Bullying At The Gym

By Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am — Filed under:

I thought that I left bullying long behind me when I left high school, but I got a big surprise during the Bosu Incident a few years ago. It seems that bullying at the gym happens to adult women all the time. Lisa Williams talks about her latest incident with it here:

After a childhood of torment, she still encounters women who believe that life is a fashion show:

This morning I went to the gym. As I was leaving, a woman in a powder blue car and stopped me and said, I’m sorry to be personal, but it’s not just me, I talked to the other women in the class and you wear the same clothes every time, don’t you wash them?

I have a lot of black t-shirts and black bike shorts. It’s true, in one sense, that I always wear the same clothes to the gym: but they’re copies of the same clothes.

The woman offered that she and the other women were trying to be helpful.

Uh huh. To whom? To people like you, for whom people like me exist only to make you feel superior?

After my incident with bullying, I cancelled my membership to that gym and started running on the treadmill at home again. It took a couple of months to let the dream of a gym of adults who actually acted like adults die, but it die it did. I still have a gym membership at a different gym, but I rarely go there. I run outside alone. Ride my bike outside or on the trainer alone. All my exercise has become a solitary event because of bullying at the gym. I don’t even exercise with Mike very often.

I wish I knew what the answer was…


15 Responses to “Bullying At The Gym”

  1. Karla Says:

    It saddens me that this kind of obnoxious “talk” happens at all. Clearly people like that, who focus on gossip and making others feel bad, deserve exactly the kind of rotten karma that I expect they will bring on themselves.

    It’s also sad to me that girls can act the way that Lisa and others described.

    What I don’t understand about this story is the underlying assumption that there is only one kind of “sisterhood” or that all women who have women friends must be gossiping, mean-spirited, and obnoxious. There are plenty like this, but there are also incredibly funny, smart, kind, and lovely women who can be part of a “gang” without the ugly and unhealthy dynamics of the “power women” or whatever they are. There are women out there who would love to be friends with others who are not part of the power women gang– in adulthood, it becomes harder to find like-minded people of any gender for friends, but they are out there.

    I also don’t believe that one incident at a gym means that you have to quit going there. All of us need to develop resilience to defend against the inevitable meanness of the world, rather than avoiding a place because of a single comment or experience. Why would anyone let an obnoxious comment or incident keep them from their own goals? People who do this kind of bullying want you to be affected by it, because that’s how they get their charge out of it. A calm retort in reply about how rude a comment is may be in order, but you don’t have to choose to let it control you. These people don’t represent the majority of people out there in the world, and their opinion that you don’t fit in or whatever they mean by making fun of you in their fake niceness just doesn’t matter. Let go of whatever hold they have over you, move on, and do your thing.


  2. JM Says:

    Stand up for your self. You need to go back to the gym, go back to the class and stand up for your self.

    There are several ways to do that, exactly how you do it depends on you. You may want to start by reading some self help books that are aimed at school girls in the same situation. Look for methods you can adapt.

    I, like you, never know what to say when confronted like that. Like you, I tend to avoid confrontations. But… I have learnt to shake off the spiteful comments and take heart in three things:

    I value the kind comments more than the spiteful, and the kind outnumber and outweigh the negative. I work to build alliances with other that strengthen my position. I take pride that over time I have built up physical strength and endurance, and now out last and outdo the stupid. It’s amazing how quickly the negative comments stop when you can do it better than they can.

    First you must realize that the person launched the personal attack when no one else was there, BECAUSE that is NOT the view of the group.

    Second if the person is bullying you, they are doing it to others, so you are likely to find friends and allies who share your position.

    Go back to the classes and make an allout effort to make friends. Make a list of the regulars and write it down on paper. If you don’t know their names make up names in your mind, like Miss Bob Cut. Over the weeks take time to introduce your self to the regulars and find out their real names.

    Get there early to stretch, stay late and stretch again. Watch everyone and figure out who hangs with whom. Make friends and make a special friend of the instructor(s).

