrup in case you are one of the people who experiences those negative liver responses to it. Or not.

    But suggesting that someone eliminate high fructose corn syrup is not necessarily antithetical to FA or HAES.

  78. I never know when’s a good time to confront someone about this stuff. I’m sorta trying to just put it out in the open, but I’m very non-confrontational, so I never know…

    I’m thinking about taking a swimming class this Fall to fulfill one of my gym requirements at my college. I actually was a swimmer when I was younger, so I’m totally used to the whole, you know, wearing a swimsuit half my life, thing. Sometimes I’m glad that I went through the hell of hating my body in a swimsuit when I was way young, because now I’ve completely gotten over it. Once you start winning races as a swimmer, you’re size doesn’t matter.

    Anyway, I hope you find a way to get around all this crap so you can relax and enjoy the water. It’s my zen. I forget how great it is until I go swimming. There’s something about being waterlogged that makes me just lose all tension. I think I will, for sure, take that swimming class, now that I’ve remembered how much I love it.

    Thanks for the great post, as always!

  79. OMG, I think you perfectly summed up why it’s so hard for anyone without a perfect body to go to the gym! The last time I had a membership to a gym I was always the biggest person in the classes and people were always asking me “Are you OK?” during the exercises. (It doesn’t help that my face gets red easily, even when I’m not very tired). I’ve been exercising since the fourth grade and have run 5ks and 8ks–yet people treat me like there’s no way I can possibly handle an exercise class. It definitely makes me not want to go back.

    BTW, I love your blog and have been reading it for several months now, but this is the first time I’ve posted a comment. Thanks for being such a positive and strong voice!

  80. I don’t lap swim, but I water jog. It’s less mind-numbing since I can change it up easily and use different toys (water noodles, water barbels, kickboard). What really works for me though is a waterproof mp3 player. I bought a Dolphin mp3 player. It’s truly waterproof; I washed it one time. I create playlists that slowly rev me up, keep me there, then cool me down.

    Being ADD, exercise alone just doesn’t work for me. I have to combine it with music and meditation.

  81. Oh man, the gym.

    I kinda like the one I’m currently donating to. I’d go more often if I knew what the hell to do when I’m there. There’s a good weight area and a track and a basketball court, and there really doesn’t seem like a whole lot of pro-weight-loss material (except for one sign by the strength training machines that says something about how you’re starting your weight-loss journey just by showing up). I just can’t get over feeling like a doofus because I don’t hop on a treadmill (with a mini-TV on it, in case you can’t see the five flat-screens 20 feet away) and zone out for 45 minutes. In fact I did that once and came away with a weird disconnected feeling, like my body had been working but my brain had been sleeping, and neither of them knew what the other was doing.

    I had a couple of free sessions with a personal trainer, but she was so spaced out she took my health history every session and chatted about her day, and we never actually worked out. I said I was interested in general fitness and joy-in-motion, she said she could show me stuff to do, but never got down to specifics. My husband and my best friend belong to the same gym and didn’t have very good experiences with different personal trainers, so I didn’t bother trying another.

    Maybe this would be a good question for Aunt Fattie: “I have a gym membership and want to exercise, but I don’t want to 1) lose weight 2) train for anything 3) look like an idiot. The personal trainers there are clueless and I can’t afford my own. My prior experience with exercising includes Cosmo workouts, yoga DVDs, and faking a fainting spell in middle school phys ed. What do I do at the gym? PS. I have arthritis.”

  82. Oh, and my waterproof mp3 player cost about $100.00 from Amazon. I think they used to be significantly more expensive.

  83. Personal trainers and gym teachers need to understand that the way to encourage people to improve their fitness levels is to make them feel good about themselves to start with and not the other way round. My fitness levels are much better with my personal trainer, who doesn’t give a shit about the scales and actually banned me from weighing myself OR dieting when I started seeing him at the beginning of this year, than they were when I was four stone lighter, mired in Weight Watchers and totting up the points in other people’s baskets at the supermarket in a desperate attempt to validate my “lifestyle change”, sanctimonious starvation-crazed little tosspot that I was.

    There’s a good friend of mine who teaches Pilates very well and often offers me one to one tuition. Unfortunately she also frequently describes a mutual friend of ours as “looking like the back end of a bus”. If that’s what she thinks of said mutual friend, I can only assume that she thinks I look the same or worse, and whilst I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin, I stay that way by NOT engaging in physical activity with anyone who’s going to make me feel bad about my body. I would be far more likely to keep going to a class taught by an average teacher who made me feel great about what I was doing than a great teacher who made me want to go home and turn all my mirrors to the wall, personally.

  84. You know when I said “… make them feel good about themselves to start with and not the other way round”? That makes no grammatical sense whatsoever. What I meant was “… good about themselves to start with, not bad”. Or something.

  85. You know what’s interesting… I don’t think it’s just the hostility of just gyms that puts people off of them. I think many people start to get the idea that “exercise” isn’t for them in school, when they’re forced into “mandatory” gym classes. At least, that was my experience. Being humiliated for not climbing the rope, getting hit in the head with dodge balls, not being able to run as fast as the school show-off star athletes… and I want to pay money to do that again? lol

    As far as my school gym goes, the only treadmills are at the front of the building where there are ceiling-to-floor windows. A lot of guys run there with there shirts off (or beach bunnies in sports bras) and it’s pretty discouraging to a girl like me to come and exercise.

  86. One way to get cheap, good instruction is to look for a masters team in your area.

    But my advice to anyone on this topic is to be careful. There exist certain Masters teams out there who are all about TRAIN COMPETE TRAIN FASTER FASTER FASTER TRAIN HARDER HARDER HARDER. It was a team like that that was a major trigger for an ED relapse for me a few years back. Make sure that the particular team you go with has the kind of attitude/motivation that you’re looking for.

  87. At my local Y in Maine, we have all sizes in the water aerobics classes, and the instructors specifically encourage me to go at my own pace (something a little slower than Michael Phelps, actually). Most of the other women are overweight, or older, or both, and no one has ever given me grief about my body. If anything, I’ve been welcomed and encouraged especially because it’s very clear that I’m someone who could use the workout!

    I do remember the days when I used the Yuppie Downtown Health Club that was closest to my then-office. Oh, the disapproving looks in the locker room! The snotty personal trainer! But there was a moment of revenge — I was on the elliptical bike when Cute Guy From Work came over to talk to fat ol’ ME, completely bypassing the flirtatious blondes nearby…

  88. See, Dollyann, if that was my gym, I’d get right up in front of the biggest window with my men’s old navy shorts and my profuse sweat and my red face and my bouncy flab and have at it just to tick off the people who walk past looking for appealing meat. But I’m contrary that way and as an old broad, I also don’t give a fig what anyone thinks of me.

  89. I hate gyms, though that could be that I haven’t found a good one yet. This is motivating me to take a water aerobics course this term, though – it’s essentially “free” along with my community college tuition. Now I have to get a suit. Crud. Can anyone suggest a good swimsuit company and a killer sports bra? (Stupendous control necessary, but I like breathing with my exercise, please.)

  90. I feel exactly the same way you do about swimming – I absolutely love it, I love splashing around more than I like doing laps, but for years I was afraid of how I looked in a swimsuit.

    The last few weeks I’ve started swimming regularly with friends and it’s awesome. Today, there was a whole variety of lap swimmers – young, old, thin, fat, big, small, male, female. It didn’t matter. I just felt so good being in the water.

    However, I don’t like taking classes. I don’t like not being able to do my own fun things in the water and having to listen to someone telling me how to move and having to move along with others. But that’s just me.

    I would speak to the instructor, but that would be because the body acceptance idea is still new to me and I’ve only started to fight. I can now see how so, so, so many people really Just Don’t Get It, how completely blind and mean everyone is, blatantly discriminating themselves and others. My own mother even got angry with me when I confronted her with the idea that no, she’s not fat, and she shouldn’t feel like she Has To Lose Weight *all* the damn time because she is a wonderful person the way she is. Hating your fat is an acceptable form of selfhatred and it’s saddening and maddening at the same time.

    But you just go swim, have fun, and -excuse my French- fuck anyone who bitches about the weight. Swimming is the most awesome form of exercise ever. Don’t let anyone take the fun of it away from you.

