Traveling, new gyms, and thin privilege

I know going into new gyms is stressful for everyone who travels for work and who works out on the road. I’m shy to begin with and having to deal with people who think I’ve never exercised before and that I’m new to fitness centres is hard. Mostly I cheerfully take on the role of being the ambassador for fat, fit people everywhere. (Even though I’m still ambivalent about the label “fat”–see Fat or big: What’s in a name?— I know that’s what most people see.)

Let me explain what I consciously do to make it easier. (And I know that not everyone can do these things. Call what I’ve got “fit privilege.”)

First, I wear the right clothes. That’s easy.

Second, I often deliberately chose water bottles  from past races I’ve done. Fitness instructors notice and it helps smooth my path.

These days I always wear my CrossFit hoodie. Nothing screams “yes, I’m qualified to do your fitness class” quite like a CrossFit hoodie.

I get what fitness instructors are concerned about. They don’t want a visitor, a guest member, on a 1 day pass, keeling over dead in their class. They don’t know me, and they want to qualify me as capable of surviving their class without extra attention. It’s the professional and caring thing to do.

But I wonder about thin privilege and whether smaller, fit people feel the need to prove themselves to new gyms in this way.

I also worry that this might hurt thin people too. My worry is that fitness instructors might assume you’re fit and not give you the help you need. See How equating being fat with being out of shape hurts thin people too. Is this worry right? Let me know. (What’s thin privilege? Have a look at Let’s Talk About Thin Privilege.)

Today I went to a spin class at the Banff Centre for the Arts and the instructor handled meeting a new person well. She asked if I was familiar with spin bikes and how to adjust them and I said “yes.” I said I wished I’d brought my bike shorts and shoes. She smiled. We talked about cycling and winter. I mentioned the Forest City Velodrome and she asked about fixed gear bikes and how fast did you need to go to stay up on the walls of the track. All good. I’m welcome back any time and no heart attacks were had.

It was a fun class though I have two beefs about spin classes: The seats! Why not nice skinny road bike seats. (I know why. They scare people, but really they are more comfortable.) And all that bouncing to the music. Keep your upper body still people! Save your dancing for the night club. But of course, if they don’t ever ride real bikes all that bouncing is just fine.

image: disco lights



27 thoughts on “Traveling, new gyms, and thin privilege

  1. I sure hope she asks me the same questions about my familiarity with spin bikes on Thursday because I haven’t got a clue how to adjust anything.

    1. I can help you set the bike up. It’s pretty easy. But yes, I’m curious too. She might. She seemed like a really good instructor.

  2. I love your idea of wearing the crossfit shirt. I don’t usually try classes at gyms I visit, but I don’t like the looks I get sometimes. I bet wearing a shirt from a tri would help (it would make me feel better, anyway!).

  3. I’m no help here. I just walk into new gyms when I travel without any hesitation or trepidation and I am almost never approached. I think maybe once or twice personal trainers approached me to see if I might be interested in hiring them, and I’m polite and I will talk about my fitness goals but I’m also very clear with them that I get free personal training from my nephew. A new or unfamiliar gym is just not a source of stress for me.

    1. I think that’s called ‘male privilege.’ Good to be aware of it. And that’s awesome that you get free personal training from your nephew.

      1. I really don’t mean to be clueless, but can you explain actually? I’m guessing that you mean men are privileged because we aren’t brought up to care as much what others think of us, or we’re not thought of as badly if we are overweight, or…..explain please? I really sense that I am missing the boat on this one and honestly would like to be educated so that I understand.

      2. Just read Sam’s link. I get it. And for sure, I’m often unaware of my male privilege (and likely other privileges). While men are judged badly for being fat, it’s nothing like women are in all probability. Thanks, Sam.

  4. Oh, and I should say that I felt exactly the same way when I was significantly overweight. I can’t say I didn’t care what people thought of me but I can say with some confidence that I didn’t care that much, and certainly not enough in a billion years to stop me from going..

