It Happened To Me: I Was Body-Shamed At The Gym

He wanted me to admit to him that yes, in fact, my weight did bother me. He wanted to hear my say it, to hear the word “fat” come out of my lips.
Publish date:
April 30, 2013
gym, fitness, exercise, weight, body shaming

I love going to the gym and exercising; riding my bike, being active, doing yoga and having a relatively healthy diet is part of my lifestyle. I love working out because it makes me feel good and it makes me happy. I don’t view it was a chore and I am pretty lax on myself, I don’t always make it to the gym every week though I do try to get there at least twice.

To me, exercising has always been a way to maintain my health. Weight loss is a natural part of it but that has never been a main priority of mine, which is why I was so appalled when I was body-shamed at a gym orientation several years ago.

I had just moved to a new city after finishing university. I was feeling excited and nervous -- my “adult” life just beginning. I was confident and happy and wanted to continue the active lifestyle that I had developed while going to school, so I went in search for a new gym.

I wanted something close to my apartment so I could walk there. Through my extensive internet searches (on company time of course) and I found a gym called Extreme Fitness, that was just a few subway stops away from my apartment. It was perfect.

As soon as the ink was drying on the contracts, I was told that I would have to come in for a “Fitness Evaluation” to place my “fitness” level. Strange, I thought, I’ve never done anything like that before. It was scheduled to take place a few days later.

My evaluation was a Monday, in early September. The day was cold and raining and generally miserable. I put on an old T-shirt and frayed yoga pants, and took an umbrella. I was smiling.

The personal trainer who had been assigned to me for my evaluation met me at the entrance. He seemed nice and congratulated me on my confidence after he has reviewed my paperwork. In the questionnaire that I filled out, I was very adamant that I was comfortable with my current weight, that I was just interested in being active and that I did not have any specific weight-loss goals in mind.

The Fitness Evaluation consisted of an assortment of cardio and resistance exercises to test how fit I was. It was almost exactly like the endurance test I had to take in Grade 9; riding the bike for five minutes, how many push-ups I could do in 1 minute, how many sit-ups I could do in 1 minute and so on. I thought I had done reasonably well.

After that came the weigh-in. I don’t typically weigh myself. The personal trainer was first shocked that I didn’t know my weight off-hand and was double-shocked that I didn’t own a scale. I don’t own a scale because my weight has never been that important to me as long as I am exercising and healthy. I have always been confident about the way I look.

I stepped onto the scale. The numbers read 185 pounds. (Not bad considering a year before I was 210.) I was unfazed about the digital numbers lighting the scale.

Unfortunately, the personal trainer did not share my philosophy. He did not like the number, that terribly high number, and he did not like the number on the little gadget that measures body fat.

The personal trainer wrote those numbers in huge writing on his paged and circled them over and over with his pen. (I am positive he circled so hard it ripped through to the other page). Suddenly the appreciation for my confidence had dissolved.

He wanted me to admit to him that yes, in fact, my weight did bother me. He wanted to hear my say it, to hear the word “fat” come out of my lips. He wanted me to say that I needed to lose weight. I tried very hard to stand my ground -- My weight wasn’t an issue! I was happy and healthy!

He said those numbers were too high. Tap, tap, tap on the number he had just circled, my weight that he had written on the piece of paper. My records. Circled in red.

He punctuated each word with a tapping of the numbers.

“What does this number mean to YOU?” he asked. Tap, tap, tap.

“It’s my weight” I said smart-assedly. “I’m fine with it. I’m healthy.”

“Are you SURE? This number here [Tap. Tap. Tap.] can lead to multiple health risks. You will have a HEART ATTACK one day!”

Telling me that I was going to die eroded the last shred of confidence that I had in myself and I felt my chin quiver.

The tapping, the prodding, the disregard for my own words/feelings, him telling me I was going to have a heart attack and basically insinuating that I was going to die alone and miserable was too much to bear. My eyes started watering and I started bawling.

Looking back, I wish I had just walked out. Instead I stood there crying and rubbing my eyes. I couldn’t stop myself.

Once I started crying, his demeanor softened a bit. The tapping ceased. He put his clipboard down and somehow magically developed a degree in psychology. He told me in a soft whisper that the reason I burst into tears like that was that I had a deeply rooted issue with my weight and body size and that it was OK, he was here to help me overcome my problem.

His diagnosis segued into a story about his fiancé. Apparently, she was in absolute despair about her weight. She weighed in at a “gross” 140 lbs and was very depressed, often projecting her dislike for herself on the helpless celebrities she saw on television, “So-and-so is so fat, she is so ugly, so-and-so needs to lose weight after the baby!”

He, being so perceptive, asked her about it. She finally admitted that she was fat and unhappy with letting herself go. He told her that he was here to help and organized a work-out/diet plan for her and she got down to 125 pounds, which made her “extremely happy with life.”

After I had calmed down a bit, and had a few sips of water, the personal trainer said that it was his professional opinion that I should invest in a personal trainer AND a nutritionist because apparently I was such an extreme case I could not be trusted to work out by myself and/or feed myself properly.

This extra expenditure was going to cost me $75 per month, on top of the $70 a month I was already going to be paying as a member. In the end, I told him that I did not have the extra money to spend on frivolities. I was probably curt and emotionless but I didn’t care, I walked out of there, tears welling up in my eyes, trying to hold it together as I rode the subway a few stops back to my apartment.

Once I got home, I started talking to my aunt. I was bawling, reliving the horrible experience as I told her all that had happened. She came with me the next day to cancel my membership. I saw the personal trainer as I walked in. He looked at me and waved, and I just gave him a sad smile.

The next day I was back online searching for a new gym.