  91. Lalaroo, I think you go to the same gym, or at least the same chain of gyms, that I used to! It was a mixed bag, really…the facilities were nice, and of the three trainers that I had, two of them actually believed me when I said I was not interested in losing weight, but the one who didn’t was, alas, the best, once he managed to stfu about carbs. *grrr*

    The basketball court always taunted me…what I really wanted to do instead of slogging away on the treadmill was to go play some b-ball, but no girls played. Ever. But I didn’t cancel my membership because of that stuff; I’ve finally just accepted that I’m not a gym person, despite trying for years to be, and there’s nothing any less valid about preferring to take dance classes or ride my bike, since I’m doing it for the joy, not the ‘virtue’, of movement.

    LilahCello, you’re right about Curves; the owner has donated a metric shitton of money to anti-choice causes and abstinence education. I don’t have the proper sources on me right now, either, though.

  92. One of the best things I ever did was join a synchronized swimming club team, and I didn’t even know it at the time. I joined my college club team as an alumna because I was friends with the club president, who had been teaching me some of the skills over the summer. I also thought it would be a good way to unwind in the evenings while slugging through my first year of teaching high school. This turned out to be quite true. Now, I certainly had some size issues at the time, but I suppose they didn’t overwhelm me enough to not join the team. I had seen them perform before, and knew there were team members of every size and swimming ability. I think I pretended I had no issues being in a bathing suit (and changing in and out of one NAKED TIME) several times a week. And then, I even got over what I was pretending to not think, if that makes any sense. I pranced around in a Speedo, doing very amateur synchro routines with awesome people, and generally had a blast. And I felt good about myself!

    This was about 6 years ago now, and I haven’t put on a bathing suit since. I weigh a lot more now than I did then, and I honestly know I have significantly more body issues now than I did then, and I hate that I have them. I joined a gym this spring and I feel good being active again — it helps my sanity and sleep habits. But alas, the gym is great but bare-bones and has no pool. (It’s one of those 24-hour places.)

    Basically, I’m posting to comment on the Bathing Suit Thing and how I miss swimming, in part because that synchro club was such a Good Thing for me back then. And now I’m inspired to look around for a club team, or at least find a place I could swim. *grin*

  93. Aye, I wish I had your courage Buttercup. :) I don’t know, but I’m so timid when it comes to exercising in front of windows. Gotta learn not to care what people think of me, but it’s a hard lesson.

  94. I totally blame gym class and well meaning camp counselors for my lack of enjoyment of physical activity.

    Some people need to understand that when someone tells you they can’t do something it means they cannot. It doesn’t mean they are just feeling discouraged, it means that you are expecting them to do something that their bodies have not been physically conditioned to do.

    That is not to say that I could never have done things like climb a rope, or do pull ups, or walk on balance beams. But having grown at least 3 – 5 inches per year for most of my adolescent life my strength rarely matched my body. How on earth was I supposed to build enough body strength to lift 100 pounds at 10 years old when the most strenuous thing they ever made me do was throw a basketball?

    Absolutely the correct mode of getting me in shape was to have me stand there and feel like crying while my teacher accused me of just not trying hard enough.

    The Presidential Fitness Tests ruined my f-ing life.

  95. Argh instructors…..reason #34566654 to just go and swim an hours worth of laps. Quiets the mind and just lets you get on with it without anyone else getting in your way.

  96. Buttercup: See, Dollyann, if that was my gym, I’d get right up in front of the biggest window with my men’s old navy shorts and my profuse sweat and my red face and my bouncy flab and have at it just to tick off the people who walk past looking for appealing meat. But I’m contrary that way and as an old broad, I also don’t give a fig what anyone thinks of me.

    That’s exactly how I approach going to my gym, the tagline of which is “Look Better Naked”. It’s very fancy and shiny and luxe and on the surface, not welcoming in the least to anyone sporting any kind of body fat whatsoever. However, the staff has always been very nice to me, I’ve never felt like I’ve gotten the hairy eyeball for my fatness, and it’s right downstairs from my office. The one “free” personal training session I had was pleasant, the guy wasn’t a doucheweasel when I explained I wasn’t interested in weight loss but simply in getting stronger and decreasing my stress levels. I took a lot of pleasure in being able to keep up with all of his exercise thingies even though it had been ages since I’d done any sort of major exercise. This post is so well-timed, since I’ve been shirking on my gymming (thanks, goofy brain) – I do believe I need to sweat intensely and get some rage out tomorrow.

  97. Wow. Today I was just thinking, “I wish I could find a personal trainer who would just listen to me and not be pushing any kind of weight loss agenda. I just want to feel strong and fit and healthy.” For me it was the Olympics too, but not the swimmers, it was the women running hurdles!! I always wanted to do it.

    OMG, Pro Club! I remember those days. Except I never joined it because I never wanted to be working out with people I worked with. So I joined a gym in Ballard, which was awesome, and had the pool, and was 24 hours. I never felt fat-shamed there.

    Of course now I am back in Manhattan, and we have a subsidized membership at the Equinox on Wall Street, and as much as I know I work out more and am happier when my gym is nice, I know it will be the biggest image crusher ever. But my Y in Brooklyn has these anorexic hipster girls who make even my normal-sized boyfriend, training for the New York Century, feel bad.

    I did Bikram Yoga four years ago and I worked up to 30 days in a row. I know it’s not for everyone, but I did it for me, and I loved it, and people loved that I was there, and my 30th day a bunch of people specifically scheduled that day to come to my class. The only thing I ever heard from an instructor there was that I was adding years to my life. Which I am sure it did, no matter how much I weighed. But I don’t have the 2hours a day to do Bikram any more, nor is that studio anywhere near work or home. sigh. (Bikram on the LES for any new yorkers who are wondering)

  98. Wow, what a terrible experience. I agree with others, I’d take it up quietly with the management.

    It really brought back a lot of memories. When I was a kid, I swam constantly in the summertime, and was less self-conscious about being in a swimsuit. I took swimming lessons until I got a psycho coach who constantly berated me and another girl for being “so fat”. This was after I’d lost weight, too, I was about a size 12 and so was the other girl. This man would berate us, humiliate us, and threaten us with “I’d drown you if you weren’t so fat that you’d float anyway”. My parents didn’t believe me until one day we walked past his van and saw his vanity license plate: “HATEFAT”.

    I still live in town, and he still has that plate, 20 years later. He also has a sign on his new van saying “Hate fat? See me!” and his phone number.

  99. Coyote, based on your description of your local Y, I am 99% sure that you are I are neighbors! I have thought about joining that Y because I lust after the pool, but feared the tooth-picky hipster girls might have overrun the place :(

    Anyway, if you read this and ever want to chat with a local Shapling (I’m so excited there’s at least one other one!) feel free to email me at thenewthirteen at gmail dot com.

  100. That is not to say that I could never have done things like climb a rope, or do pull ups, or walk on balance beams. But having grown at least 3 – 5 inches per year for most of my adolescent life my strength rarely matched my body. How on earth was I supposed to build enough body strength to lift 100 pounds at 10 years old when the most strenuous thing they ever made me do was throw a basketball? </i?

    Shinobi, it totally just occurred to me, after all these years, that maybe LACK OF ANY TRAINING FOR IT was why I couldn’t claim the rope when they put me in front of it twice a year and said “Here, climb” and that it wasn’t some inherent flaw on my part. ::headdesk::

  101. Ugh. Reading about people’s concerns about college gyms makes me feel split.

    I am a member of two gyms: UMN where I’m a grad student and Caltech where I’m the wife of a staff member.I’m currently back in Pasadena to work on the dissertation and whilst you’d think the LA area is epic suck for fat women, I love the Caltech gym. I’ve done cardio kickboxing as a size 20 and had all the other women turn around and watch me and go “holy crap you can kick high” (yeah, 10 years of ballet training thanks!) and have had people stop me on the elliptical to ask me about what scent I’m wearing (yay BPAL Storm Moon). Thats not to say that the weight room doesn’t have some token idiots that feel the need to do the grunt/scream thing to show how manly they are and then throw the weights. We have those but I’ve never gotten any shit there. I just need to ask one of my lovely boy friends for help benching again- last time I was there with him he actually had me put my hands in the right spot that I didn’t feel like I was gonna screw up my shoulder.

    Minnesota on the other hand. . . .yep stopped going there when I heard the workers there go “look at the fat girl bounce isn’t that so disgusting” in reference to me on the elliptical. I just don’t need to put up with that shit and yes I did complain and I didn’t even get so much as an apology. I’m glad though that one pool has gone women only one day a week because the Muslim student association has paid for it.

