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September 25, 2009 / Katie

Fatty Joins a Gym

So yesterday I went down to the 24 Hour Fitness that’s about a half mile away, at the base of the hill I live on. I would prefer something like the YMCA but my husband told me that he could get a discounted membership at 24 Hour Fitness through his work, so that’s where I checked out first. I got a little tour from one of the people that worked there and a 7-day pass, which after I post this entry I’m going to go down and use for the first time.

Anyway, some interesting things happened in this process.

One was, as the gal was showing me the weight training area, she asked if I had ever done weight training. I said no… well not after the weight training in gym class in school. And she asked me why not? Was I intimidated by the machines? I thought it was the most bizarre question. First of all, it’s not immediately obvious to me why she would assume I’d be intimidated by the machines. Maybe some people are, but I’m not. Second, “not having done” something does not equal “avoiding” that thing. It’d be like asking me why I haven’t ever been to Mexico or driven a stick shift. Haven’t had the opportunity, haven’t had the desire, whatever—I just haven’t. I’m not actively avoiding the weight training! In fact it might possibly be something I could be interested in someday, but right now all I want to do is dance and swim and use the cardio machines to let off steam and work my muscles.

So that brings me to the second interesting point. I’m joining a gym because I want to, not because I feel like “I should.” And yet there I still have so much internalized fatphobia that there is this small part of me that feels smug and self-righteous, that I’m being “good” by doing this and am somehow better than those that don’t. I suppose this is a combination of both healthism and fatphobia. And it is, of course, ridiculous for many reasons. I know it is an ugly part of myself, but it’s interesting that she’s showing her face here. My actual reasons for joining a gym really have nothing to do with obligation. I miss swimming like crazy (since the pool I was swimming at closed) and I’m interested in their dancing classes (and NIA classes are so expensive!) and I find myself restless from time to time, in need of blowing off steam on a cardio machine. It’s one thing I miss about my Dad’s big house in the suburbs—there was always a bike, a treadmill, and a quiet and pretty place to walk outside. Here there is no exercise room in our condo, and I live in a very densely populated part of Seattle so “taking a walk” is nowhere near what I would call quiet and visually pleasing.

The third interesting thing was that I was really the only very fat person there. Probably the only person who technically qualifies as “obese” according to the BMI charts. There were other slightly fat people (what other people might call “overweight” though I hate that term with a burning passion, and think “slightly fat” is much more accurate and less condescending). I remember being in gym class in school and feeling so overwhelmed with self-consciousness at being a fat person in a room with people who were exercising. I felt like I was standing out, that everyone was thinking about how hideously fat I was and that I should get off my ass and move more. Well, maybe they were… but maybe they weren’t. Maybe they weren’t thinking all about me, you know? Maybe they had their own stuff to deal with. Yesterday, I felt slightly self-conscious. But moreso because I was wearing street clothes and everyone else was in workout clothes. And knowing myself, I will probably seek out machines in the corner or the back where people aren’t as likely to notice me. But I’ve really noticed a remarkable shift in my consciousness. It’s more like, “well, if they think my body is unacceptable, so what? Their problem.”

Anyway, it turns out that my husband’s company terminated their agreement with 24 Hour Fitness, so that’s no longer available. But, they are running a very good deal right now, and when I checked online it is less than half what the YMCA charges per month! So I think I’ll probably end up going for it. But I want to try it out on the free pass a few times first. Any of you have experience with 24 Hour Fitness? Good or bad?

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5 Comments

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  1. TropicalChrome / Sep 25 2009 9:19 pm

    I have been a member of 24 Hour Fitness for 7.5 years now. I understand that other people’s experiences may vary, but my experiences have been pretty good on the whole with all the locations I’ve been to.

    I swim a lot, and I can say that I’ve seen swimmers in the full range of body sizes at the pool – and I have yet to see or hear anyone being harrassed. In all my years there I’ve received exactly one comment, and that was on my swimming technique, not my size (and I never saw the person again, so it wasn’t even a regular). One of the things I like about it is that people seem to be pretty into their own workouts, which doesn’t leave them time to pay much attention to what others are doing.

