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Is There Science Behind Gyms “Banning” Skinny People?
Planet Fitness gyms profess to “ban” meatheads so that calmer, more casual gym-goers can feel more comfortable when working out. So what happens when that same mentality is applied to banning skinny people? A bit of a media uproar, apparently.
The Daily News recently ran a story on several gyms that “banned” skinny people to help larger clients feel more comfortable while working out. This predictably didn’t go over so well with many readers of all sizes. The only real “ban” was at Vancouver’s Body Exchange, where policy only allows plus-size women to join the gym. But Body Exchange isn’t totally alone, as other gyms have tried to cater to larger clientele. Square One in Nebraska targets “people of size,” although smaller clients are also welcome. Downsize Fitness, with locations in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Dallas, was created to cater to chronically overweight and obese individuals although it also doesn’t technically ban anyone.
There’s no law preventing gyms from cherry picking their clients (as long it doesn’t constitute discrimination under the law). However, health and wellness isn’t usually associated with closed doors (Greatist, for one, is all about making better choices easier for everyone). It turns out there might actually be some self-esteem science behind it beyond just creating a media stir.
Self-esteem and self-compassion, or how good a person feels about his or herself, can be an important motivating force for change. Research suggests exercise has positive short-term effects on self-esteem in young people and may even be an important measure in improving self-esteem in children . The idea that self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation helped fuel Body Exchange’s policy .
“Many of our clients have not had successful fitness pasts so I can see the anxiety before we get started and I can see the relief and happiness after we finish,” Body Exchange founder Louise Green told The Province.
“It’s intimidating going into a gym setting,” one Body Exchange client told The Province. “I honestly think some people in a gym setting are judgmental to people who are overweight or have a different body type.”
It’s hard to scientifically tie a ban with self-esteem, but these gyms are banking on the belief that working out with people of similar size will help gym-goers feel better about their bodies. That kind of support is meant to improve self-worth and lower feelings of public self-consciousness and social comparison . The real question, though, is whether banning skinny people is actually helping gyms increase the self-esteem and overall happiness of their clientele.
It makes sense that gyms should try to make their environments comfortable and welcoming. But it’s not clear if “banning” a subset of the population is the right way to go about boosting self-esteem, or if discouraging skinny people will actually make larger gym-goers feel better or worse when working out. It’s another controversy — much like Planet Fitness’ meathead ban — that has stirred up some interesting debates, so lend your voice:
Is a plus-friendly gym a welcome change or is the “ban” totally wrongheaded? Join the conversation in the comments below.
- Exercise to improve self-esteem in children and young people. Ekeland, E., Heian, F., Hagen, K.B., et al. Norwegian Directorate for Health and Social Affairs, Norway. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2004;(1):CD003683.⤴
- Self-compassion increase self-improvement motivation. Breines, J.G., Chen, S. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2012 May 29⤴
- Self-compassion versus global self-esteem: two different ways of relating to oneself. Neff, K.D., Vonk, R. Educational Pschyology, University of Texas at Austin. Journal of Personality, 2009 Feb;77(1):23-50⤴
Comments Leave a comment
I do think it's a bit odd to outright ban certain people, instead of just targeting your marketing in a way that carves out whatever specific niche you want. But I don't think banning certain people is a bad idea exactly, and I don't think it's "wrong" of them to ban people. There are a million gyms out there that will be happy to take the "banned."
What I find funny is the endgame to all of this... If a gym is successful at helping it's clientele lose the weight... at what point do they start considering their long-time clients 'too skinny' and too successful' to workout there anymore?
What I find funny is the endgame to all of this... If a gym is successful at helping itsclientele lose the weight... at what point do they start considering their long-time clients 'too skinny' and 'too successful' to workout there anymore?
What I find funny is the endgame to all of this... If a gym is successful at helping its clientele lose the weight... at what point do they start considering their long-time clients 'too skinny' and 'too successful' to workout there anymore?
I agree. Gyms have the right to target their marketing to a specific audience, but I'm against "banning" anyone. I believe a gym should have a mix of people from all fitness types. Sometimes in order to break out of a particular fitness type, you need to see real live examples of people working out who are a bit fitter or stronger than we are.
The logic seems strange. If everyone subscribed to the same ideal about how people should look, then maybe the self-esteem thing has merit cos then there's a standard that you can "fall short" of. But the standard is different for everyone, isn't it? Maybe two big (or two little) people will both go to the same gym, but have totally different endpoints in mind.