  102. I went to grad school at a place with no undergrads (though there were diet-head med students galore), and the lack of youngsters to compare myself to at the gym is one reason I’m glad I did.

  103. I really hate people like that fitness instructor. I hate people, particularly women, cause it seems more of a thing with women, that treat people like they’re mindless idiots. Or that they need to be taken care of like a baby.

    I would’ve wanted to say to her, “Listen I am healthy. I eat what I want when I want, and that I’m sure to your amazement, doesn’t mean Krispy Kreme donuts or whatever you like to presume fat people must eat in order to be fat.

    I’m trying to exercise, instead of encouraging me, your making your little schoolyard bully snide remarks about how some people here look in swimsuits, or about how because I’m fat, the best thing for me is to learn eating disordered behaviour. I can push the plate away, however since what I’m eating is mostly healthy, I don’t need to. I also don’t need to starve, to have the body you assume is proper for me to have.

    So glare at me like an angry 2 year old about to throw a huge temper tantrum because you’re not getting your way all you want. I’m satisified with who I am. I will be reporting you to your manager, and if my complaints are ignored, I will be going to a new gym. It is beyond incompetant of you to behave like a snobby high school preppy girl, who feels they’re in position to judge others. I’ve never had to lower myself to making faces like small children, because I am not afraid to say what is on my mind. Perhaps you should consider getting help with that. Making baby faces for a lack of social skills isn’t attractive on anyone.”

  104. I’ve had a steady on-off relationship with the gym for going on 16 years now. At the moment I’m trying to reignite the “gym spark” at a club that, although I’ve been elsewhere since I moved to this city, remains the one I always come back to.

    It’s funny. Even before I had a clue what fat acceptance was, much less a desire to be an advocate of it, I’ve always felt happier at gyms that were less focused on being hawt and more about just working out. Back when I lived in Chicago I got into great shape at a gym that I pretty much hated, because it was all about “feeling the BURN!” and “getting those triceps in shape for sleeveless tops.” I really hated all the other members – and myself for being there, I think. Eventually I gravitated to a great little gym on the north side populated mainly by cops and tae-kwon do enthusiasts. Man did I love that place! Everyone just left you alone to do your thing. It was awesome.

    Now I’ve returned, for the THIRD time, to a tiny little women’s only gym in central London. They don’t have much in the way of equipment, but it’s usually just you and maybe one or two other gym goers, of various shapes and sizes. And often you find you’re the only one in the gym, which is just HEAVEN. That’s when I pretend I’m in my own private gym. It must be what Madonna feels like, I’m sure!

    I guess where I am going with this is, if you’re interested in working out at a gym, it is absolutely worth shopping around for one that you can enjoy and have fun in when you are there.

  105. Lilah,
    It pretty much just occured to me too recently. I mean, why do we assume that kids “are” able to do certain things without ever actually training to do it.

    I think it was also part of my relization that learning sometimes takes time, and the inability to do something instantly does not mean you are a failure. (I was reading an article somewhere about how american culture values inherent ability to do things over the ability to work hard and learn a skill. )

  106. Dollyanne, it took me a long time to get here. And I still do have my moments, but for the most part, yeah I don’t care. It’s not about confidence or anything else, it’s just taking myself out of the game and honestly not caring.

  107. So glare at me like an angry 2 year old about to throw a huge temper tantrum because you’re not getting your way all you want. I’m satisified with who I am.


  108. “It pretty much just occured to me too recently. I mean, why do we assume that kids “are” able to do certain things without ever actually training to do it.”

    Oh my gosh, WORD. Why the hell was I expected to run 2 miles in 12 minutes or less every year, with absolutely no training to get to that point, and for a GRADE? Why the hell was I expected to be able to do pull ups, chin ups, and rope climbs, having never been taught how to do those things? Why the hell was I expected to instinctively know how to play touch football and soccer, having never played or watched either, and having received no explanation of the rules of either? And why was I made to feel like absolute shit for not being able to do said things? I taught myself how to ice skate and rollerblade. As a teenager, I regularly biked 10 miles a day. I did Pilates. Yet none of that counted for anything because I couldn’t fucking run 2 miles without a break with no previous training and no sports bra.

  109. “Ugh. Reading about people’s concerns about college gyms makes me feel split.”

    Same here. I’m a grad student at a big state university. I just signed up for another mat work class (this time yoga, I’ve also taken Pilates). I love the classes, they’re relaxing, they’re fun, they’re not too challenging for beginners but still give you a good workout. They’re usually full of unbelievably skinny undergrad girls, but the girls usually keep to their little groups and focus on the exercise once class starts, so no biggie.

    Unfortunately, the mat classes are offered in a beautiful, wood-floored, floor-to-ceiling windowed room. Sounds great, until you consider that the interior wall facing into the rec complex is also fully windowed. It looks right over the entrance checkpoint. When I took Pilates, we were doing the “Seal” move, meaning that we were in an absurd, butt-baring position. When I put my legs back down, there were a half-dozen undergrad boys pointing and laughing at us. NOT cool. Little bastards.

  110. I used to go to 24 Hour Fitness; the main lure of it for me was the 24 hour part. That particular location seemed to have a pretty good mix of people–although I was usually there so late I don’t know how accurate my perception is.

    I did shock the hell out of a “fitness assessor” once, though. She was doing body fat caliper crap, and I asked if it would be easier if I took my tank off. She was surprised I offered, and even more surprised when I whipped it off and stood in my bra in full view of a gym full of people (it was one of those terribly private, glass walled rooms). I remember she said something like “Well, you’re not shy.” and said she wasn’t that confident–she was probably size size 6 compared to my 22.

    I canceled my membership because I was planning to move and there wasn’t a branch in my new town–now of course they’ve gone and opened one. I loved swimming after work, so I might join up again. It’d be more cost effective to use the university fitness center, but that atmosphere is REALLY not friendly.

  111. I don’t know if these are all over the country, but I’ve been quite pleased with my current gym: Snap Fitness. It’s a small 24-hour gym — a variety of weight machines, free weights, four treadmills, four ellipticals, two stationary bikes. Management is there only during the day, and they’re very hands-off. You let yourself in with a magnetic key at night, and the only mirrors are at face level in front of the cardio machines, so you can see any activity going on behind you.

    I expect they’ll differ by location, and lack of pool makes me sad, but it’s pretty good.

  112. I do remember the days when I used the Yuppie Downtown Health Club that was closest to my then-office. Oh, the disapproving looks in the locker room! The snotty personal trainer! But there was a moment of revenge — I was on the elliptical bike when Cute Guy From Work came over to talk to fat ol’ ME

    Heh. The Pro Club I used to go to? Is uber-expensive, but has corporate contracts with Microsoft and Nintendo. During my Microsoft years I’d constantly run into coworkers. Was always fun to watch their faces when I’d do a routine 2 sets of 10 reps of 305# on the leg press…

  113. Oh, and speaking as a chunky, mostly-sedentary adult who spent her entire childhood in competitive swimming, it pisses me off beyond measure when people assume I’m exercise-ignorant purely on the basis of my appearance.

    Last year I got into a pool for the first time in ages, and while I was nearly petrified with dread at appearing in public in a swimsuit, I was amazed by how effortlessly my body resumed the rhythms of swimming. In the water? I felt like a million bucks.

  114. When I started at Harford Community College in 1993, it was required of all students to take Personal Fitness and one other fitness course. Before you start, they check your breath, heart rate, and BP. The nurse said my BP was high (it was 130 over eightysomething) and I disagreed with her of course. I was nervous so of course my BP was high.

    The Personal Fitness course is kinda like Curves. You do a routine on each machine, then stop and check your pulse. The goal is for you to exericse longer on each machine. I hated the rower, but loved the bike and the stairstepper. You even had to walk a balance beam.

    The other class I took was Fitness Walking. You used walking tapes with music and as the course progressed, you went from 15 minute walks to 60 minute walks. That I didn’t mind, and it felt good to pound the pavement while listening to 50s and 60s music.

    We have a 24 hour gym, All Access Fitness, in a new shopping center in my town. I’ve been hesitant to think about it because I lump it in with all the other beefcake gyms out there.

  115. I’ve always felt happier at gyms that were less focused on being hawt and more about just working out.

    I agree 100%. I do most of my working out at a rock climbing gym (since most of my working out is rock climbing, lol) and it’s a very non-judgmental environment. They also have CrossFit courses, yoga, and cycling… but it’s all focused on being able to *do* those things, and it doesn’t seem like anyone cares what you look like while you’re doing it.

