Downsize Fitness Gym Says No Skinny People Allowed: Right Or Wrong?

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 10.40.22 AMTo get away from all of us annoying thin and fit people, Downsize Fitness has a strict requirement to join: You must be 50 pounds or more overweight. No skinny people allowed. To them, it’s perfectly reasonable–thin people supposedly judge fat people. But to me, it just sounds like reverse discrimination–along with an unhealthy dose of fat-shaming.

I get the concept: Some overweight people say they are not comfortable at “normal” gyms with all the mirrors, hard-bodies, spandex and perceived judgment. So the idea that a gym would cater to that seems reasonable. Except that it’s not.

Downsize Fitness, located in Dallas and Chicago, requires that all members be at least 50 pounds overweight in order to join. They also don’t allow any mirrors in the gym and have fogged all windows to prevent people from looking at themselves and each other. It’s like they are assuming that just because someone is overweight that they feel bad about themselves and shouldn’t be distracted by seeing themselves or being seen by others. That, to me, is fat-shaming.

Chicago entrepreneur Francis Wisnewski told Fox News that he started the gym because “I’ve been overweight my whole life, and I was embarrassed to go to the gym myself.”

And other members concur. “It’s frustrating because sometimes you don’t feel like you fit in,” one woman explained to Today about regular gyms. “Sometimes you feel like people are looking at you. This place is different here because you get the support; you don’t just get the workout.”

But this concept of banning skinny people is not new. Last year, we reported on another gym in Canada that does the same thing. Why? Because apparently thin people “bring down the morale” in that gym.

While it’s great that people (of any size) can find a space to work out where they feel comfortable, is it right to go so far as to ban skinny people and assume that we are all a bunch of judgmental jerks? I, for one, don’t pay attention to anyone else at the gym. I don’t really care what size someone is, what they’re wearing or what kind of workout they are doing. I’m there for me, and me only.

It’s kind of sad that these gyms assume that overweight people feel ashamed about themselves and need to be separated. Ultimately, this is only continuing to fuel the body image wars by saying that we can’t all be in one space together, supporting each other no matter what.

Tell us what you think. Are gyms for overweight only clients right or wrong?



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    • R2G2

      It’s not about shame as much as it is about very rude people at the gym who feel the need to stare, comment, or otherwise be ridiculous toward overweight people at the gym. I’d pay double for a gym like this.

    • Carrie Murphy

      While I see your point about discrimination, I think having a space for people to work out where they might feel more comfortable than in a traditional fitness setting seems valuable and empowering regardless.

    • Louise Murphy

      Personally I think it’s a great idea. It allows for a specialised weight loss programme – you meet people who are in the same boat as you and aren’t surrounded by people who are at the gym to perfect their appearance. I think it’s a common feeling to feel judged – as an overweight person I have had people tell me to stop eating so much when I have just been standing at a bus stop – and whilst its great that you personally don’t judge overweight people, some do, and make no effort to hide their judgement! I don’t see it as any more discriminatory than having specialist hospitals catering for only certain body parts!

    • LC

      I think it’s a great idea. Everyone has an insecurity, so why not help those with a gym-based insecurity to feel better about themselves while giving them a “safe” place to exercise? Sure, not every overweight person will like this, just as not every fit or “skinny” person likes regular gyms. Everyone has different tastes so this is just another way to cater to a specific niche. If a person doesn’t like the fact that they can’t see themselves in a mirror, they will go somewhere else.

    • LG

      I also think its a great idea. If it makes those with a weight problem more comfortable and likely to work out, leading to a healthier lifestyle, I say go for it!

    • health911

      The concept is needed. Overweight people have different needs, both physically and psychologically and yes it does bring down morale for an obese person trying to cling on to their health when they can’t keep up, feel like the biggest, feel judged or the slowest etc. But only people who have experienced this would understand. Further, it seems a lot of negative banter about these concepts come from the same people who think obesity has a significant drain on health care or from “fat haters” this type of concept is designed to assist in North America’s obesity epidemic and help a demographic that is not only growing each year in adults but also in our children. It is very serious so maybe people could look at it from that point of view instead of exclusion, think inclusion. What is wrong with that? I think people need to stay clear of discrimination on this one, we don’t hear people chanting discrimination when there are classes specific to elderly people? So why this? The gym in Canada or Down Size has never used the word “BAN” that is a media made up word that causes all the fuss. The needs of obese clients are simply different and when lumped in to a mainstream program, their needs get overlooked. This becomes a hot topic because there seems to be a war on fat or thin vs. fat when simply it is about helping a serious health issue in our society.

