Thin = / = fit, and vice versa

// 2 February 2011

I had to link to this great piece in the Guardian by Homa Khaleeli, mostly because I had a similar experience when I joined my new gym in the autumn.

I’ve been running relatively seriously for three years, completing two half-marathons as well as a 10k and several 5ks. I’ve recently had to stop because of a bad injury to my left knee because of my hypermobility, which means (combined with stupid PCOS) that I’ve put a little bit of weight on from my running weight.

When I went for my gym induction, the personal trainer asked me what my goals were, after weighing and measuring me. I told him I wanted to recover from my injury, improve my running technique, and get back to full fitness. He then proceeded to suggest lots of weight-loss exercises for me, having looked me up and down and commented, “Your arms and legs are slim!” (They’re not, particularly – I’d say they were muscular but perhaps they look “slim.) I kept reiterating that I didn’t want to lose weight as a goal. I might as well not have bothered. And I was too crushed about his insistence that I needed to be thinner to complain.

Anyone had similar experiences? The Guardian commenters seem to…

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 2 February 2011 at 4:25 pm

Remember that old feminist saying ‘women can never be too thin!’ This saying is in fact a criticism of how our male supremacist society and yes that includes you the media, demand and expect all women to be a one size fit all.

Exercise is not about losing weight it is about enjoying it but of course most gym instructors only perceive women as ‘a one size fits all’ and remember women can never be too thin. Who profits from this negative propaganda? The diet industry, the beauty industry, the exercise industry and the cosmetic surgery industry, since women all have to conform to a mythical body shape devised and created by men for profit and as a clever way of keeping women focused on appearance rather than other important women’s issues.

All this constant bombardment does wear down women’s resistance because there is little or no critique of these claims, particularly since science too has decided to weigh in with its claims that women’s body ratios etc must conform to a male-centric ideology.

Read Body Work: The Social Construction of Women’s Body Image by Sylvia Blood to gain a better understanding of how science is used to maintain male power over women and their bodies.

Rachel // Posted 2 February 2011 at 5:19 pm

I had a similar gym experience a few years ago. I told the instructor my aims were to improve overall fitness and muscle tone. He ignored this and in a somewhat humiliating induction I was weighed and had my body fat measured. I was asked to do a 360 turn while the instructor eyed me up and down, presumably to gauge what parts of my body he felt I needed to work on. My body fat came out at 30%, which, the gym instructor told me in front of other gym-goers, he found to be ‘disgusting’. Oh yes – he actually used that word to describe my body to me.

He told me only a bad diet and no exercise could possible have led me to reach this level of body fat (not true), and that we needed to work on a weight reduction programme (we needed to do no such thing). Instead of telling him to stick his body fat measuring equipment up his a*se, I was so shocked and upset that I spent the rest of the session trying not to cry and went home feeling terrible about myself.

I think the shock of being judged and criticised by a person who was meant to be an expert (ha!), and was meant to be advising and helping me, rendered me speechless and unable to tell him that it was his behaviour, and not my healthy, happy female body, that was disgusting. Incidentally, I’ve since found out that my body fat is within the healthy range for a woman (whatever this means). This is irrelevant in the sense that he had absolutely no right to share his personal feelings about my body whatever my size or shape, or to tell me that he thought I should lose weight. However, it just highlights the fact that he uses his position to promote his personal ideal of what a female body should be to his clients, even though his ideal has nothing whatsoever to do with being healthy or strong or fit or capable, and more to do with being thin, thin, thin.

Kez // Posted 2 February 2011 at 5:38 pm

Completely agree, Carrie. There is definitely a perception that one of the main, if not the only, reasons for women to take up – or persevere with – running or any other exercise is to lose weight. I even read an article in a running magazine recently in which the writer opined that she had never met a female runner who didn’t start running primarily to lose weight! Well – I am that rare female runner, and judging by others I know, I’m not actually that rare at all. There are lots of reasons why I love long distance running (I’ve done 2 marathons, several halfs, countless 10 and 5ks) but weight doesn’t really feature at all, or if it does, it’s for the opposite reason – because being slightly lighter helps my running!

Mary // Posted 2 February 2011 at 6:44 pm

The only time I’ve ever had a gym induction I had the opposite experience, I’m pleased to say. I was completely braced for my “And I’m not particularly interested in losing weight” to be ignored, and the guy certainly looked a bit surprised, but he completely respected it and just focussed on strength, stamina and fitness all the way though. So it can be done! More of that, please, gym people.

Catherine // Posted 2 February 2011 at 7:32 pm

My sister had a similar experience. We both joined the gym, and while my goal was to lose some weight (to help me manage PCOS) and get fit, she is already very slim and fit, and wanted to tone up and strengthen her lower legs for mountain climbing. She explained this to the instructor. He WROTE DOWN on both of our induction forms ‘Goals: weight loss’. If my sister lost weight she would probably be LESS healthy.

Josie // Posted 2 February 2011 at 9:02 pm

I went to a gym induction a few months ago. I told the intructor that the reason i was there was for general fitness and health, and also mentioned that i was recovering from anorexia so i had to take it gently. He then suggested where i could lose weight from and set me up a regime that was so harsh that even with full health i could NOT do it!

Hannah L // Posted 2 February 2011 at 9:09 pm

I had a similar experience to those above. I had a female instructor who gave me exercises to help with my ‘back fat’ (didn’t know I had any until that point but she helpfully squeezed it for me) and encouraged to remember to do my pelvic floor exercises for my ‘husband’s sake’ during my usual workout. The thing is I wasn’t even that surprised by any of this and just resolved to ignore it.

Glitzfrau // Posted 3 February 2011 at 10:30 am

I had completely the opposite experience last month, too, in my new year’s resolution gym induction. My trainer weighed me and took my body fat ratio, then said, ‘You’re Ms Average, and we won’t work towards you losing any weight.’ (Note: I’m towards the higher end of the recommended weights for my height, certainly not at all thin.) ‘We’ll work on stamina and strength. To maintain your weight you need to eat at least 2,200 calories a day, and we’ll be able to up that once you’ve built more muscle.’ His positive attitude made me feel very safe, and extremely motivated… at least, until the weather turned nasty and the gym seemed less appealing!

Clare // Posted 3 February 2011 at 10:52 am

Mary & Glitzfrau – please name & fame those trainers! I like the sound of them :-)

Personally I am a member of a gym but have steadfastly refused to have an induction other than being shown how the machines work – I know plenty about exercise and having had similar shaming experiences elsewhere I don’t need someone squeezing my flesh and telling me there’s too much of it.

amy // Posted 3 February 2011 at 1:13 pm

oh and joining a gym can only mean that you hate your body and want to fix it.

naomi // Posted 3 February 2011 at 4:53 pm

I walk past this image on a billboard every day, and it drives me nuts.

Since when was it a good idea, whilst exercising intensively, to keep your blood sugar DOWN? Fine way to get healthy, I’m sure you’ll agree. Or perhaps just faint, discouraged and starving …??

Tash // Posted 4 February 2011 at 10:55 pm

I had a similar experience to Mary and Glitzfrau actually. I registered at Fitness First and had an induction in one of the Bristol gyms and the PT was a delight. When we were going through my goals I explained weight loss was most definitely not on the agenda as (a) I’m fairly tiny and already get accused of “not being a real woman”, and (b) I wanted to build up strength after a back injury.

He was brilliant, gave me loads of exercises for strength and stamina, and even made a point of saying that they would ideally not lead to weight loss which was very reassuring. I hope it’s a FF-wide thing, rather than just one particularly nice trainer. :-)

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