CrossFit Logan Martin in Pell City, Alabama has put up a sign that says “Tired of being fat and ugly? Just be ugly.” When people pointed out that being in the business of appearance-based shaming is not a great look for a gym (or, you know, anyone,) owner Scott White decided his best move was to tell the people who he targeted with his offensive ad how they should feel and react:
“Come in and talk to me. We’re super nice. I get along with everybody. I love everyone. We’re a Christian-based gym. And so a message of love is what we preach here. You know you can’t take yourself too seriously. Especially when it comes to a fitness journey.”
I’m not feeling the love there Scott (or the “super nice-ness”) and you’ve made it very clear how you feel about people who look like me, so the absolute last thing I’m going to do is walk into your gym to talk to people who put up this sign and then defended it. What I am feeling is that you think it’s perfectly ok to harm fat people. I’m feeling that you are likely being purposefully, aggressively obtuse. I’m feeling like it’s ridiculous to try to defend appearance-based shaming by claiming a “christian” identity. I mean, what’s next – selling WWJFS (Who Would Jesus Fat Shame) bracelets?
While obviously nobody of any size is obligated to participate in fitness (and participating doesn’t make someone better than those who don’t) the truth is that fitness culture can be incredibly unwelcoming to fat people, and then our thin-obsessed society turns around and blames and shames fat people for not engaging in fitness culture. Here is a place that is supposed to be about gaining fitness that, instead, is shaming fat people for how they look (and before somebody tries to claim otherwise, suggesting that fat people should want to look different than we do now is absolutely shaming people for how they look,) and suggesting that fat people should join CrossFit not to gain fitness, but so they aren’t the subject of shaming (like the kind of shaming the gym is doing with this sign.) Obviously, that’s total crap and what this gym is trying to do is profit from appearance-based stigma, and thus, they can bite me.
I also want to point out the all-too-common practice of someone who isn’t in a marginalized group making a “joke” at that group’s expense, and then trying to make themselves the arbiter of how the people they are oppressing should react – and the “correct” reaction always seems to be to calm down and learn to “take a joke.” I don’t think the problem is that marginalized populations can’t “take a joke,” I think the problem is that we live in a society that is comfortable telling groups of marginalized people that they need to “toughen up” and become better at being stigmatized and made fun of without complaint, so that other people can laugh at their expense without having to feel badly or have their bullying behavior pointed out. Oppressive behavior is not ok just because some people think it’s funny.
Most of the articles I’ve seen about this focus on whether or not the sign is legal. The gym was asked to take it down or face a $500 fine because it doesn’t meet the local requirements for a sign. Apparently, they’ve worked with the city and received a deadline extension and fatphobes have created a GoFundMe to cover the fees lest the gym not be able to shame fat people through signage. Other articles claim (though without giving any method of calculation that I’ve seen) that the majority of people want the sign to stay up.
If that’s true it’s quite sad, but it really doesn’t matter to anyone who wants to be a decent human being, because it doesn’t matter how many people want to oppress a group, oppression is still wrong. And because internalized oppression is a thing, and no community is a monolith, it doesn’t even matter if some people who are part of the marginalized group think it’s ok. The standard shouldn’t be how many people are ok with a marginalized group being oppressed, the standard should be doing our best not to shame or marginalize anyone.
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