    There is politics in any class, or any group bike ride. Those who behave, those who show off, and those who others lookup too. The good people never have to show off.

    Make friends with some of the class. You need friends there and maybe they do too.

    Don’t tell your new friends your problem with the bullying person, you don’t want it getting back to the bully that you were affected, because it will only cause the bully to up the anti. Act like you have ignore it. Same way you would ignore a wolf whistle on the street.

    Make a note of any new people who come into the class. Say “I have not seen you here before, is this your first time?” They may be a regular returning or normally do a class at a different time so don’t assume they are new just because you did not see them before. If they are new then introduce your self, welcome them, learn their name and compliment them on staying up with the class. If they are not then just say “My name is ____, nice to meet you and see you next class.” Welcome the new people, they also need friends. If they are new talk to them after the class about how they held up and offer any pointers you can give to help them. (First time in spin class? Then skip the jumps, just put on light resistance and keep turning till the end, dont give up or get off.)

    Social bullies will normally avoid picking on people who have lots of friends or appear to be well connected. So, if after six months, half the class nods to you and flashes you as smile as they come in you are the last person they will pick on.

    It’s impossible to come out with the “right” clever retort when surprised by a comment. The only thing you can do is to have a pre-practiced line in your head that works for everything. This works “You know, I don’t much like you.” You say it in your head every time you see the person. Then when they open your mouth you have it ready to hand.

    When the day comes just say it – Then turn away and walk off. You have in one move, turned the tables so the conversation is about them, not you, and you have ended it when you are ahead. Their attack has backfired because their attack assumed as a precondition that you cared what they think. You win because, with out attacking them personally, you have demolished the foundation of their assumption, that you care what they think.


    Read about the workout so you become the expert in the class. It does not matter if it’s Spinning, RMP, Yoga, Tie-whatever. There is always more to know on the subject, more technique that you can learn and then gently showoff in the class.

    As I said before, build alliances with the instructor and others in the class. Work to do the class harder and better than the others. This may take six months to a year of hard work. (Most people are just going to the class because it’s part of the entertainment of their life, you should soon be able to out preform them.)

    Become friends with the top dogs, and ask them about their technique. Most people love to have others ask their opinion.

    KNOW they don’t matter.

    Know in your heart that the opinion of worms does not count. Remember this, after careful consideration, around 50% of the people voted for the wrong person in the last election. We have to live in a world where 50% of the people are idiots, and we have to learn how to ignore them.

    Last, you sound both disappointed and lonely. Disappointed that this person made you fell small and lonely in now doing your workouts alone. Work hard in building friends and allies in and outside the gym. Just like you can grit your teeth and hang in there during a tough class, by doing it one step at a time, You can apply the same determination to wining workout friends, one at a time.

    Oh, and remember to smile, smile a lot. It’s good for you, it attracts friends, and it pisses of your enemies when they think you are having more fun than them.

    You may end a spinning class in total exhaustion but put on a smile like you have just won the lottery. You may be giddy with happiness that the pain came to an end but let them think you had a wonderful class and are on top of the world. Exude the joy they wish they had.

  3. Charlie Says:

    Sounds to me like your just a thin skinned cry baby.

  4. Andrea Says:

    I have to agree with you about the “gym women” assessment- I have visited several, but never joined a gym over the years for that very reason. Even a small group of women can spoil the environment for many. Since time is a limited resource, I choose not to spend it in an environment where I don’t feel comfortable. Now I’m at a point in my life where I can’t afford a gym membership financially, so I’ve been seeking some alternatives & found some great ones! I have a great walking partner who’s become a friend; I work out to different videos from the library, so it’s always a “new” workout. I also walk at the local mall & greet people I know. Another thing I enjoy (by myself) is volksmarching in different places (see http://www.ava.org). I must admit, though, that I’ve thought about Curves as a possible place where “real women” (interested in exercise, not social judgment) would go to work out. I agree- it would be nice to know that such a place does exist.

  5. Laura Moncur Says:


    It’s obvious that you have never endured the toture that women can do to each other. I joined the boys club because I can take a punch much easier than the stuff girls do to each other.