    The most common thing I’m asked is where I get my swimsuits :). (If you’re going to swim in their pools regularly, be sure to get a suit that does not contain lycra or spandex or it WILL be destroyed by the chlorine in the pool.)

    There are the usual “motivational” posters around pushing their bodybugg for weight loss, etc. I don’t know how hostile you consider them. I’m pretty good at just ignoring them. The folks working at the gym have never mentioned anything about weight, but I also haven’t used a personal trainer.

    I think it’s a great idea to try out the free pass, and be sure to go at the times when you think you’ll be there most often so you can see how crowded it is, how comfortable you are, etc. Gyms do change character over the hours in the day because different crowds work out at different times. I tend to go later in the evening because it’s most convenient for me, so that has probably colored my experiences (people there at that hour are generally serious about doing what they’re there to do).

    I can rattle on for a lot longer, but I’ve been really happy with 24 Hour Fitness, which is why I keep going there and don’t plan to stop any time soon. I hope you end up liking the club near you.

  2. viajera / Sep 25 2009 9:25 pm

    My advice? Read the contract carefully. 24 Hour Fitness is all about the money, and all about the hard sell. Frankly, I’m amazed they let you out of there without buying a membership.

    Check the fine print on that online membership and make sure that those low rates will last for the entire period to which you’re committing to be a member (usually 1-2 years). Those contracts are extremely hard to break, btw. I was a 24HF member years ago and broke a contract when I moved away, and had to fight the company tooth and nail in order to be let out of the contract.

    Also, my first thought when you mentioned the guide asking you why you hadn’t used weights, was not the expected fatphobia. Instead, my first thought was they were probably going to try to sell you on some expensive personal training program to learn how to use the weights. It’s very common for women of all sizes to not use weights and not know how to, so many gyms have special “Women on Weights” training programs – usually for a fee, of course.

  3. Adrian / Sep 26 2009 8:22 am

    The question about why you hadn’t done weight training did come across as really weird in that context. My guess is that it wasn’t personal, and it might not have been aimed at you as a fat person, either. Sometimes, in a class or article aimed at personal trainers, the question will come up, “Why don’t more women do weight training? Don’t they know it’s good for bone health? Don’t they know how? Do they find the machines intimidating?”

    Asking you that way was pushy and intrusive, but it kinda sorta makes sense for a gym to try to find out what barriers might be standing between their clients and weight training. Would you have been comfortable with a written survey, maybe in the women’s locker room with a sign inviting everybody to fill one out? Questions like:
    Do you do any kind of weight training now? What kind?
    Why do you do it?
    [list of possible reasons to check, like strengthening bones, feeling stronger, improving posture, improving sports performance, improving mood, with a space for “other”]
    Have you ever done weight training? What kind? When?
    Do any of these factors discourage you from doing it now?
    [list of possible reasons, again ending in “other”]

  4. O.C. / Sep 26 2009 10:36 am

    I did the free week offer at a 24 Hour Fitness gym a couple of months ago. While the facility was really nice, I found the patrons who used the weights area to be pretty annoying, though this might not be the case for the patrons using the swimming area. The patrons, mostly guys, in the weights area were very unaware of others, and very pushy in their use of personal space. They’d sit on the equipment or benches, lounging, chatting and using their cell phones, when I was clearly waiting for the equipment! Or they’d get between me and the mirror as I was lifting free weights. It was really rude and really odd. But I don’t think I’d blame 24 Hour Fitness for it. :-)

  5. SaraP / Sep 26 2009 6:29 pm

    I work out there and I like it. The place can be overrun by snotty designer fitter-than-thou types during peak hours, but that’s just the neighborhood. Most of the time, there’s a really wide range of people and body types, more than enough equipment to go around, and the classes are quite good. If yours has a pool (I wish mine did), that’s even better. Avoid the personal trainers (viajera’s right, they do push their trainers pretty hard at first, but not for long) and it’s a very nice place to sweat.

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