I started gymming to put on weight because I was inactive and looked very unhealthy. A skinny ban would have been terrible for my self-esteem. :)
That's stupid. If you ban skinny people from a gym and it ends up being the "heavy - set" hangout then it's fat camp all over again. I don;t see that helping anybody. Not smart.
As a person whose lost 40 pounds of the 100 pounds that I need to lose, there is not a gym in my area that caters to individuals that are plus size. It is clear from their web sites that they are geared for those of skinnier persuasions. I'm sure that they would accept my money, but it's also clear that I would be uncomfortable in their establishments.
I'm also curious who first started using the term "ban" in reference to these gyms for overweight individuals. So, I read the original Daily News article.
Oh, Greatist, which by the way, I really like your website. You should bow your head in shame.
The Daily News used the word , "ban". None of the establishments highlighted in the article "ban" skinny individuals. They are more than welcome to join. Indeed, even the Body Exchange does NOT ban skinny people.
I started reading this article thinking that my hesitation to join a gym was in part to my imagining discrimination that may not exist.
As I finish reading this article, I know that the discrimination against overweight individuals is not fantasy, but is reality.
If I wasn't clear enough. This article is nothing but the dissemination of discrimination against overweight people.
@zachary sniderman @BetsyKiplinger
Well, I learned something today. Be really careful what you say when you get emotionally riled. When I initially read your article, it was clear that you were discussing how it may be important to provide specialty gyms for overweight individuals. But, you also used the term "banning" to gather interest which led me to actually read the original article which really riled me. So, I apologize for overgeneralizing.
Yet, my original concern is still valid. It can be an uphill battle for significantly overweight individuals to lose weight which is what you were trying to explore. As for your question about what kinds of information would you like to see or learn about... After reading the daily news article, I'm actually interested in learning more about the Body Exchange or even other gyms that cater to plus size individuals. I agree alot with Ellemca's comment.
I'm really torn. I don't want to see anyone excluded. I like sandysandy's observation about her experience. But I believe that many gyms are pretty exclusive places. Even when I was pretty fit and going to the gym regularly to use the rowing machine, I felt like I was being judged because I was comparatively heavy and very pear shaped. (I probably would have felt the same if I were underweight and flabby.) I eventually left because I felt so uncomfortable. Now I've gained quite a few pounds and am trying to get them off again, and I won't go near a gym. My self-esteem is too fragile. I know gyms vary widely. I went as a guest to a neighborhood YMCA once that felt very accepting. I've been to a Curves once, too, and that actually felt like a pretty judgmental environment. It depends so much on the specific management and members. Nevertheless, I'd love to hear about a gym near me that caters overtly to a more diverse population, in terms of size, fitness level, and age.(While I'm not entirely uncritical of its claims, I'd REALLY love it if there were a gym that espoused the Health At Every Size philosophy.) The typical gym advertisement I see patently does not--hard, muscular, sweaty bodies--nor it seems does the typical programming. I'm sure there's a bit of a chicken and egg problem in terms of the economics. Maybe things have changed for the better since I've been out there? As someone who's starting over, pretty much from scratch, much of what I see (even some at-home, self-help information) feels intimidating or unwelcoming, not accessible.
Self esteem isn't innate. It's developed through accomplishing things in the face of adversity. I had a conversation with someone about this a few days. The difference between the "haves" and "have-nots" or the "fit" and "not fit" is the want for challenge. Those who are fit and successful are those who enjoy a challenge and don't mind being uncomfortable, pushed from their comfort zone. Those who are not are those who avoid discomfort at all cost... which is exactly what got them in their poor situation to begin with. (Rather than deal with my emotions, I'm going to make myself happy again with this Snickers bar. Rather than go work out, I'm just going to sit on my couch because people might be thinking bad things about me.) At some point you need to suck it up and just do it (I wonder where Nike got their slogan?). You then survive, realize how much stronger you truly are, begin to develop a self esteem that's built on something (rather than the empty self esteem American culture began developing in the 70s), and are able to more easily go out to accomplish something else that's uncomfortable. Why do you care if someone random person on the machine next to you is judging you? Just because someone may think it, doesn't make it true. Use the notion that people are judging you as motivation. Prove people wrong. Do what others are thinking you can't do.
I am underweight. For someone who is underweight, gaining weight is as hard as losing weight for an overweight person. I started working out about four months ago and I think it helps me by energizing me and I feel my appetite is better. I seriously don't understand those gyms that ban skinny people.