“Let me guess ladies??? You feel unfit, unattractive, self conscious and worthless… especially when standing in front of the mirror naked.”
That’s the beginning of a recent social post by independent gym, HTFU Fitness Adelaide, which has sparked accusations of sexism and fat shaming from several followers.
Shared to the company’s Facebook and Instagram accounts this week, the post reads: “You feel embarrassed and ashamed getting naked in front of your partner… You’re sick and tired of picking outfits that hide your fat. And you want to feel comfortable in your own skin, wear your favourite outfits, feel fit, confident, attractive and sexy.
“But there’s a problem. You’re too afraid to join a gym because you’re too embarrassed, ashamed, self conscious, worried about being judged and most of all, you’re just too nervous to commit.
“But that stops now. We understand you.”
The post was met with several comments accusing the company of demonising larger bodies and perpetuating the myth that only thin people can be fit or happy.
“‘Worthless? Ashamed? Unattractive?’ What a disgusting way to advertise to women,” one wrote. “You should be ashamed.”
“I can tell you I do feel embarrassed, ashamed and self-conscious all the time. And having posts like this pop up in my feed definitely don’t make me feel better about myself,” added another. “The idea that a business would deliberately, and proudly, use those feelings to try and drive up the number of people who attend their gym is disgusting.”
Another offered a few suggestions for improvement: “You can start by NOT calling women ‘worthless’ because of their weight. You can then come to the realisation that MANY MANY WOMEN are happy at various weights, and don’t ‘pick outfits to hide their fat’. They’re not ashamed, they’re just living their damn lives without wanting your judgement.”
Clinical psychologist Louise Adams, body image specialist and founder of UNTRAPPED, told Mamamia that while HTFU Fitness Adelaide may “have some inkling” of how some women are feeling about their shape or size, their proposed ‘fix’ is highly problematic.
“[HTFU Fitness Adelaide] is perpetuating the idea that we all need to look a certain way in order to feel OK, and that’s horrendous,” she said.
“There’s no doubt that many humans, including many women, feel bad about their bodies; there’s no disputing that. But the solution isn’t to change our bodies to fit the ideal. That’s where [this gym] gets it wrong.”
Adams’ holds that dealing with negative body image takes a series of behavioural, emotional and psychological strategies, which can prove effective regardless of size.
“Changing the shape of your body changes nothing about your body image,” Adams said. “People of all shapes and sizes dislike their bodies, so playing on the idea that changing your body will give you a body that you’ll like is just not true.”
“We make no apologies.”
The post was written by the gym’s owner, Aaron Cartwright, who told Mamamia his intention was to “strike a nerve” with the gym’s female followers.
“My intention was to strike a nerve so they do something about it and they start feeling better about themselves. Some of them have not felt good about themselves for five, 10, 15, 20 years.
“I’ve had some females come to me in their 50s, and they’ve never been to a gym, and they’ve felt like that most of their life.”
“I think it hit a few nerves as it’s a touchy subject because it’s kind of true,” he told Mamamia. “I’m just kind of telling the truth about what some females feel like and what they want to feel like, so yeah, it’s going to bring up emotions.”
In response to the criticism on social media, Cartwright later amended the post to address “some women”.
“Apart from that we make no apologies,” the company said in a follow-up comment, “as if you read it properly with an open mind you will see we’re stating the truth on how ‘SOME’ women feel about themselves at the moment, how they want to feel and what they know they need to do to feel better.
“But we can understand how that could be misunderstood as “Fat shaming” “Gross” “Disgusting” to someone reading it without an open mind.”
For Louise Adams, it’s the company that needs to have an open mind.
“If a whole bunch of women arc up, listen. Actually listen to the people with the lived experienced,” she said. “We don’t have to keep an open mind about being oppressed, day in, day out.”
Adams notes that not all gyms promote such “problematic” messages.
“There are plenty of gyms and training sessions out there who will not talk to you about transforming your body, who understand that exercise isn’t all about appearance,” she said. “It’s a growing movement, which is encouraging.”
While speaking to Mamamia, Cartwright said the people who were offended by the post might be the ones who need to take action.
“I’m not bodyshaming, I’m just asking the question. And if someone is upset about the question, then the question becomes ‘Well, why are you upset about it?’,” he explained.
“If they are feeling like that, then start taking care of yourself.
“Some people just need exercise, some people need to meditate, whatever it is, just start doing things for yourself. Sometimes it’s just going for a walk, or meditating, or eating better, simple changes like that which can make you live a better life and start to feel better.”