I recently joined a new gym. It's close to work, cheap, contract-free and has loads of classes incldung a lunchtime spin class that nearly killed me. Having trained all summer for my half marathon I'm determined not to let me new-found fitness go to waste while it's too dark in the evenings to run. Except every time I go to the gym I'm confronted with this poster and it makes my blood boil.
I know some of it is me being over-sensitive. That despite how much I like and embrace the Health at Every Size agenda I still feel insecure in my body. That even though I can now run 13 miles continuously I still feel fat and foolish going to do exercise. And every time I see this poster that's what I feel- fat and foolish. And it's no accident. The whole premise of the poster is women are all fat and unnatractive and inherently worthless without other people's approval. All Ladies! need to Lose the Fat! Not just the overweight women- the assumtion is that every single woman in that gym will feel she needs to lose weight. And why? Because Christmas is coming. You're going to go to parties and wear sexy clothes and eat nice food. And it's such a sad state of affairs that instead of that being a good thing it's a cause of anxiety. Here it's a veiled threat- how dare you celebrate and look good and, god forbid, eat, when you are so incredibly fat and hideous. People will judge you and mock you and you can't possibly enjoy any of those things without other people's approval which you will only get when you Lose the Fat! (and pay a trainer lots of money). This advert isn't saying those things explicitly but it's using a shared language of understanding- the way women are meant to talk about and think about themselves- I'm so ugly, I'll never look good, I shouldn't eat nice things. And while this advert isn't responsible for those codes or attitudes, it is perpetuating them. And every time I visit the gym, every time I do something positive for my health that makes me feel better about myself I'm confronted by this advert telling me I'm fat and worthless. And it makes me angry.
Maybe though that's how they market to everyone? This isn't really a sexist poster suggesting women's only motivation for going to the gym is to look good for other people, it's how they treat all their customers. Or maybe not.
Men who go to the gym aren't universally assumed to be fat. They are strong, lean and fit and could be even stronger, leaner and fitter. Men you are awesome and could be even awesomer. Why oh why can't women be told the same thing?