A Vancouver-area gym, BodyExchange, has adopted a controversial woman’s only plus-sized membership policy. From their website, “Our Mission is to remove limited thinking and living due to weight by using fitness and adventure as the vehicle to better living. We are a new approach to health and wellness one that is contrary to the sometimes extreme measures and disappointments of the weight loss industry.”
There’s been quite a bit of backlash about this policy. Critics say that it assumes the size of a woman dictates her ability to be sensitive and that it’s silly to assume that women only support other women who are the same size as them. Normally I would agree with this criticism, but I’ve been a member of various health clubs since the age of 16 and spent a number of those years as an overweight member.
One thing that’s been the same at every club I’ve belonged to is the questions and comments from other members about my weight. People would often ask how much weight I’ve lost or wanted to lose. Even if I didn’t need to lose weight at all! This made me feel like people were keeping tabs on my weight and judging me if they didn’t see a difference in my weight over time. The sort of health club like BodyExchange, that discourages that sort of behavior, sounds like a place I would’ve felt a lot more comfortable.
Another criticism I’ve heard is people wondering if members are kicked out when they’ve lost weight and are no longer plus-sized. Well, the gym is a step ahead. Those clients ‘graduate’ to become mentors and some actually get certified to become trainers. What I think people need to keep in mind is that places like BodyExchange aren’t for people looking to drop 15 or 20 pounds. Most members have over 100 pounds to lose and that’s not going to happen overnight. They also need the mental support BodyExchange provides that other gyms don’t.
I think it’s easy for people who’ve never been overweight to judge or write off a gym like BodyExchange as discriminatory or unnecessary. They don’t know what it feels like to be completely unsupported or judged in a place where all you want to do is try to improve your health. BodyExchange seems to provide a welcoming, positive environment that makes people feel good about themselves and excited about exercising. Maybe critics of this gym aren’t receiving that in their own gym and that’s why they’re so bothered. I don’t know, but I don’t see anything bad about a plus-sized only gym.