Plus-size gym goers say weight stigma in the fitness space can be ‘extremely toxic’

After a car accident, Mandy Smith had to take a year off from exercise. She gained 100 pounds within a year. When the 43-year-old, who struggled with fitness and eating disorders for decades, was able to get active again, she signed up for bootcamp-style classes.

While Smith is a veteran of these high-intensity exercises for many years and knows how to perform jumping jacks, squats and squat jumps, one trainer said that with her new body, This class is not suitable.

This is just one example of the type of struggle, exclusion, and trauma that someone can experience in a fitness environment at the expense of their weight. While the journeys are all different, the discrimination someone like Smith faces is not unique.

When I looked around everyone was skinny

Angelica Wilson, a 30-year-old yoga instructor and fitness writer based in New York City, began her yoga journey at a studio where she felt welcomed when she first walked in the door. . It’s just that when I look around everyone is very thin, she said.

Darion Hughes, a 29-year-old content creator based in Orlando, Fla., can also relate.

When plus-size men or big men go to the gym, it seems like they’re huge and we’re trying to do something about that. But then we were staring like, Wow, I can’t believe how big he is,” he told Yahoo Life. It’s like a catch-22.

It’s one of many plus-size experiences Hughes discusses on TikTok, where he positions himself as a big boy mentor. The goal of his lifestyle content is to help men with larger bodies navigate the world. Gyms are one of the places where he believes they need help to do that.

One of the most vulnerable places, regardless of your body type, is the gym. This is also one of the scariest places,” he said. I found that we [referring to his community of big boys] like to be in the background, not really too outspoken, because we feel like we don’t necessarily need to be there.

This is not a conclusion that gym-goers come to on their own. Instead, it reflects the weight bias that exists within the industry and is expressed in those spaces. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Obesity found that 85% of exercise professionals are guilty of perpetuating this stigma.

If you’re at the gym and working with a personal trainer, one of the first things they ask you is What is your goal weight? Wilson said. She felt isolated when she attended group fitness classes and was asked, Is this your first time participating? Or, If you need any modifications, let me know.

An instructor was surrounding me, and she kept stepping in to make adjustments, Wilson said, noting that as a yoga instructor with 10 years of experience, she was able to Determine the necessary adjustments.

Smith, who eventually became a trainer and owner of Resistance Gym, an inclusive fitness space based in Concord, California, said she had clients who were told they couldn’t can do something. Like, if the whole class was doing pull-ups, they’d be told straight up: Well, you won’t be able to do that, she explains.

Judgment from peers can also be hurtful.

Hughes said it is extremely toxic in many ways. It’s wrong to put someone down just because they haven’t reached a certain level. Or to or say, You are this big man, you can lift a certain amount of weight, you can only lift this? Instead of saying, Hey man, I’m proud of you for showing up.

Fat stereotypes keep plus-sized people from going to the gym

Studies show that weight stigma at the gym causes plus-size people to have negative attitudes related to these spaces, leading many to exclude themselves from workout environments.

Smith says: “I know people who have never gone to the gym because they are worried about their bodies. They’ve never even tried exercising because they’re afraid people will judge them.

It’s a feeling Hughes can understand as he admits that hitting the gym can feel downright intimidating. If he hadn’t played contact sports growing up, he said, I wouldn’t have been able to get over it. [fear].

While he can celebrate small victories, such as walking through the gym’s entrance, Hughes understands that the trauma of being a bigger person in the fitness space goes beyond the relationship. Stress relationship with the gym.

Research shows that men and women with larger bodies may develop “maladaptive coping behaviors, weight bias, unhealthy weight control practices, and poor physical and emotional well-being.” self-reported poorer outcomes” due to experiences of weight discrimination at the gym.

All that and it’s no surprise that Hughes says, the biggest feat is just showing up.

Making strides toward inclusion

The front window of Smith’s own Resistance Gym, which she opened in 2020 to teach people that fitness isn’t what it seems, features people in all body types lifting weights with the slogan writes, You belong here. She went to great lengths to make sure that was true.

Clients at Resistance Gyms come in all shapes and sizes. (Courtesy of Mandy Smith)

People are not allowed to comment on their bodies, which is one of the rules she said is written on the gym’s mirrorless walls. Using inclusive language, reminding people that they are not judged for their movements, installing appropriately sized machines, and larger locker room and waiting room areas are also practices. her practice.

For those hesitant to get their foot in the door, Smith also hosts a book club that gets people into the space without having to exercise.

Smith is now being tapped by fitness entrepreneurs around the world to train people with larger bodies. “They got to the point where they recognized the need, but they didn’t know how to do it,” she said.

“We are here doing this,” says Wilson, who has built a network of plus-sized instructors like herself. … So if you want to find local representation, you can find it. It just requires a little digging.

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