Should a low B.M.I keep you out of the gym? In some cases, it might.
In an effort to cater to bigger clientele (and beginners who have more weight to lose than just the last 15-20) some gyms have started ‘banning’ thinner individuals from joining. The hope is that it’ll encourage larger exercisers and newbies to stick with the program and create a more positive experience for them by minimizing self-esteem sucking comparison and creating programs for their specific goals.
Is it discrimination? Yes. Literally. But is it necessarily a bad thing? This is where I get a little more defensive.
If you’re a fit freak or gym rat, the gym is a second home. But if you’re NOT, it can be an intimidating place, filled with people who are fitter, stronger and sometimes, leaner than you. And insecurity is one of the biggest reasons many overweight women do not join or stick to a gym program.
As a health/fitness advocate, I strongly believe in giving people more opportunities to succeed in their lifestyle changes. While policies like this may be discriminatory to some, I think positive opportunities for people who need it most MAY outweigh the negatives. And in most cases, there’s NO shortage of other gyms for people to join.
Women only gyms have shown great success with getting many women on board with fitness: it allows them to workout without feeling intimidated by the guys and creates a community where the focus is on addressing female concerns and goals (which tend to be different than men). Along the same lines, gyms that invite/welcome only overweight exercisers may be able to address their specific needs a little easier, while helping them build confidence.
I’m not in support of discrimination per se: I don’t think it’s necessary to BAN one group from a gym and some gyms are able to implement this concept without alienating an entire group. But, while it might be controversial to say, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. I think it can be a positive experience for new gym goers who are still working on their insecurities. And I kinda have a soft spot for them.
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.
What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea?