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Tuesday Takedown: Judgmental Gym Sends Wrong Message

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It has been quite a week for the "Judgment Free Zone" national gym chain known as Planet Fitness, which made national headlines for being the exact opposite. Both Tarainia McDaniel and Tiffany Austin managed to wander outside that aforementioned judgment free zone recently, being told by their respective Planet Fitness gyms how they should dress.

Last week on, we ran a story about McDaniel suing Planet Fitness when she was barred from entering a gym in Albuquerque due to her head covering, which is a part of her Muslim faith. This violated the gym's dress code; a code that allegedly allows members to cover their hair with baseball caps instead. McDaniel's civil lawsuit filed under the New Mexico Human Rights Act will go to trial in August. Recently, though, corporate came out and said company policy accommodates head coverings worn for religious purposes.

Planet Fitness, for its part, reportedly posts a sign that says no jeans, work boots, bandanas, skull caps or revealing apparel allowed, and it's that final restriction that impacted Austin. At her Planet Fitness gym in Richmond, Calif., Austin claims she was told she had to put her shirt on because her toned body was intimidating other gym members, a story I tweeted about last week. Austin was reported to be wearing a spaghetti strap tank top and capri pants with her midriff exposed. After multiple comments from employees, Austin, who had just returned to working out after a car accident, according to KTVU Channel 2, chose to cancel her membership.

Part of the Planet Fitness sales pitch is that their gyms are a safe haven from "gymtimidation," which essentially is the "art" of ego-driven gym members brashly showing off their physical prowess. Comedian Kevin Hart, in one of his standup specials, describes watching a member go through a lengthy routine of preparing to lift a massive amount of weight, screaming and slapping himself on the face and chest. Hart claims that after a lengthy ritual of preparing to lift the weights, the gym member never did. This isn't the first time Planet Fitness has come under fire, as AB columnists and gym owners Rob Bishop and Barry Klein shared their feelings on Planet Fitness three years earlier.

My gym mentality has always been simple: Get in, do your work, and get out. I am not into socializing or people watching. I put on my ear buds, do the workouts scheduled for that day and then leave. If gymtimidation is happening, I'm oblivious to it. But this ties into one of the articles I'm writing for May on membership retention. Competition has intensified as the low-, medium- and high-priced clubs battle for member dollars, so you would expect there to be more flexibility in their respective policies as they pertain to accommodating all types of members and keeping everyone happy.

Are these rules and regulations truly designed to provide the best experience for gym members? If one person complains about feeling bad about themselves because someone in better shape is working out next to him or her, does that mean gym operators tell that person to cover up? And how can gym operators be selective with one piece of headgear (bandana) but not another (baseball cap)? It is exactly these type of bizarre "rules" that are hurting gyms and driving members to focus on their health and wellness from the inside of their house, where they truly can be in a judgment free zone.

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