In 1992, fitness center Planet Fitness opened their doors (to some). In the last few years they have created controversy in the world of fitness and bodybuilding by establishing the business as overtly ‘anti-bodybuilding.’ It almost seems like yesterday’s news, but certainly the underlying issues inherent in the ideology of Planet Fitness are by no means idiosyncratic. The exclusionary methods enforced by the gym certainly existed prior to their establishment and unequivocally exist in many gyms today, which simply aren’t as overt in their segregation.
Planet Fitness’ motto is: “The judgment free zone.” This means that no members are allowed to judge others; it is a safe space, free from denigration and void of insecurity. I don’t want to a beat a dead horse, but the fundamental ideology of “the judgment free zone” is inherently violent, because it is predicated on judgment. According to the website, it aims to create a space where “members can relax, get in shape, and have fun without being subjected to the hard-core, look-at-me attitude that exists in too many gyms.” The gym has labeled this “type of person” a “lunk” and every facility has a “lunk alarm,” which members can set off if someone is grunting or dropping weights.
Based on their gym rules and ideologies, as well as their own commercials, Planet Fitness is anti-bodybuilding. They construct an image of the bodybuilder as big, dumb, and loud. The commercials embody the stereotype of bodybuilders as complete idiots who (as in the first commercial) lift heavy things and (as in the second commercial) are loud, attention starved show-offs. One thing is clear: the commercials underscore exactly the kind of people that don’t belong in Planet Fitness: bodybuilders.
Many bodybuilders view Planet Fitness as a place for unmotivated people to go and feel better about themselves, not because they are working out, but because they can convince themselves that they are taking proper and effective steps toward their physical goals. Bodybuilders view Planet Fitness as a gym for lazy people to go and eat pizza (the first Monday of the month is pizza day); a place with people who don’t want serious athletes who are stronger, work harder, and look better. I find, however, that pegging the Planet Fitness member as such, in addition to being a fallacy, further exacerbates animosity and, ironically, responds to prejudice with prejudice.
I should mention that, to some extent, Planet Fitness’ policy of exclusion is pragmatic. Many people are afraid to enter gyms due to insecurities. Perhaps this has to do with their own bodies. Perhaps it has more to do with the true show-off gym goers, who are found in every gym (and usually aren’t bodybuilders) and can certainly create an uncomfortable environment. For many people, the idea of a gym free of “look-at-me” types is a safe environment to cultivate their own fitness goals. I can certainly understand the average gym-goer’s aversion to people who possess notions of the body ideal. Yet, is it possible that the image of the “show-off” is a projection, at least in part, due to the insecurities of those who judge the physiques of others? Often times “the show-off” is imbued with some idea of superiority based on a particular scale. For example, let’s assume that a bodybuilder with an ‘aesthetic’ physique is training in a stringer. We immediately label him a show-off. But what if the stringer is being worn by someone who is significantly ‘over-weight’ and does not have what would be considered a ‘aesthetic’ physique? Would he also be labeled a show-off?
I’m guilty of training in stringers. Am I a braggart? Sure, to some extent. Many people train very hard to make constant progress towards their fitness goals. And they are extremely proud of their progress, regardless of how insignificant it may appear to others. I say, if the gym is not an appropriate space for hard work to be displayed, then what is? To be clear, I do not run around town in cut-off muscle shirts. The gym is a place where the body is on display – and not always simply to show off for others.
In my opinion, a primary reason for wearing stringers, cut-offs, or compression shirts is to see one’s own body in the process of improvement. In the light of the gym and in front of walls of mirrors gym-goers can examine their muscular development and watch their muscles at work (remember the relationship between the visual and the mind-muscle connection). Personally, I try to be in the gym during the early afternoon or late evening, as do many other bodybuilders, precisely because these are times when there aren’t as many people present. These are the times when it is easiest for the bodybuilding to concentrate on his/her own training/body, without the distractions of others.
In conclusion, I find these two commercials hilarious (there are others, all with the same basic idea). I honestly cannot watch the “Application” commercial without laughing. I believe that stereotypical jokes can be funny if, and only if, people recognize them as ‘wrong,’ or dangerous. If we do not know any better, then we are simply consuming and justifying narrow-mindedness. Unfortunately, these commercials are very dangerous, because they perpetuate a negative image of bodybuilding and promote discrimination.
I believe that many of the people who work out at Planet Fitness are no different than those from any other gym. However, I personally wouldn’t be a member. It is simply not… my planet. In a space where many people are making efforts to improve their physique or overall health, judgment damages both personal and social progress. I would oppose any gym that ostracizes members or denies membership to people based on appearance in any manner. Unfortunately, gyms are a breeding ground for judgment, a topic that will undoubtedly reappear in my future posts. I try to judge only work ethic, to applaud anyone who works diligently for improvement, and to encourage all to “show off” these improvements and enjoy their own bodies.
The gym is a microcosm. The Planet Fitness commercials end with the slogan: “Not his planet. Yours.” So on what planet can bodybuilders live free of prejudice and discrimination? On what planet can fitness and exercise find commonality rather than discord? Not Planet Fitness.