    I have to jump in and defend my university gym, though – there are a lot of lithe undergrad bunny/meathead types, but most of the classes (especially in the early morning) have older attendees and a range of body types. I rarely go there anymore between the climbing and the never-available elliptical machines, but the atmosphere is pretty accepting.

  116. DUDE! Right now – at least until I hit “submit comment” – ALL of the monsters in “recent comments” are PURPLE!!

  117. My mother used to teach aerobics, including water, and has certifications from ACE and AFAA in that as well as in personal training.

    However she’s 58 and curvy so people assume she doesn’t know anything about fitness. Including the young woman who tried to offer her treadmill advice (and subsequently got shut down when my mother asked what fitness certifications she had).

    She also had a membership revoked for being disruptive, which apparently meant asking questions about the aerobics class schedules and requesting they adjust the a/c.

    I am so glad my building has a gym in it, the closest thing to personnel is the doorman, who just has to glance in occasionally to make sure everyone’s still alive.

  118. This is kind of a tangental post, but for anyone living in the Toronto area looking for some awesome aquafit classes, check out the Bloorview Kids Rehab pool (I work with the kids in aquatics). Our aquafit instructors are awesome, our water is warm, and because we have a shallow therapy pool, we are able to run really cool Tai Chi classes in the water (often the lifeguards participate on-deck). And because we work with kids and adults with disabilities, there’s very much a “no judgement of ANYONE’S body for any reason” vibe going on.

  119. Somebody mentioned Decent Exposures upthread? They are totally a pack of goddesses. I don’t have one of their swimsuits, but have worn their bras for years, and feel confident they could handle a swimsuit. They CAN and WILL make a bra in any size (and I don’t mean most sizes, or a size that seems “normal” to them, or whatever sizes I’ve thought of, I mean A.N.Y. size) to fit anybody. They customize on their basic sizes and will cut to fit any shape you may personally happen to be. Their stuff is totally awesome.

  120. But suggesting that someone eliminate high fructose corn syrup is not necessarily antithetical to FA or HAES.

    True. But assuming a fat person is eating too much HFCS, purely because she’s fat, is.

  121. I sometimes feel an urge to take up weight training, and it’s almost entirely due to one very silly reason– I read a comic (and related short stories) online that revolves around characters who work out together at a gym. The stories always make it sound like such wonderful fun!

    But the reality is substantially less magical, having a complete lack of wonderful characters to befriend as we chuckle over the free weights. It’s more full of people with no interest in talking to someone who doesn’t look like she stepped off the cover of Hottie Hott Burnin’ Shiny Bod Monthly.

  122. I have never been a gym member. But during this spring, my roller derby league got a sponsorship from a local gym, meaning one of our team captains, a licensed fitness instructor, taught a 2-hour class once a week, open to any gym member, and all members of the league were allowed to attend the class for free.
    I went religiously.
    It was the best thing ever. She did step aerobics, cardio kickboxing, free weights, power yoga, and anything else that caught her fancy.
    She was my team captain, so I knew her already, but the gym members didn’t know her. Part of her fairly standard introducing-herself pitch was to say, “When I first started teaching aerobics I thought I had to be skinny. I starved myself down to 135 pounds. Then I had a coworker who was chubby, who could kick my ass. She told me I was an idiot and needed to eat properly so I could perform better. I weigh 200 pounds now and if you call me fat, I’ll punch your goddamn face in. And I can; I was a kickboxing champion for three years running. I’m not here to make you skinny, I’m here to make you kick ASS. Any questions?”

  123. *reads fattitties’ comment*
    *raises hand*

    Where have you been, O Ms. Instructor Person, all my life when I needed fitness instruction?

    Seriously, though. That is AWESOME, right there. Must be the kind of person who inspired all those fun gym stories I read…

  124. @Rebecca: I was really surprised to read about your experience at 24 Hour Fitness, because that’s the chain where my husband and I have had such a good time working out. (We’ve been to a number of the clubs in south Denver.)

    I’m wondering if the exact club, the personnel, or the time of day has something to do with our vastly different experiences, because if I’d experienced anything like you did, I’d’ve been out of there so fast I’d’ve left tread marks. I’ve never had anyone mention weight loss or try to push their supplements – in fact, when I asked about one product they were featuring, the attendant gave me the facts but was shaking his head “no” the whole time. That’s why it surprised me so much.

    I’m glad you found a gym that works for you – that’s really the most important thing.

    Re: swimsuits: I wear suits from http://www.h20wear.com . Unfortunately, not all of their suits come in larger sizes but a significant portion do, and I have found them to be supportive AND to live up to their statement that they’re chlorine resistant. I wore my last swimsuit for 14 months before having to replace it, and that’s at least twice a week in the pool. (They’re Not Cheap, though.) Their customer support has also been really helpful. I have no relationship to them other than as a happy paying customer.

    I was going to write more “Tales of the Gym”, but this is getting long enough :-).

  125. Me: But suggesting that someone eliminate high fructose corn syrup is not necessarily antithetical to FA or HAES.

    KateHarding: True. But assuming a fat person is eating too much HFCS, purely because she’s fat, is.

    Yep, if that was how it went down, the trainer was being an asshat in that conversation.

  126. So much I want to say here!
    (It seems so unfair that I am always so far downthread)

    I’m like Eucritta’s husband, I love to swim laps, I stopped counting them and I’m usually pretty blissed out when I’m done. I either let my mind wander, or I focus on “engaging my core” — I’m completely “untrained” but I’ve been getting faster and stronger. And I used to be worried that I would be bored, but that was before I swam a mile and found it hypnotic and soothing (as someone also said upthread). I also use some nifty hand-paddles about 2/3 of the time which give me a slightly better upper body workout in an enjoyable way.

    RE: College fitness centers — the one I went to in the San Fernando Valley with undergrads, grad students, instructors, etc. was very easy to use. The pool was rarely full during lap swim times and that was great, too. I also took strength training for two semesters which gave me a solid foundation that wasn’t peppered with weight loss bull.

    Now, I belong to my local Y, which I do like very much. I haven’t been to many classes but the ones I’ve been to have been good. When I was a young teen, my mom used to drag me to an aerobics studio that was so fat hating it’s probably responsible for at least 20% of my internalized fat hatered. I remember feeling like I knew the comments were supposed to motivate me but they just filled me with a general hatered toward the instructors, and my mom, and myself. I will see if I can retrieve any of the worst ones from the deep recesses of my psyche. Generally, worse than the run-of-the-mill Jane Fonda-Richard Simmons-type fat hating stuff of the early ’80s.

    Finally, I don’t know if y’all know, but YMCA’s are promoting an initiative called “Activate America®” which they say “is the YMCA’s bold approach to directly address our nation’s growing health crisis.” (code for obesity epidemic). The good news is that they are going to be more receptive than ever to anyone who says, “there are some things you are doing that make me want to leave and never, ever come back.”

    Okay, and I know I said finally, but one last thing, we need more fat fitness trainers/instructors. I almost went that route, but didn’t have itme when I was getting my masters and the opportunity was lost. I have always loved it when my instructor was fat(ish) and also “got” FA.

  127. “but it didn’t have TIME when I was getting my masters…”

    I would hate for someone to read that as “I didn’t have IT IN ME when I was getting my masters…” because I did, in fact, have it in me, and I probably still do. Maybe when little one is a little older I’ll pursue that again.

  128. I wanted to echo the not-all-trainers-are-bad sentiment. I too had a blast swimming and hanging out with Carleigh and Toronto shapelings — who happen to include my own trainer. She’s not at all fat herself, but is totally into HAES including coming out to FA events. :-)

  129. And can I just say, this is one of the many reasons why so many people, fat and thin, hate the fucking gym. It’s not because we’re too lazy or don’t like exercise; it’s because at so many gyms, the culture is all about punishing and depriving yourself, not moving for the joy and genuine health benefits — as opposed to appearance “benefits” — of it.

    Absolutely! The only gyms Ive ever been remotely comfortable in are rock climbing gyms, because there it *is* about the joy of movement.

    Unfortunately a combination of a permanently messed up knee and asthma (the chalk dust in a rock climbing gym is NOT good for asthma) prevent me from really climbing anymore, and I admit I find other gyms quite offputting because of the emphasis on appearance. Im thin, but Im also out of shape and middle aged, and I feel both much more strongly in a gym than I do almost anywhere else.

