Earlier this week a pregnant woman was booted from a gym for not sufficiently covering up her bump. Planet Fitness’s bizarro dress code strikes again! The gym manager asked her to leave since her tiny tot-tent was ever-so-slightly showing thanks to a tank top that was riding up and was therefore in violation of the company’s “no midriff” and “no string tank tops” policies. This makes sense since last month a woman was asked to cover up her “intimidating” crop top or leave, before that a Muslim woman sued when they kicked her out for refusing to remove her religious headscarf and then a teen was told that her full-coverage tank top was making other patrons “uncomfortable” and she needed to change or get out. So at least it’s not just pregnancy discrimination?
It would be so easy to laugh at Planet Fitness and their silly, strangely enforced dress codes. But, little known fact, most gyms have a dress code policy. It’s not often enforced except for extreme cases but any gym big enough to have a legal department usually has a few rules about what constitutes appropriate workout attire. And all the policies sound a little weird, frankly.
From the LifeTime Fitness membership contract:
- “Bathing suits, tank tops for men, and shirts that show the midriff for women are not permitted. Shirts are required at all times. No ragged cut-offs.” (Note: It didn’t say anything against midriff-showing shirts for men! Go nuts, gents!)
- For yoga “no shoes, perfumes, or heavy jewelry.” (Makes sense but I’m more than a little entertained that “no heavy jewelry” had to be spelled out. Lil’ Bow wow would like his money back.)
24 Hour Fitness has a “no jeans on the weight floor” policy as well as “no cutoffs allowed in the pool” rule. Amen, bros.
From the Anytime Fitness membership agreement:
- “Please do not wear blue jeans or other clothing that has external metal parts and rigid seaming since this can cause damage to the upholstery on the equipment.” (I should make this same rule for my house! Just got a rip on the couch from an overly embellished back pocket on jeans.)
- “Your clothing should be kept to a modest style since both men and women use the club.” – but no dictation of what “modest” is. Not sure if that is progressive or lazy.
From the Bally’s Gym membership contract:
- “We reserve the right to deny use of the club to any person whose attire we do not consider to be appropriate in connection with the public image of our club.” (Um, have you been in a Bally’s lately? Not knocking them at all but they seem like the gym least likely to worry about the public image of their club.)
- “No ragged clothing, cut-off or cut-down shorts or pants, half-shirts, curlers, swimsuits or sandals are allowed in the exercise or aerobic area.” (Okay, what are cut-down shorts/pants?? Also, half-shirts are so 80′s. Let’s at least go a decade better and call them crop tops. Lastly, it took me a full two minutes to stop trying to picture what item of clothing “curlers” are and realize they mean HAIR curlers. Which, yeah no.)
- “No profane language or slogans on any attire in the club is permitted.” (Does this include Big Johnson t-shirts on the weight floor? Pleasesayyes.)
I could keep going but you get the point: pretty much all gyms have rules about what you can and can’t wear and some of those rules are really weird. Which begs the question: Should gyms have dress codes at all?
Clearly the line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t is quite subjective and it seems like having rules that hard to understand and enforce would just be a pain for everyone involved. Plus there is a lot of room for interpretation. For instance, the whole “shoes are a must” policy that most gyms have seems reasonable… unless you are into barefoot workouts. I went through a phase where I only wanted to run barefoot on the treadmill and I got several severe talking-to’s. Wouldn’t it be nice if gyms could just treat us like the adults we are and trust us that we’ve mastered the skill of dressing ourselves? I think the vast majority of people are very reasonable and the few who aren’t probably wouldn’t bother with rules anyways.
On the other hand, gyms have a right to set the rules for using their property and some dress codes have legit safety reasons. Plus anyone who’s ever had to watch a man do an entire spin class in nothing but tighty-whities and knee-high black dress socks (like I have) knows that there will always be somebody who will push the edge of reasonableness and if you don’t have an actual policy in writing then you won’t have a legal leg to stand on. And there has to be a line somewhere, preferably before “no naked.” If we’ve learned anything from Miley Cyrus it’s that people + no rules + thong leotards = anarchy.
But it’s not just aesthetics that are at play here. How we dress reflects not only our fashion taste but also things like socioeconomic status, moral standards, gender and religion — all of which can be fraught in public spaces. Would you punish someone who couldn’t afford official “exercise clothing” and shows up in street wear? Would you tell a trans-woman she has to follow the male dress code? Would you force a conservatively religious woman to wear something she considers immodest? All to conform to your rules?
I remember at my old gym there was an on-going controversy about what the ethnic Somali refugees, most of whom were Muslim, could wear. As the women often wore long, loose robes over long pants and shirts with full head coverings (even in the pool), some worried their clothing was a risk for drowning, contamination, over-heating or getting caught in machines. (Although to my eyes it just looked uncomfortable but far be it from the Mormon girl who’s covered from knee to clavicle even in 110 degrees to question anyone else’s religious strictures.)
The controversy got so heated that for a while people were talking about actually banning people that wore traditional full coverings, even children, since they were breaking the dress code rule about “no street clothes” and “appropriate swim attire”. Gym integrity or religious discrimination? One YMCA in my old stomping grounds solved the problem by starting a swim class just for Muslim Somali-American girls. In addition to allowing the girls to wear their clothing, the Star Tribune reports that other measures were taken to ensure compliance with their religious and cultural requirements. “During the hourlong swim practice, all other swimmers are cleared out of the pool. The men’s locker room is locked. Female life guards are brought in. The pool, which is on the building’s third floor, has no windows so they don’t have to worry about prying eyes from outside.”
Were some people inconvenienced by the new dress code and other rules? Probably. But did a bunch of girls who likely would never have gotten in the pool learn to swim? Definitely. And I’d call that a huge win.
In the end, the whole point of gyms is to help more people work out more often (okay, and to help the gym owners make more money), right? So it seems that any policy that would allow more people to come exercise would be the best, both practically and financially. Do we really want to be looking for reasons to tell people to stop exercising?
What do you think – should gyms even have dress code policies anymore? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen someone wear at the gym? What’s the weirdest gym rule you’ve ever seen?
Because I don’t ever want to work out in a gym where this isn’t allowed.