  5. I hate that I have to do a fitness secret handshake to get treated as competent. It gets really tiresome to have to drop hints about how I run and lift when I go anywhere. Wouldn’t it be great if instructors just asked before class “Anyone need help before we get started or have any issues that I need to know about?” and people felt comfortable speaking up?

      1. Ah, but what’s the likelihood that people want to draw the attention of the entire class to whatever they might want to say to the instructor? I never ask that question in front of the group. I don’t want people to feel like they need to announce their pregnancies, diabetes, heart conditions, hot flashes, arthritis, etc., to the room (or invite speculation from their peers by then approaching me quietly). I do make a point to approach new people for a quick & quiet exchange before starting class, and to maintain communication with regulars so they feel comfortable telling me about any new concerns or asking for new modifications. People aren’t always accurate in those quick introductory conversations (usually on the side of understating their own abilities!), but at least they’re a good start. Those little talks, combined with how they move and respond to my cues as we warm-up, tell me a lot about the attention and modifications I might need to make during the class. But the circumference of their waists, their apparent ages, and the type of clothes they wear are nothing but red herrings. I wish all instructors and gym staff internalized that.

  6. IDK – I think everyone makes assumptions and judges people based on how they look and perhaps body size may be part of that. I would guess that a thin person or even a male who shows up at a CrossFit box in a cotton t-shirt, baggie athletic shorts and typical cushy running shoes would also get some doubtful looks. If its a good box, you’ll get asked about your CrossFit experience regardless of whether you are decked out in Lulus, a t-shirt from your local box and Nanos.

    1. Yeah, I think that’s right. And I think CrossFit coaches should ask everyone who walks in the door wanting to train about their past experience. That makes sense. This wasn’t a CrossFit gym though. It’s more your standard issue fitness centre. I haven’t visited another CrossFit box other than my home gym–even though I’ve done it at two different locations. That’s partly a matter of being shy but also I would feel bad, I think being an ambassador for my location! It’s okay that I can’t jump a 20 inch box at home but I don’t know if I’m ready to take that show on the road just yet.

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Spin bike saddles are horrible. The one and only time I have ever had saddle sores… :S

    I hate walking in to any gym, even ones I know, because I have some sensory processing issues that make most gym environments incredibly overstimulating. (Noise, music, lights, fans, people moving around, television screens, more fans, machines moving… I have to put all of my focus into not falling over my feet).

  8. I’ve not heard of “thin privilege”‘ and the idea of somehow needing to prove myself in a gym is foreign to me. But I’ve been going to gyms for 28 years, so I’m very comfortable in that environment. I’m by no means thin, or young (or male, or white). But I’ve never noticed anyone looking at me like I don’t belong. Maybe it’s the body language. When I go into an unfamiliar gym, the first thing I do is take a stroll around to look at the machines and weights, and identify the machines I know how to use and the weights of appropriate…..weight. Then I get into my workout. The only people who have approached me at an unfamiliar gym are those wanting to sell me a membership. Now THAT is annoying!

  9. I feel exactly the same way! But I suppose while “male privilege” underlies my attitude, perhaps “fit-looking” privilege if not “thin privilege” underlies your attitude. 🙂

    1. Perhaps it does, Craig. It’s certainly something for me to think about.

  10. I go to dance cardio classes (like certain zumba ones, jazzercise) that I know are within my level though still push me, I do the class, and feel just fine, though I sweat a lot (which is what is supposed to happen right?).. But because I’m often one of the biggest ones in the class, I’ll sometimes get people assuming I’m brand new to fitness at all, or that I’ll need a slow breakdown of steps, or that maybe I can’t do it and need to be singled out for encouragement. Its aggravating. But I find I put even more energy into these group classes than I would to a dvd in my basement, just to shut up potential doubters, and i’m pretty sure I’m usually more on step and in sync than many of the skinny ones, even if I tend to bounce when everyone is jumping. So neener to them.

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