  130. If you really have no energy for dealing with this woman, why not print this blog entry & give it to her , with a little bit of explanation & politesse beforehand. Or not. It seems like the number of people like her that you will meet are too caught up in their suposed superiority over teh fatties & don’t want to learn. They just want to make themselves feel better about themselves, &/or make money off of you. A lot of them are sadistic & get their kicks being mean to teh fatties, too. Those ones should be branded across the foreheads, it’s save us all a lot of pain & suffering.

    Or print out your blog with an explanation & send it to the top dog there. It’ll either get you a polite response to acknowledge you, or it will get you ostraciszed as a militantly Facist Fattie. Most likely both. But you never know.

    I can sympathize so much to this posting. I dont even like to walk for these very reasons. Im worried someone is going to yell something out their window to me, as happens at least once a year; or throw something at me. If my dog got hit & injured, Id never forgive myself. Every single time, even in the evenings, this passes my mind & try as i might, i cant banish it because it is not only part of a fear mechanism, but a defensive one. I deeply resent this. This 30+ fucking years of being literally crippled in mind & body by a rampant fat phobic society.

    Oh yes; you & I might have a predisposition to
    depression, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is environmental stessors that gave birth to them & has succored them into a fullblown & irreversible disease to be managed.

  131. Sorry for the double post, I didn’t realize I hadn’t loaded all of the posts before. Purlgurl, thanks for the info re: Bloorview! I’m out that way all the time, I had no idea they offered community adult classes. You should totally come out to a Toronto Shapelings meetup! And, teach me to swim! :)

  132. [q]You know what’s interesting… I don’t think it’s just the hostility of just gyms that puts people off of them. I think many people start to get the idea that “exercise” isn’t for them in school, when they’re forced into “mandatory” gym classes. At least, that was my experience. Being humiliated for not climbing the rope, getting hit in the head with dodge balls, not being able to run as fast as the school show-off star athletes… and I want to pay money to do that again? lol

    As far as my school gym goes, the only treadmills are at the front of the building where there are ceiling-to-floor windows. A lot of guys run there with there shirts off (or beach bunnies in sports bras) and it’s pretty discouraging to a girl like me to come and exercise.
    [/q] Totally 100% correct.

  133. I think many people start to get the idea that “exercise” isn’t for them in school, when they’re forced into “mandatory” gym classes

    Hell yes! Im old enough that when I was in school, the fact that I was a serious dance student was not considered remotely athletic. I grew up thinking I was very uncoordinated and not at all capable.

    Years later, already in my thirties, I started rock climbing. I still didnt see myself as athletic until some of my rock climbing friends, who were all skilled athletically, stood me in front of a mirror and compared my body to theirs for me to see that, lo and behold, I had an athletic body. I had said “Im not at all athletic, Im not like you all are” and they’d all burst out laughing. So those early messages can really stick in ways we don’t even begin to realize.

  134. I used to be a swimming instructor and occasional water aerobics teacher.

    Do get one or two swimming lessons if you want to swim laps. A few simple tips can probably make you much more comfortable. Keep your head down and learn how to breath, then keep you feet and hips up. That is the number one problem for beginning swimmers. Then, I think flip turns are an awesome skill!

    A waterproof MP3 player is great, as is not counting laps. You can think very clearly with the low level of sound and the rhythm of your strokes as a backdrop. I’m also a big fan of swim caps: dorky, but effective at keeping hair out of your face and preventing chlorine damage.

    As an instructor I always focused on technique and on heart rate. I remember saying constantly, “If something feels uncomfortable for you don’t do it, you can do your own thing”. Water classes are popular with those with injuries, those who are pregnant, or with arthritis etc. They should be the classes where the instructor is MOST in tune with individuals’ body limitations and differing desires. (Not that Boot Camp or whatever instructors shouldn’t be).

    I don’t think anyone was ever in my class for weight loss because water exercise just doesn’t have a reputation for being successful at that.

  135. I was about to write what KMTBERRY did – goggles/mask and a snorkel for the win. So here is another vote for that.

    I disagree with kerry, and think that a snorkel is extremely useful – and I learned to breathe properly as a kid and can swim fine that way, thanks – the main thing that a snorkel does for me is to let me swim with a straight back, rather than having it arched, especially when doing breaststroke, since my arse is so floaty I end up in serious pain by the end of even one lap. It doesn’t affect my neck.

    For freestyle the arching is less of an issue but still there, and I find a snorkel lets me get into the rhythm and breathe when I need to, rather than trying to fit in with the strokes. I naturally have a very slow breathing rate, and having to change to short breaths while swimming just makes me out of breath so I stop swimming earlier. With a snorkel I can just keep swimming lap after lap…

    So, snorkel. Just do it.

  136. Some people need to understand that when someone tells you they can’t do something it means they cannot. It doesn’t mean they are just feeling discouraged, it means that you are expecting them to do something that their bodies have not been physically conditioned to do.


    The week before I began third grade, I fell off a swing in my backyard and broke my foot (yes, my foot, not my ankle. My foot. Yes. It did hurt). I spent the next five months in a cast and using crutches to get around. And then, just weeks after I got the cast off, it was time to run the mile.

    And my time was, of course, terrible. And I ran out of breath, and I felt like I was going to fall over, and it totally sucked. And by the time I made it, staggering, to the end, no one said, “Hey, little 8-year-old, you haven’t put any weight on one leg for almost half a year. It makes sense that that was really hard for you. In fact, we probably shouldn’t have had you start on something that strenuous right after getting the cast off.”

    Instead, they told me that I needed to shape up and try harder.

    Guess which little kid learned to hate gym pretty darn fast? There was a long while there where I was good at pretty much nothing, and that was understandable, because I was rebuilding all the muscles in my leg. But even after those muscles had rebuilt, I didn’t build the skills. Because by that point I found gym so distressing that I had stopped trying. I felt inferior and intimidated. And it seemed like it was during the time that I couldn’t walk that all the other girls had learned to do things like cartwheels and balance beams, and so when I got a chance to try I felt way behind and looked stupid.

    And no one who should have told me that my being behind was normal did. No one told me it wasn’t a competition. No one told me it would be okay to just take my time and enjoy myself.

    It wasn’t until a couple years into high school (and years after my last gym class, as I had gym waived the first chance I got) that I finally started to discover that I like moving my body and getting winded and all those things.

    But I still can’t do a cartwheel.


  137. I’m with mermaidfarts, I think you should print this out, but send it to the instructor also/instead. It’s within the realm of possibility that she’s never heard of HAES, and a little education for her could help lots of people down the road.

    I know what you mean, though — it would be nice if you could just exercise there without all of the angst.

  138. i have been looking for a water aerobics/aquafit/etc class in new york but i haven’t found anything that appealed to me — does anyone have recommendations?

    re:yoga — i take megan garcia’s classes (megayoga.com) in the union square area, she’s a plus size model as well as yoga teacher, and i can’t say enough fantastic things about her. she is wonderfully supportive as well as wonderfully challenging.

  139. Ohhh, school gym classes…. Elementary school wasn’t so bad; my school offered non-gender devided evening gymnastics lessons for a while (I ROCKED the rings! I wanted to be an olympic gymnast right up until the moment I realized that women didn’t get to do rings…), but both the lessons and gymnastics in gym class were discontinued two years before I left the district. –and when I went to a new school which did the gymnastics unit, I couldn’t do anything I used to be able to do except balance beam, and even that I wasn’t so good at anymore.

    My best year of high school gym (which generally had lots of play-this-game-with-no-explanation-of-how and ‘you’re not trying hard enough!’ when i had DIFFICULTY BREATHING while running!) was my senior year. I spent most of it in the weight room with some friendly people. Highlight: scaring all the boys during the official weight-training unit with my umpteen sets of ten reps on leg press with WAY more weight than they could manage (520 lbs. I remember it because it was the max the machine had. I still think back fondly about that). The other highlight of that year was watching the female gym teacher do her FIRST EVER pullup. That made me feel a lot better about it, and I actually did one that day. I had been able to do them as a kid, but it was my first post-puberty one (and I think my last). That teacher actually also taught me how to climb the ropes –so she wasn’t TOO bad that year, although earlier years she was awful (see the point above about “you’re not trying hard enough”)

    I’ve thought about (if I can get good enough at it…) becoming a certified instructor in yoga or something because it would be so nice for people to have instructors who respect them and their limitations… But since I’m just a beginner now, it’s still a pipe dream :)

  140. Three days ago I realized that I pay $33 per month to go to the Y to use the elliptical because it is on my walk home from work, but if I’m tired after work I skip it and drive later in the evening because I’m an evening exerciser, but now that I’m moving to a different part of town I’ll hardly ever walk past it and all I do is the elliptical…. so I decided I’m going to buy a cheap elliptical and put it in my new garage. That will save me about $250 this year. Sure it won’t be as nice as the Precor at the gym, but now I only have to walk about 10 feet to get to it any time I want. YAY! I’m excited…

  141. You should go to my old gym… Got all kinds, from people just starting out to in-betweeners to athletes. Everyone was really supportive and friendly, ok the men competed with each other about weights a bit, but that didn’t bother me.

