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9 Ways You Could Be Fat Shaming Someone at the Gym

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We see fat shaming everywhere—from news reports featuring pictures of "headless fatties" to doctors discriminating against overweight patients to a group called Overweight Haters Ltd., which hands out insulting cards to people they deem too big. (Yeah, that really happened.)

Then there are the subtle slights larger people endure: the look of disdain, the name calling, the lack of anything cute in plus sizes. It's cruel, demoralizing, and it doesn't help: Research shows shaming people doesn't "inspire" them to lose weight—and may even have the opposite effect. (Fat Shaming Could Be Destroying Your Body.)

We're not fans of shaming, in any of its forms. And one place that should definitely be a judgement-free zone? The gym. Yet many women avoid the gym because they're worry they won't fit in or they fear they'll be made fun of.

To help make the gym a safe space for every body, we asked readers to share the comments they've gotten from other gym-goers that have made them feel less than great.

"You're so inspirational!"

While this may sound complimentary on the surface—who doesn't want to inspire others?—the underlying implication is that the person is doing something unusual or superhuman. And working out while overweight should be neither. It's even worse when this statement is followed with a 'reason' that centers on the person's body. Three examples Jessie Ford, 31, from Denver, CO; Emily Erikson, 34, of Seattle, WA; and Fernanda Espinosa, 22, from New York, NY, gave us: "Because you don't care that everyone's staring at you" (they are?); "because you keep coming every day even though you're not losing weight" (maybe losing weight isn't the goal!); or "because you remind me why I need to work out" (shut. Up. Now.).

"I'm afraid of ending up like you."

Nobody wants to be treated like a cautionary tale. Nova Larson, 38, of Burnsville, MN, shares how a college-aged girl approached her while she was lifting weights and told her flat-out, "I'm scared of looking like you, no offense." Um, that is the definition of offensive. And just plain mean.

"Ugh, no one wants to see that! You shouldn't wear that."

Activewear can be tricky for a girl of any size to navigate. Show too much skin and you can be called a slut; dress in baggy tees and you're sloppy. But larger women have even more expectations to contend with. "I was told to wear less revealing workout clothes because my size grossed people out," Ame' Karoly, 26, from Hattiesburg, MA, says. Leah Kinney, 32, of Minneapolis, MN, adds that a stranger at the gym told her to throw out her favorite body-hugging capris because only skinny minnies can do spandex. "Um, gym pants are tight for a reason!" Kinney says. The bottom line: Everyone should be able to wear whatever they feel best exercising in—without worrying about catty commentary. (Psst... Check out these Sportswear Brands That Do Plus-Size Clothes Right.)

"Have you tried this new diet?"

Unsolicited diet advice is always a bad idea—but it's particularly insulting to bigger women, who may or may not be trying to lose weight. Either way, what they eat isn't your business. "I've had uninvited diet plans and workout advice shoved in my face so many times that I lost count," Karoly says, adding that it's gotten so bad that just walking into the gym can trigger a panic attack.

"Yeah, work off that fat/butt/thighs/tummy!"

Pointing out someone else's flaws for them is rude and also not very motivating. Kris Olson, 47, from Cleveland, OH, says a spin instructor once told her after a grueling workout, "See you tomorrow so you can get rid of that fat ass." Not only does she happen to like her ass, thank you very much, but not everyone wants to look like a Victoria's Secret model. And instead of encouraging women to use exercise to fix their "problem areas," we should be using fitness to show everyone their strengths!

"You should probably start with walking on the treadmill."

Sure, bigger ladies walk. They also kickbox, Zumba, do CrossFit, powerlift, run, do yoga, and do pretty much every other type of exercise you can imagine. Larson, a star of her competitive fastpitch team, points out her size is an advantage in her sport. (Find out why another woman says, "I'm 200 Pounds and Fitter Than Ever.")

"I totally know how you feel, I get skinny shamed."

Skinny shaming is wrong. So is shaming a woman for any reason based on her appearance. "I understand when friends complain about getting comments for being skinny, but the truth is, thin is what's seen as beautiful and you can't ignore the privilege that comes with that. People might look at you like they're jealous, but you don't get the same hate we do, day in and day out," Laura Aronson, 26, from New York, NY, explains. The struggle is real on both sides. Instead of comparing your struggle to someone else's, just try listening to their feelings.

"Whale." "Fatty." "Hideous." "Drain on society."

We were horrified to hear how many women had actually been called names, including these, at the gym—sometimes to their face, but more often in muttered comments or overheard conversations. Toree Auguston, 32, from Princeton, MN, remembers how one group of gym rats "jokingly" told her, "You look good from afar but you're far from good," adding that the comment still makes her feel like crying. Áine Quimby, 31, of Newburyport, MA, remembers a group of young people yelling at her, "Keep running fat bitch, gonna have to run for a year to get rid of those thighs!" This mean-girl behavior is majorly messed up. (Also not okay: pointing and laughing, staring, or loudly whispering.)

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