Should Plus-Size Gyms Ban Skinny Clients or Does Discrimination Contribute to Body Shaming?

If you’ve ever set foot in a gym, you may have had that moment.

That instant, overwhelming feeling of total incompetence that strikes when someone fitter, faster, thinner or trimmer effortlessly outperforms you in a class or on a cardio machine. That pang of jealousy may be fleeting. And yet it really stings.

But could it be compromising your health goals so much, you’d prefer to have that person removed from your line of sight entirely?

The people behind Vancouver, Canada’s Body Exchange think so. Founder and CEO Louise Green wants her business to be a “safe haven” for overweight exercisers.

Green told last week, “People are often too fearful to become active. There wasn’t a model that offered camaraderie.”

But does banning thinner clients ensure such solidarity?

This may not be an overt example of thin-shaming, but does it seem problematic to exclude a portion of the population based on body weight?

Some of my favorite blogs are calling it “downright discriminatory” while my other faves are convinced Body Exchange “seems committed to fostering a supportive community that allows everyone to go at their own pace without feeling badly about themselves, and that enables participants to set their own goals without judgement.”

I’m reminded of an amazing article I read a few months ago about an advanced yoga student’s frustration over teachers’ assumptions about her abilities and the consistently patronizing attitudes she encountered in classes because of her size (I’m kicking myself for not being able to place the magazine or author—if anyone knows the piece, shout it out in the comments, please!).

Would she have progressed further in her practice if she’d been surrounded solely by fellow full-figured yoginis? Would the instructors have put their prejudices aside if everyone in their classes were a plus-size? Would all the students have felt freer to practice to their full potential knowing no one below a certain BMI would be allowed to roll out a mat?

I’m not really sure. But my gut instinct tells me explicitly banning any group from any activity based on body size is a slippery slope and could only serve to further perpetuate body shaming on both sides of the spectrum.

But I also respect and encourage the existence of safe, nurturing environments for anyone who prefers to get healthy in the company of his or her peers. Body shaming scars run deep, and I understand the hesitation anyone bearing these marks has about working out alongside those they think might inflict more pain.

But I guess that’s the really unfortunate part—the fact that this is even a concern for anyone just trying to get fit and be healthy. Not to beat the dead body shaming horse (that’s a horrendous image, I’m sorry), but the real issue here is that men and women of any size or shape still have to fear ridicule because of their appearance.

Let’s maybe work out that problem first and then worry about squats and crunches?

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