    • Ashley

      It may just be the way the media has portrayed it, but I would much rather see a gym that is selling what specific needs it can meet (i.e., a gym that does not have mirrors or windows and that is “here to help those who are dedicated to focusing on health and finding a healthy weight”) than one that says you have to be this size or that size to join. I agree that people all have different needs – which is why there are so many different ways to exercise. I just would think it is more positive to promote what the gym offers rather than who it does or does not accept.

    • Summer

      I don’t think the owners of this gym are saying thin people are judgmental jerks. They’ve simply tried to create a place where large people feel comfortable working out. Whether you as a thin person are a judgmental jerk or not is moot. The fact is that many overweight people feel embarrassed and judged at the gym. Don’t take it personally; it’s not about you. (Besides, even if you don’t pay attention to anyone else at the gym, it doesn’t mean other people don’t.)

      Also, it’s not about assuming overweight people are ashamed and “need to be separated.” It’s about providing a place where they CAN be separated if they so choose. I don’t see anything wrong with creating more options for people who typically aren’t catered to.

    • badu

      “It’s like they are assuming that just because someone is overweight that
      they feel bad about themselves and shouldn’t be distracted by seeing
      themselves or being seen by others.”

      I’m appalled, what could possible give them that assumption? Seriously though, I do agree that the conflation of thinness with attitudes is a problem. However I have been warning slimmer people for years that allowing themselves to be objectified to represent ideas or qualities, as opposed to just being themselves, will come back on them, as it came back on fat people allowing ourselves to be represented as things like ‘overweight’.

      Sometimes you can’t grasp consequences until they happen.

    • Epeter1152

      I think it is both good and bad. It definitely will make people feel more comfortable. There are plenty of gym rats at my gym who are extremely fit and larger people may feel judged. Though, I know from many discussions and my own personal views that fit people don’t judge larger people at the gym, they often are inspired and feel also proud that those people are taking such a hard step.
      Good: It will make people feel more comfortable, and my inspire those more self conscious people to become healthy when they wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing so before.

      Bad: Perpetuates the idea that fat is something to be hidden, and separate. One could be prompted to ask, are fat people not good enough to go to mainstream gyms? Obviously that is a stretch, but a self conscious person may consider that as a valid point.

      What we can hope for is that these gyms at least have specialized trainers, equipment and classes. A slower pace zumba class or arch trainers that are better for knees then treadmills and elliptical.

      Also do gym members get kicked out after losing 50lbs, is there a monitoring system or a goal system?

    • Hannah

      Mirrors are more of a safety issue in most gyms. They’re in the workout rooms to ensure proper form, and thereby prevent injury. I can see taking them out of locker rooms or bathrooms, but other wise, it’s a little dangerous.
      I do think it’s pretty inspirational that their trainers used to be severely overweight.
      As for fat shaming, I think it might depend on the person. If you don’t feel the same way as these people, i.e., you feel fat shamed, then go to a normal gym. But I think it’d appeal to a lot of people too, and might be good for them.

    • Michelle

      So say a customer works out regularly and gets fit, do they get “kicked out” of the gym? I guess that would be one of the only times you could feel proud about getting kicked out of a club! I do think it is harder for people who did not grow up with a healthy lifestyle to become fit as adults, they may feel intimidated at first because going to the gym is new to them. They may be a little unsure about using some of the equipment and feel too shy to ask because “everyone else” seems to know what they are doing. (I played sports in high school and college and basically grew up in the gym, and there are still machines and contraptions I see that I don’t know how to use, and yes, sometimes I feel stupid asking!) And like any situation where you feel self conscious you may perceive that you are being judged (whether you actually are or not), and that can prevent someone from going regularly and establishing a frequent routine. The concept of an overweight-only gym is not for everyone, but I think any place that encourages people to be active can only be a good thing. Personally when I see someone who is overweight at the gym, I think “good for them, they are making a commitment to be active”. Only an immature, insecure loser would make fun of someone else’s weight or fitness level at a gym. (Um, that’s why they’re there, jerk. To get fit & healthy!) The funny part is a lot of these young meatheads who would make fun of others are out partying 5 nights a week and in a few years their bad health habits will take a toll and “working out” will not compensate for all their boozing and late night drunken pigouts. Then THEY will be the overweight guy or girl who is intimidated to go to the gym. Karma, haha.

    • chunkymcchunkbutt

      Okay everyone. People should stop taking things so personally and take a breather. Different people need different methods to exercise. I’m not saying whether I agree or disagree with this gym’s prospect, but I think people need to stop getting so butt-hurt. I don’t care what gyms do and who they are supposedly discriminating against, just as long as people are exercising. Kudos to the “fat” people who exercise with whomever they choose wherever they choose and making a lifestyle change.

    • Wow

      Completely wrong! And what if the overweight people lose their weight and are no longer 50 lbs over, do they get kicked out? And mirrors help people to see their form to know if they are doing the workouts correctly. What a shame.. A fat shame.