    I rejected a female only gym as everyone there looked cranky and scary and the staff wore white coats and big wide smiles. argh.

    Of course this is all in Canberra in Australia, so maybe it might be a bit of a walk for you.

  142. Fingers crossed that your next instructor is better, Kate.

    My husband and I go to a really nice gym. We’ve been going consistently for months, and the chap who owns it was lamenting recently about the drop-off rate of members – his comment was, “everyone wants to change their body shape, and when they haven’t after a couple of months, they get disillusioned and go. Some do change shape, but not weight because the muscle’s heavier, and they get disillusioned too. What keeps you two coming?”

    We looked at him and said, “We don’t want to change our body shape!”

  143. I used to go to the gym.
    But then I buy some dumbells and barbells and practice with them. Bicept curl, military press, tricept, and squat.

    I also use door to do chin up.
    The situp also could be done in home.

    So why keep wasting your time and money to the gym?

  144. That is one of the exact reasons I don’t go to a gym. Well, that and I know I wouldn’t go through the effort to GO SOMEWHERE to exercise unless I had a workout buddy to make me feel bad if I didn’t. I actually love classes; I was reminded of that when I took a stepaerobics class with a friend over the summer. But I was also very, very lucky to have a good instructor, and I knew it. (My friend had taken her classes before and loved her, which is why she suggested it.) I was by far the fattest person in the class, and the first time she kept a really close eye on me but without saying anything, and after she complimented me on the workout and wanted to know how much I’d done it before, just because I did so well keeping up with the choreography (thanks, high school show choir!). Never got any of that annoying patter, and she was careful to always demonstrate alternative low-impact moves without being dismissive about them, just if you feel like it, your body knows what you should and shouldn’t do, so here’s another way to do this part. She was great.

    Someone mentioned Planet Fitness – are they good? We have one, but it’s all the way across town, which means I would have a hard time putting in the extra time to go. There’s one less than a mile from me, but it’s the hardbody stud type. Sigh.

    If I can force in an anecdote about swimsuits, since you did mention swimming, :), this weekend we went to the beach and I wore a new swimsuit I bought at the Avenue this summer. I’ve always worn a basic color one-piece with a pair of shorts and often a t-shirt over it, but my newly FA-happiness got me into a tankini – skirtini thing with some cleavage and pattern. I came out in in and my 8-year old said “Holy crimoly, mom, you look HOT in that!” Hee.

  145. I hate the gym as well and now I’m on a ‘debt free’ mission I am saving over $500 a month. Yes $300 ($100 for the once a week trainer and $120 per month for the gym.

    Running round the parks is free and I’m loving it.

  146. This is completely off-topic EXCEPT insofar as it happened as I was showering after working out at the gym.

    So, as I was showering, I was feeling my hipbones through my fat and thinking, “See, *even* if I lost a ton of weight by starving myself, my hipbones still go out way to here. It is physically impossible for me to be acceptably-small for a female. So fuck the fascist beauty standards.”

    And then I thought about what I’d just done. Fat? Negotiable. Bone? Non-negotiable. How many times have I done this while dieting — thought of my bones, muscle, and skin as the real me and the fat as something that could be erased, rearranged, melted away, smoothed out, etc.

    Then I started thinking about what I teach my intro classes about Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. (No, seriously, it follows. Hang on a sec.) Without rehearsing the whole discussion in the scholarship — if you believe Dale Martin’s influential thesis in _The Corinthian Body_, Paul was writing to two different groups in the church at Corinth: the “weak,” who occupied a position of social vulnerability and who coincidentally just HAPPENED to see the physical body as one with fluid boundaries that was vulnerable to contagion and sickness at its boundaries; and the “strong,” who occupied a position of social power and who coincidentally just HAPPENED to see the physical body as an organism that worked just fine so long as the ruling principle – the soul/mind – was allowed to maintain control over the lesser parts.

    So the two groups, due to their beliefs about the physical body (which were really figures for their experiences of, and positions in, the social body), reached a theological impasse. And this is the pastoral problem Paul was addressing.

    So, anyway, you probably see where I’m going with this… it just clicked for me in a new way how the dominant culture in the US has a certain idealization of the physical body that is a figure for the social body. Certain groups are associated powerfully with “fat” as a cultural symbol, as we all know. But inasmuch as “fat” also is coded as “negotiable,” melt-away-able, removable, punishable-into-invisibility, and as erasable-without-threat-to-the-body’s-integrity-or-essential-cohesion… well, hell, that says a lot about how the dominant views of our shared social body regards the groups of people coded as “fat.”

    Of course I’m sure some FA author, probably multiple authors, have written about this at length… so I’m not assuming that this is a big “AH HA!” moment for anyone but me. But I just thought I’d let y’all know what a great addition this blog has been to my life, that these are the kinds of things I now think while I’m in the shower.

  147. Yay Nia! I did it for a summer, egged on by some friends. I thought it would be too flower-sunshine for me, but it was actually fun and a good workout. They do a great job of modulating intensity over the course of the workout, they’re body-positive, and for every move they give several difficulty levels with no judgment as to which one you choose (you can even switch off).

  148. i’m late to this party, but…..

    i hate gyms for all the reasons y’all have stated above…..a few years ago, i decided to take classes (pilates, african dance, yoga and tribal bellydance) at a studio in cc philly and had a much better experience.

    the instructors have taught women of all sizes, shapes and abilities for several years….and my tribal bellydance teacher also had a degree in physical therapy to boot! so, she made SURE that no one hurt themselves while doing pilates/bellydance warmups in her classes!

  149. A Sarah, that’s a really good way to put it. I think I’ve heard other people (and I’d credit them if I could remember who) ask what our society thinks of women if the beauty ideal is to push women to basically disappear.

  150. I swim a lot, and there has, in fact, been an increase in swimmers since the Olympics – I’m not so concerned about how they look in a Speedo, though. It’s more that none of them even have the slightest clue about pool manners.

  151. I like going in the morning to the pool at the university fitness center because the older (60s? 70s? 80s?) retired faculty / staff use it. It’s nice to go in the sauna with older wrinkly, sagging, happy women who enjoyed the swim because it felt good (and who don’t seem particularly concerned about appearance). It reinforces the idea that (with good fortune) we all get older some day; why not just enjoy life?

    Sometimes I think if every young woman could take care of an elderly woman or spend naked time (sauna-like, not kinky) with older women, it would help calm down body image issues. (Of course, some would probably come away from intergenerational time with exactly the wrong message…)

  152. If she keeps it up I would talk to her about it. I’ve taught a couple fitness classes (nothing major) and sometimes I feel like I’m blabbing out all these fitness tricks that I think people want to hear. It fills the dead space. But I try not to talk about dieting stuff. She kinda sounds like a bimbo, but you never know-she might actually be able to comprehend the words that come out of your mouth. ;)

  153. A Sarah, I’ve often thought that the feminine beauty ideal is a construct of social strata and who can and cannot use their time to fit into it, but you put it in a much more beautiful way.

    I’ll try to remember how you phrased that, and do some more reading on Paul’s letters to the Corinthians :)

  154. Oooh, timely! I just started my first water aerobics class yesterday, and I really liked it. I’m taking it through parks and rec at the local indoor pool. It was a deep water class, with belts and bells. Pretty cool. Our instructer was a spitfire older woman who didn’t say thing ONE about weight. It was all about moving our bodies, keeping ourselves injury free, etc. Sorry you had your water play ruined like that, Kate.

    I was nervous about finding a suit because the suit I have is all “hello, here’s my rack of doom thakyouverymuch” but someone told me to put a sports tank over the top of my suit and it worked like a charm.

