This story perfectly illustrates the double bind that faces obese people in the United States: shamed for being fat, they are also subject to ridicule and humiliation when they try to lose weight. Employees at an Oklahoma City gym told a woman, Sandra Ruiz, that she was too fat to use their exercise equipment, citing a weight limit (and fear that she would break the equipment). They offered her the use of their aerobics room, but when she pointed out that she could just as easily do aerobics at home, they gave her a refund. Ruiz says that if they had some sort of weight limit, they should have informed her when she signed up.
It’s hard to know what was going through the employees’ minds, or whether there actually was a weight limit for the machines (a quick google search, very informal and unscientific, revealed that the weight limit for most of the machines I saw was either 350 or 400 pounds; Ruiz says she weighs about 385 pounds). But even assuming that the equipment was in danger, the way that the employees handled the situation was absolutely appalling.
Ruiz says that she was riding a stationary bike when a gym employee approached her and told her to get off. “The lady said I couldn’t get on the machines because we are overweight,” Ruiz said. “Everybody was watching seeing what was going on, and I got very sad because I’m so emotional about my weight right now.” Clearly, the employee had no qualms about humiliating the already-vulnerable Ruiz about her weight in front of the entire gym, a common reaction in a society where obese people are often ridiculed for their seeming lack of control over their bodies.
The owner’s words were also cruel, saying that the gym created a special workout program for Ruiz, but that she was “like a kid in a candy store,” and wanted to try all of the machines at once. And for someone who lives in constant shame about her body, that’s an understandable impulse. Ruiz, who says that she’s “tired of being fat,” was trying to conform to these not-so-subtle pressures, but instead found that the stigma was just as great. The message was loud and clear: attempts to lose weight are not good enough. Until your physical appearance is acceptable, we don’t have to treat you with dignity or respect. And if you don’t like it, go home.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.