Gyms that ban camera phones in locker rooms need no justification. Many gyms also have policies regarding clothing – no bare chests, please – and some restrict certain food or drink.
But Body Exchange, a small chain of gyms located in and around Vancouver, goes so far as to screen potential members and direct them elsewhere if they are determined to be too fit.
Billed as “Canada’s only fitness and adventure company exclusive to a plus size clientele,” Body Exchange was the subject of a recent article in The Province about Wendy McNary, an overweight woman in her early 50s who had previously felt intimidated by gym environments.
Three years after joining Body Exchange, she continues to exercise six days a week including Saturday boot camp sessions. In conjunction with a weight loss program, she has lost 50 pounds and been able to reduce her blood pressure medication.
Several media outlets, however, have focused on the gym’s policy of only welcoming plus size members.
Time magazine’s NewsFeed picked up the article and sought out other gyms across the United States that view fit people as unfit for their institutions.
Body Exchange founder and chief executive officer Louise Green told The Province, “The presence of that person in our program will bring down morale” and noted that most of the female clientele are between ages 35 and 55.
The idea of creating a “safe haven” (Ms. Green’s term) for those who may better identify with The Biggest Loser contestants than The Real Housewives is understandable to some extent. A gym best serves its purpose when people go regularly, and anyone who feels uncomfortable for whatever reason is likely to stay away.
Yet a gym’s policy to refuse ectomorphs is unusual – ironic even – insofar as representing a certain degree of discrimination, even though its purpose is to eliminate discrimination that overweight people may perceive elsewhere.
It’s the same concept as weight loss camps, of course; the difference in this case is that a gym membership is conceivably longer term. So what happens when someone benefits so much from the environment at Body Exchange that she exercises herself out of the criteria that allowed her to become a member? If she gets too sculpted from the cardio workouts and fitness trips to Mexico, may she be asked to leave?
Body Exchange, which opened in 2008, makes no mention of its policies on its website, except to emphasize the specific athletic and adventure programs that help clients build more activity into their lives.
Ultimately, though, aren’t gym-goers generally too self-absorbed – eyeing how noticeable their triceps have become or monitoring their form – to spend time judging others?
Perhaps the question that’s most worth answering – and that no one seems to be addressing – is why gyms don’t do a better job of making people universally feel as good about themselves as possible.