    Plus, I like that after class we all change together and it’s the only time when you see other womens REAL bodies and you get to go, “Yup, here we all are. What a wide, wide range of miraculous beauty we are.” Nice reminder at the ass-crack of dawn.

  155. I have found water yoga to be great in my neck of the woods. That lady needs a reality check fast or she should get a job that requires less empathy.

    I have met instructors that have been really supportive at curves as well as the YMCA. I have also found it not really much an issue with how you look in a swimsuit if you are in the water neck deep exercising. I just keep a hand towel near the edge and if anyone has a problem, its their problem, not mine.

  156. Reading these comments makes me feel bad, y’all. I want so much to be able to exercise at my gym. I found one I liked, found something I liked doing (walking on treadmill while watching a DVD), and then I took a job that fucked up my back (and left elbow). Now I can’t walk or stand more than 10 minutes without looking for a seat (or the Vicodin in my purse). I miss how good that workout used to make me feel.

  157. I am reading this site for the very first time and I am now going to go through all of the posts I can and read. This is a great site and everything you’ve said here needs to be said!

    My boyfriend has asked me several times to join a gym or the YMCA or something here for the pool and while I love to swim, I haven’t gotten into a swim suit in over 6 years. Thank you for this post because no woman should have to feel as if she isn’t able to wear a swimsuit because of what other people say or think. This post was amazing.

  158. Christine – hope your back is better soon and you’re up and about again.

    I don’t think it’s just the hostility of just gyms that puts people off of them. I think many people start to get the idea that “exercise” isn’t for them in school, when they’re forced into “mandatory” gym classes.

    THIS. OMFS did I *HATE* gym class when I was a kid. There were the occasional fun days (basketball, square dancing – yes,that’s what I said, v-ball), when I enjoyed the sport we were doing, but I always had this feeling of fat girl misery, that I was never going to run as far, be as good, etc. etc. And Presidential Fitness Days were the absolute WORST (except for sit-ups and flexibility, which I usually at least got a respectable score) for making me feel like a big fat slob.

    My senior year in high school I also was lucky enough to take a “weights” gym class and it was SO MUCH FUN. After that, I was off, and it wasn’t until a few years after high school that I made a startling realization: I really ENJOY exercise. When I’m not being made to feel like a failure because I’m not in the average percentile for my height/weight/age whatever.

    This is why I suspect that a lot of these childhood “obesity prevention” programs are only going to succeed in pushing kids AWAY from exercising – excercise is a lot less fun when you’re being made to do it because “there’s something wrong with you.”

  159. Okay, that’s really WEIRD.

    I’m a fat gym bunny. I have never once been treated badly in any gym I stepped into.

    In fact, in the gym where I work now, my biggest challenge is to reassure people who are fat (and often smaller than me) that no-one CARES about what they’re doing because they’re too damn busy working out themselves.

    I mean, fer god’s sake, I’m a swimmer, so it’s not like I’m hiding my body!

  160. I miss my varsity karate club. Our senseis didn’t care about what shape or size we were – it was all about perfecting our technique and finding our inner strength, the kind you find when you’re shaking and sweaty from throwing a hundred punches and can still hold your head up and look your opponent in the eye.

  161. Nizaminz, I have been using dumbbells at home and an adjustable ankle weight for the leg extensions and leg lifts the physical therapist prescribed for my knees.

    Unfortunately I’m in an in-between stage where I need more than the ankle weight but less than squats.

    I am considering walking into nearby gyms to say, “Hi, I’m recovering from an injury and I need to know if your leg extension machine will fit me well. Can I try it? Because I’m not going to give you money just to end up back in physical therapy AGAIN.”

  162. I live in Toronto and I’ve had great success in joining the Goodlife Fitness chain here. I really enjoy the group classes – in BodyPump (weightlifting), BodyFlow (yoga/pilates blend), BodyJam and numerous other classes and cycling classes. I find the instructors to be very enthusiastic, without “losing weight” patter. When they are encouraging you in the more active classes its about pushing yourself and finding the power – I like that!

    And because there are locations everywhere I can go just about anywhere my schedule is taking me in the city. Right now, I’m investigating a branch I go by everytime I’m on the subway – it has a pool and I want to try the group classes. It also allows lane swimming when there’s not a class in session.

    Before Goodlife, I was going to another gym around St. Clair and Dufferin. And eventually, I came to hate it. There was no variety, I had guys trying to chat me up on the bench press(during my set!) and the personal trainer kept trying to corner me into doing sessions so I could “learn to discipline myself” and shed my fat. It just got creepy after a while and I left.

  163. I just want to say that Buttercup is my nominee for Shapeling of the Week. I know we don’t have a Shapeling of the week, but my god, WE SHOULD.

    and if htere are any more shapelings in brooklyn, I just sucked it up and wrote to Jae, who was brave enough to out herself. email me at toysintheattic at gmail dot com. Maybe we’ll have ourselves a big fat walk around McCarren Park and scare all the hipsters!!!

  164. Ugh, this story and everyone likes brings back the horrible memories of childhood phys ed trauma. I’ve always had the love/hate issue with physical movement in an exercise-form; I love movement, but hate order, structure, and most of all, people telling me I probably should do something else because I’m not “in shape for it”. Last time I checked, round was still a shape.

    It started with gymnastics, which I loved, despite a crippling fear of heights, but I noticed that my leotard wasn’t cute like the other girls because I couldn’t wear the same size as the other girls and was therefore shunned. An instructor took me aside and asked me if I wanted to work alone with her, but my parents weren’t able to afford it. So I dropped out.

    Next was swimming, which I still love to this day, even though it’s more of a inner-tube floating, margarita-drinking affair now. I still totally get into mermaid mindset in a pool and always feel graceful underwater.

    Then it was the classic girl sport of ballet. Now, I loved ballet. I loved the shapes my body made as I moved, it taught me timing and grace, and more importantly, it taught me posture and to stand proudly. I was the first in my class to graduate to en pointe dancing and, despite the pain that comes with the training, I was always proud to lace up my pointe shoes when other girls were still in their slippers and leg warmers. Then one day, in front of the class, during warm-ups at the barre, my instructor points to a blond skinny girl and comments on how slender and lithe the girl was, how this is what true ballerinas look like, and how this girl would make a fine soloist one day. Nevermind the fact that the girl always stumbled through her positions and had trouble maintaining balance. She looked at me however, and with that look you only see in the face of someone who enjoys kicking puppies, says “You, however, are too fat for ballet.”

    I immediately left ballet, threw away my custom-made shoes, and did modern dance, but felt disconnected from the class due to a hippie teacher who obviously smoked too much pot before class, to doing volleyball and softball, which I loved as well, to the mandatory p.e. classes that I tried to skip out on, to finally finding a niche in kick-boxing, karate, and fencing. Which remain my exercise of choice.

    I have a phobia of gyms though, mostly due to the not fitting in issue, so when I heard about Curves, I wanted to give it a shot. What I got was a bunch of old ladies (no offense to older ladies here, these were literally scary grandmas) who gossiped too loudly, were already tiny, bony things, and had the tendancy to voice their opinions like it or not. I had one ask me if I was dating anyone. Technically we weren’t “dating”, and I started to tell her “No, but-” when she jumps in and says “Oh then it’s a good thing you’re here then! Boys don’t like heavy girls.” I gaped at her for a second as the rest of the biddies
    nodded in agreement. Then I replied “You didn’t let me finish. I’m not dating anyone, just sleeping around. And fyi, actually they do.” I picked up my bag and left after that and ended my membership immediately.

    Gah, sorry this is so long. I must have writer’s diareaha or something.

  165. I do hope you print out copies of this post and share it with the gym and the teacher herself.

    This makes me realize how incredibly lucky I am to belong to a women’s gym where all sizes, shapes, ages and abilities are treated with respect. They DO exist, at least in Missoula, Montana!

  166. I’ve been to a lot of gyms and I can tell you, you never get a pitch of attitude at university or college gyms. They’re almost always open to the public and best ever yet, no contracts! Most of them even have great equipment for their teams and such, so an extra bonus. As to the horrid teachers, I think all you need is to figure out for yourself what will motivate you, in your own life situation. Your motivators wont be like the motivators of someone who lives in the gym, I’m not there yet. If you are seeking the “how-to” on exercising, just pick up a book on exercising, or utilize that great resource…google!

  167. I’m a freak, I love my gym (Minneapolis YWCA. Any profit they make goes into supporting feminist and anti-racist work).

