Sunday, 19 May 2013


One of the benefits my gym touts are regular review sessions with a trainer. They're quite insistent about it; I finally scheduled one when the owner cornered me and asked me to make an appointment.

"So," said the trainer. "Let's talk about your goals." She read from my file: "'Increase strength, flexibility. Control exercise induced asthma better.' Are these still your goals?"
I nodded. It was 9am on Sunday, and I was a bit hungover.
"It says here you don't want to be weighed or measured... you're still not interested in keeping track of that?"
She didn't explain how my weight or measurements were related to my asthma, so I declined.
"I know you’re concerned about ‘fitness,’ but have you noticed any changes in your body? Clothes fitting better?"
"I guess?" I said.
"How have you made changes to your diet to support your exersise?"
"I haven't."
"Oh... What about your other goals? Strength, flexibility, controlling asthma?"
Those were all my goals.
"I go on the treadmill, and I still can't run for very far without having an asthma attack, and I'm not sure what to do about that."
"But would you say it's improved?"
"Yeah, a bit, but I still can't go very far without my puffer."
"That's good," she said, circling improved on the sheet. She turned it over. "So... if you don't want to be weighed - are you sure you don't want to be weighed? - we're done here. Yay! It's always good to check in, but remember you can ask us anything any time."

Out on the cross trainer, I got madder and madder. It's a women's only gym, which may go some way to explaining to obsession with numbers and tracking. I tweeted that it was "a good reminder that my value as a human being is in direct, inverse proportion to the number on the scale," but in harsh words like that, it just made me sad.

The real issue was that the trainer was reading off a sheet asking about weight - there’s nothing for strength or asthma control or anything else - weight is the only focus, that any other reasons for going to a gym are invisible.

I like my gym. I like that it's right over the road from my work. I like that it's women only. I like that it's not too fancy, and there are no celebrities, unlike my last gym. I like that it's quiet on Sundays, and that the rowing machine has a fish video game you play by rowing, and there's a stair machine, which is literally a Victorian torture device.

The tricep pulldown machine faces the gym's inspiration board. If I squint, I can read some of the notes people have left.

The notes stuck to the pinboard say GET INSPIRED and WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?

Please add your goal to the board.

About half of the notes are about beaches and bikini bodies. It would be disingenuous to pretend that there's not a good reason for those goals. Leaving aside vanity, which is a good a reason to do anything as anything else (as someone with a personal blog, I know a thing or two about vanity), there can be real social and career consequences to being the 'wrong' size or shape, and for any individual, it's certainly easier to strive to attain thin privilege than to try and break down the system which perpetuates it. 

The other half of the notes are badass, which makes the review's focus on weight still more bizarre:

To run the New Plymouth marathon.To feel good about myself and now I'm happy as :)

Get more flexibility and tone (me too!!).I want to enter a triathlon so need to get fitter.

 To tip the balance, I decided to add my own:

To be strong enough to open jars.To control my asthma better. Breathe.

To love myself the way I am.


  1. good goals, Rach. I sometimes struggle opening the wine bottles...def need to start pumping iron!
    Would be nice to see a women's gym break down the body discourse and spend more time focusing on strength and health rather than weight & size. They really should be the ones leading the way...
    I have a friend w asthma who has always done gymnastics/fitness etc - if you want me to ask her if there's anything specific you can do, let me know

    1. Totally agree that gyms could be more proactive about strength and health! The one-note marketing just seems kind of lazy.

  2. I didn't enjoy going to the gym for that very reason. I love yoga - they don't even have scales there, it's all about doing the best that you can. same with my dance class.

    most gym staff have fairly limited training so it's unfortunately not that surprising that they didn't have any advice about asthma. do they have actual personal trainers available?

    1. I'm going to try yoga! I don't know if they had actual personal trainers - it's not clear what qualifications the staff have? They're great at leading classes and showing how the machines work anyway.

  3. I'm surprised that you advocate so strongly for reaching the goals that you desire and feel are important with your words, but you so readily invalidate the desires and goals of others with your actions, even to the point of physically covering them with what you deem as more worthy or more important.

    1. Hi Anonymous. There wasn't any more pins.

      You say I "invalidate[d] the desires and goals of others" - but I reckon mine are just as valid.

      You'll notice I didn't destroy or alter the other notes - and they had been there for weeks.