    Laura Moncur

  6. Charlie Says:

    Laura, I endured a lot of crap when I first started bodybuilding. I started out when I was 42 at 250lbs. and 28% body fat. 6 years later I weigh in at 230lbs. and 8% body fat. I can honestly say that the bullying made me a tougher lifter. I won’t bully at the gym unless I’m pushed to it. Guys that like to hog equipment get it, guys that like to pick on smaller people (yes I have even seen grown men in the gym pick on a young guy with cerebral palsy)get it. So I guess I’m guilty of it too. But come on, to cry about someone asking if you launder your cloths? At that point I would wear the dirtyist, stinkiest, workout cloths I could stand just to piss those limp wrists off and if they said any more about it I’d tell them where to go. Get a backbone! You are doing exactly what these limp wrists want by caving in and not standing up for yourself. Its not like you live with these people and I’m sure (as in my case) not all of the people are ignorant losers, like the ones you discribe at your gym. And if your serious, make headway and achive your goals they will have to recognize you, if not to your face to themselves. Basicly “shut-up and train” its what your there for.

  7. iportion Says:

    Some people live like they are still in highschool. Guys and girls do bullying. I went to school and there was a girl who was so rude to me. I stuck it out and I made it but she didn’t.

  8. Charlie Says:

    Right on iportion, your just a little calmer than I am.

  9. Noah Says:

    I’ve kicked people out of my TurboKick class for stuff like that. I might not be the most popular instructor, but I will not take adults acting like they are in jr. high. Call me crazy, but I love having newbies in the class, they are normally excited and scared shitless all at the same time. I love it when they “get it”, their face just lights up. Alright maybe that’s dramatic, but I love teaching.

  10. Mark Says:

    It may also be that the women found Lisa to be threatening or intimidating in some way. Fear and jealousy often motivate such behavior.

  11. lalana Says:

    Just found this post and my response is sort of a nicer version of Charlie’s. The comment from the blue-car woman didn’t sound bullying, just sort of annoying. The best tack would have been to laugh it off and say, “Oh, I just have 10 versions of the same outfit.” Or something like that just to blow her off and let her know that gym outfits weren’t a priority for you. I mean, who cares what anyone wears? I’m so into exercise in the classes, I probably couldn’t pick the other exercisers out of a lineup outside the gym. You do sound thin-skinned and overly sensitive. Don’t sweat the small stuff or the small people. Go back to the gym and if they don’t like what you’re wearing, so what?

  12. yogamn Says:

    Sorry, Charlie–you’re not saying what the others are. You’re just rude. And you can’t spell. AND you admitted that you’re a bully too. Other than an excuse to boast about your stats, what is your purpose on this thread? To chastise her some more? No one cares what you weigh. Make sure you at like a human being.

  13. lisa Says:

    I’m sorry she hurt your feelings, but did you ever think the “wear the same clothes” comment might have been a veiled way of letting you know you smelled bad? Believe me, I’m speaking from personal experience: when I was losing weight, I smelled like ammonia because I was pverdoing the protein and not eating enough carbs. I didn’t know until someone told me. I was horrified, extremely embarrassed and so angry I could have punched somebody, and but I’m glad I did something about it. Personally, I’d rather know and fix it than not know and give stupid people a reason to be snarky behind my back.

    Is there another gym you could visit instead? Screw them, I don’t blame you for not wanting to go back at all. Good luck!

  14. Robin Says:

    I can totally relate to all the crap people have to put up with at the gym. Yes, the guys hog all the equipment. It’s pretty intimidating when they get together in packs. They like to make totally lame comments at me, but thanks to the invention of the MP3 player, I just turn up the music and drown them out.

  15. Alyssa Says:

    Uhh… do they realize that it takes about half an hour to wash clothing? Unless you literally never leave the gym that’s a really stupid thing to say. I’m pretty sure me and every other student at my school wore the same thing every day for at least a year… and we all managed to wash them?

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