    But I definitely had the “You suck because you don’t have this skill” in elementary school gym. Looking back on it, I think it devalues both sets of kids – those who don’t have the skill and feel like they just innately can’t learn it, and those who *have* the skill but it’s treated like an innate thing, not a learned skill you have to use your brain for.

    Part of it is that we moved a lot and sports depend on location a *lot* – first, I took ballet with tiny kids. Fine. Then we moved and everyone did gymnastics…but they all had started at 3. We were six. I was fat and bad at gymnastics. Failure in the first grade! Then we moved and everyone already knew how to play soccer except me. My mom kept making me take it. Five years later, i was pretty good. Then we moved to a place where there was no soccer and everyone else already knew how to play softball. i stopped playing sports. I just wasn’t athletic.

    Oh, and of course if you were good at reading and math they…pulled you out of gym to do advanced work? That was universal. Because, you know, the nerdy kids aren’t going to need to know how to play softball or volleyball or square dancing or whatever.

  168. Kate, do you bike? If so, I’d suggest biking to the gym, if at all possible and the roadways/sidewalks allow it. It’s faster than walking, and you might find a pool within easy biking distance that has decent instructors. Seriously: I’m a slug on the bike, and there are lots of hills for me to climb in my neighborhood, but even with all that I can ride at least three times as fast as I can walk. If you decide you can live without the pool, and you want to focus on cardio, you could just get your exercise from doing errands on the bike and skip the gym membership entirely.

  169. To the woman who has not learned cartwheels (yet). It is never too late. I learned them at the age of 55. If you think it would be fun, do it…

  170. I go to my local council’s gym. It is a 10 minute walk from my house, reasonably cheap and not one of the instructors or other staff has asked about my weight or implied I was there for weight loss. There was also no weighing or measuring. No judgement at all. They asked me what I wanted to get out of going there and gave me a plan that fitted with that.

    I think as it is a community facility it has to be more accepting as there is a variety of users. But I was so worried beforehand due to the body fascism experienced at previous establishments that I didn’t join it for several years after moving to the area. I was missing out on fun exercise because I was scared. It’s sad really.

  171. Phoenix Woman, I’m way too anxious to ride a bike in the city. I’d love to in theory, and I know plenty of people who do it, but I’ve tried, and it’s just too damned stressful to be pleasurable for me. (If we ever move closer to the head of the lakeshore bike path, however, I might just start.)

  172. @Lalaroo, if you’re comfortable with it, practice saying to yourself, “Sure! As soon as I’m done working out here, I’ll be happy to let you have the bench!”

    Then (again, if you’re comfortable with it) apply as needed at the gym. No one else there is more deserving of a particular piece of equipment than you – especially if you’re already on it! As long as you’re not overrunning some clearly stated and posted gym regulation about “amount of time on a piece of equipment, proper gym etiquette is for the person (GUYS) to say to you, “[Could you] Please let me know when you’re done there? Thanks!” I fear what you ran into is “guy entitlement” – you know, the one that entitles guys to whatever you have, are doing, are working on, or the last of, because the fact that you already have or are using or are doing doesn’t count, because you’re a girl. (This is also exemplified by the guy who comes into a room, picks up the remote next to you, and changes the channel without asking – because the fact that you’re already watching a program doesn’t count.)

    I had someone try that on me at 6:00 in the morning at my gym, for my bike; there were other empty bikes there, but she wanted MINE. I told her I’d be happy to let her have it when I was done, and she bitched about my being on it too long – I pointed out that that was during PEAK HOURS, and not at 6:00 AM, and there were other bikes. I had never seen her before, and I haven’t seen her since.

    Don’t change your bench, if you don’t want to. You’re a member too.

  173. I’ve persuaded my gym that they really need a larger size trainer to encourage the people who feel self conscious about their size and I’m training at present to get a qualification. I’m 52, fat, fit (I do triathlons and I don’t care if I look like an over-stuffed sausage in my lycra) and I am furious that people are made to feel that they should hide themselves away because they don’t conform to the shape and size that our society calls ‘attractive.’

  174. All instruction and motivation from a fitness instructor should be positive, NEVER negative.

    You don’t tell a person what they’re doing wrong – you show or tell them how to do it correctly and commend them when they do.

    You don’t tell a person how out of shape they are, you talk about how much closer to their goals they’re getting.

    Anybody who is in the gym, regardless of their physique or fitness level, deserves respect simply for the fact that they are there making the effort to improve themselves in some way. If you don’t get this at a gym or training studio you should show them what you think of it by voting with your wallet and taking your business elsewhere – if they don’t change their tune, they won’t be around long.

  175. I am a fitness trainer in an area OBSESSED with body image. I don’t fit that image. My co-worker (trainer) does. She fits that image to a “t”.
    I have a B.S. in Kinesiology, another in exercise physiology and certs fromACSM and ACE. She has an ACE cert.
    I am an excellent teacher and have been training for over 18 years. She just began training this year (and, to her credit, she might be a great teacher. I’m not sure).
    Her client base grows by the day and my remains scantily consistent.
    I can only assume that it has to do with my size. I emphasize movement and strength, and, when clients bring up anything weight-related, I shift the focus to these qualities as well as noting the immediate rewards inherent in movement of any type. I refuse to discuss diet, bmi, body fat or anything along those lines (I gently answer questions of this nature in an oblique, yet educated manner).
    I SO wish that I had the cojones to promote the “health at every size” beliefs….I think my problem is that I’m still bound to the perfectionism rampant in the gym milieu and in society at large. Simply put, it is fucked.

  176. I’m really sorry you had a bad gym experience. A lot of people do. Some instructors are so focused on their personal goals, they project them onto other people. It’s not right, but it is common. That being said, A LOT of people go to the gym in the hopes of not just getting healthy, but slimming down. The instructor is there to make a living, and her *weight focused* sell was probably a marketing strategy (ie to get you to train or whatever with her). I’d be inclined to cut her some slack: it’s really hard to tell by looking at someone what their goals are.

  177. Hey- there are many good Personal Trainers/ Fitness Instructors who are supportive rather than condescending- and I’m one of them! There are some who are there for themselves, not because they truly have a passion for helping people with fitness. And to be fair, I think it’s worth noting that most gyms these days are NOT meat markets. Gym culture has changed quite a bit, and you no longer see just skinny, buffed people there in tight spandex anymore. Also, it’s been my experience that most gym goers are very supportive of others who may be less fit and do not judge them. That’s just my experience where I live- I’m sure if you go to some uppity gym somewhere it could be different, I dunno. But anyway, from a long career in fitness, I can tell you that 90% of the “judgment” from others is in our heads. Usually, people are too busy with their own workouts to even pay attention to how big your ass is or whatever. Once we become comfortable in our own skins, our perception changes.

  178. I would leave a note to management in the comment box, done that before at my gym. I’m too wussy for a direct confrontation 99% of the time so written complaints work better for me… plus management tends to pay more attention to things in writing, must be their knee jerk response to a paper trail.

    Totally with you on the exercising for health, NOT weight loss, though for completely different reasons. I joined a gym last year for the first time in my life on doctor’s orders, the doctor being my psychiatrist treating me for severe postpartum depression. I love her forever for saying “the exercise will help you more than the medications.” While I do still have all my baby weight, it’s way down on my list of concerns and the last thing I need is to get discouraged from exercising because I’m not meeting some “goal”. That being said, I’ve given up on explaining it to the trainers at the gym. I just let them measure me every month and write it down in their little chart and then proceed to ignore it.

    I pick and choose my classes carefully, haven’t stepped foot in the spinning room yet but I do like water fitness, yoga and zumba. Generally in water fitness they are gentler on you because that’s where a lot of the people with back problems and injuries go – although one of the worst teachers I’ve ever had was a sub for the water fitness class. (Yep, left a comment card about her… tee hee.) The teacher can always make or break a class. Yoga is all about listening to your body and doing the practice at your pace, and zumba is the “fun” class (it helps that we have an instructor who’s in her 50s and not a stick figure.)

    On days when I can’t handle human interaction I swim laps. I find breast stroke is the best because my head is under water most of the time so the noise is drowned out, literally. It can get boring so I’ve started switching it up with butterfly style.

    By the way I go to Shapes, it’s a women only gym but it actually has a pool and classes unlike Curves so it doesn’t bore the crap out of me. To each her own though, my MIL swears by Curves.

    Just do what you enjoy – you got the right idea, keep it up and don’t let the occasional butthead ruin your day. :)

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