When I was 16, I switched high schools and began eating to deal with my anxiety. I quickly shot from being 5’7″ and around 118 pounds to approximately 155 pounds in just a couple months. Though I was just under the cusp of medically “overweight,” I was still so depressed by the way that none of my clothes fit and how people kept commenting on me growing into a “big girl” or would give me unsolicited diet advice. I went to a friend’s gym once to see if I wanted a membership, only to have a male personal trainer insult me for being out of shape; I did not return, being a 16-year-old girl who was very displeased with being criticized while wearing spandex. But then I found Curves, a gym chain for only women. It was exactly what I needed: we all worked as a demi-group, people were friendly, there was no shaming and nobody seemed competitive. It was perfect for my self-conscious needs.

One small gym chain is taking this idea in a similar direction, but with a different group. Downsize Fitness, of Dallas, Chicago and Las Vegas, is exclusively available to those needing a loss of at least 50 pounds of fat from their bodies.

The gym has no mirrors, frosted windows and equipment designed for the overweight. Considering nearly every gym I’ve ever stepped foot into feels like a ballet studio in a terrarium, I can certainly appreciate the image and privacy aspects of Downsize Fitness firsthand. And though I don’t know what it’s like not to be able to use certain gym provisions, I can imagine that it’s very stressful to know that it’s that much more difficult to improve your healthiness because things just aren’t designed to fit you.

This is why these types of gyms are a mostly great idea, in my opinion: they allow people who need to work out and drop some weight in order to improve their health do so in a non-judgmental environment with trainers who know exactly what they’re going through. This lessens the anxiety some people face when attending a “normal” gym.

Latrice Irwin, a member interviewed by CNN, said:

“I had looked at a gym before, but never actually joined. Never felt comfortable working out with skinny people… When you’re on my side of the scale, it’s not inspirational to look at other people in, you know, half uniforms, showing off their body, showing of their abs. And I’m sure y’all don’t wanna see me in a half uniform showing off what abs you can find.”

On the other hand, I do find it deeply frustrating that people still feel they have to join a separate gym in order to work out. We know the country’s obesity statistics, and thereby are aware of how important it is to accomodate those who wish to change their health and lives. So why haven’t most gyms already adjusted to this better?

We also know that you can be non-skinny and very healthy, so why do most gyms still show commercials and ads primarily consisting of thin models? As Irwin said, it’s not inspirational; it just makes people feel fat-shamed into working towards an “ideal body” as opposed to a healthy one, regardless of what it looks like. We shouldn’t have to have separate gyms to feel comfortable about working out; if body equality was already in place, gyms like this wouldn’t need to exist.

Photo:  Kye R. Lee/Dallas News