I was once the pregnant woman who was asked to leave the gym because my belly was sticking out of the bottom of my shirt. For two weeks, this story dominated my life and drained me of every ounce of energy I had. What was triggered by an initial desire to vent my embarrassment and displeasure with how I was treated turned into something completely different in the end. This is a story of how some stories are better left untold.
On April 21st of 2014, I was 18 weeks pregnant with my second child. In order to take a break from the endless job of parenting, and to stay healthy and feel good about myself, I went to the gym, which I had been a member of for nearly three years. After 10 minutes of working out on the treadmill, I was approached by an employee asking for me to leave the gym because I was non-compliant with their dress code. Planet Fitness is well-known for their "anti-lunker" policies, which attempt to create an environment for average people to work out and stay fit; in my opinion, this policy could not be more suitable than for a married, 31-year-old, 18-week pregnant woman.
The shirt in question was an orchid spaghetti strap tank top that is like many I have worn to this gym over my three-year membership (including the gray one I was wearing the day my membership photo was taken). I wear to the gym what makes me feel comfortable while working out, and every time I had entered the gym I would check-in with an employee at the front door. I had never been approached by anyone at Planet Fitness about my attire before; in fact, I had even worn a sports bra to this gym on a few occasions.
Once I was asked to leave, I was embarrassed and confused, which manifested itself through a hint of sassy anger. The employee responded with words any woman would love to hear, “Your belly is hanging out.” I told the employee that of course my belly was hanging out as I was clearly pregnant. The employee handed me a large men’s T-shirt, suggesting that I put it on over my clothes if I wanted to continue working out; otherwise I would have to leave, or have my membership revoked on the spot.
After following her to get my membership canceled, I decided I was going to continue my workout since she was being ridiculous for asking me to leave. (I had never heard of a dress code at the gym?!) I pulled down my shirt to cover my “unsightly” belly and returned to the treadmill. Other gym-goers around me were commenting on how crazy it was for them to suggest that my appearance was unacceptable.
I couldn't continue my workout -- I had nothing on my mind but how pissed off I was, so I walked out of the gym and made the long and frustrating drive back home. I could feel my blood boiling. When I arrived at home I told my husband what had happened. He couldn't believe it either, but was also unsure if my anger might be exaggerating the story; it wasn't. I asked him to take a picture of me in what I was wearing, and then I did something that I had never done before. I took to social media, posting the outfit in question with a short rant and the conclusion that my friends should beware when paying for a membership at Planet Fitness.
The responses from those who know me ranged from shock and disbelief, to shared anger and disgust. Through the sharing of my post my story found its way to someone at the local ABC news station in Charleston. They had asked me if I would be willing to do a story, which both scared and excited me. I felt that by speaking to the news about what had happened, I would be able to get out all of the things I was feeling when being asked to remove myself from the gym. I thought that Planet Fitness would become the center of whatever attention came from the story, and I could feel a little bit of justice was served. When the interview was over, the news reporter told me, “Hold on tight.” I could have never imagined what resulted.
The story became one of the most commented and shared stories to be put out by a news station in Charleston. Thousands of people were reading the story and chiming in. If there is one thing I have learned throughout this process, it is that the Internet can be a dark and terrible place. The attention did not turn to the absurdity of Planet Fitness’ policy (which I have still yet to see in writing, mind you) but to me. I began reading the comments out of curiosity and a little naivete. The news story did not necessarily represent everything I was trying to say, and in response people within my community were not only suggesting I was wrong for violating their policy, but many felt it necessary to comment on my thin body type, my personal appearance, my livelihood, among other personal things.
When I was approached by a national news source, I thought that this was a golden opportunity to respond to my critics and set the record straight. One of the most frustrating things was the number of people suggesting that I was telling this story in order to obtain some financial gain or to incite a lawsuit. This was never my desire or intention, and has yet to cross my mind as a serious consideration still.
I thought that by using lessons learned from the first news story I could right the ship and articulate the situation in the correct way -- a way to illustrate that I was not the perpetrator, but the victim of discrimination. But I didn't truly feel like a victim in the traditional sense of the word; I felt mistreated because I did not feel like I had done anything wrong, and embarrassed by a policy that I did not agree with. However, I did consider how others would feel if this happened to them, and felt like if my telling of this story resulted in a change of Planet Fitness’ policy, and kept anyone else from sharing my embarrassment, then it was worth doing.
Well, one national news story led to 50. News sources I had never even heard of, let alone talked to, were writing their own versions. Friends were contacting me from across the country, and even family members in Europe were seeing me in my orchid tank top in their local newspapers, which became a hot topic of public scrutiny.
With more exposure came more judgment. My Facebook inbox was filling up quickly -- with some support but mostly hate mail from people I didn't know. Very constructive (sarcasm) messages about how I should stop being a whiny bitch, insight that I looked like I got hit with a shovel, and that I was a sorry excuse for a human being who was unfit to be a mother.
Although I was constantly reassured by those who care about me that this sort of trolling was to be expected, and that I should not take it personally, these messages hurt. They caused so much frustration because all I wanted to do was write each and every one of them back and set them straight, curse them out, or point out all of their flaws. But I refrained. Rather, more opportunities came from different media sources, and with each one I debated whether there was any point.
My story appeared on "Nancy Grace" -- before this, I'd had no idea who she was. I was lumped in with a story about a teacher giving a lap-dance to her 11-year old student, a creepy baby monitor hacker, and something else trashy and off-the-wall. Again, I buried my face in my hands, wanting to recall the whole thing and go back to my self-contained frustration for being asked to leave the gym.
As the news sources continued to increase in number, so, too, did the hate mail, unsolicited "friend requests," and anxiety. Some might say I brought this on myself -- in fact, plenty HAVE said it. I never thought that reporting my personal embarrassment would do any more than cause a little embarrassment in return on the part of Planet Fitness and maybe yield a sincere apology. My contact with the company, from its employees, location franchisee, and corporate representatives only added to the frustration. The employees were extremely rude. At first, the franchisee was apologetic and claimed that this situation was brought on due to poor training, but later he reversed his statement after assumedly speaking with his corporate advisors.
Just as I thought this story was FINALLY making its way into the category of "old news," MSN posted their own version of the story on May 2nd. Again, the hate mail started pouring in, and as many times as I had been told to pay it no attention, curiosity led to more hurt feelings and more frustration. On the same day, I was approached by the Weather Channel and xoJane to contribute more to the story that has dominated my life for the past few weeks.
After consulting with my brother, who has been willing to take on my emotions and frustrations throughout this madness, I decided that no matter what I say to a news reporter, it will not satisfy everyone and will likely expose me to more negativity.
However, I did accept xoJane’s offer to write this story with the hope that I could at least express everything else that has gone on aside from what has been written in the news. After weeks of reading messages about how I am pathetic, looking for attention, whiny, and making a big deal out of nothing, I have wanted to let the world know that I am happy with who I am. I try to be the best mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, and person I can possibly be, and it was not ME who deemed this story newsworthy. I was never receiving any benefit from throwing myself into the fire, and my only hope was to prevent others from going through this.
I have learned over the past few weeks a few truths. First, the truth behind the ever-so-eloquently stated cliché, “Haters gonna hate.” Second, that I should be careful when making assumptions and judgments about people and situations I know nothing about. And third, that sometimes stories are best left untold.
(And don't get me wrong, Planet Fitness will NEVER get my business.)
This piece was reprinted with permission from Some Stories Are Best Left Untold.