A Message for the Mean Girls at the Gym

Full confession: I’m not a gym rat by any means – I prefer to get exercise by walking or swimming, though I have rediscovered the fun of the recumbent bike we have in the basement. I feel awkward in the gym, convinced everyone is looking at me and silently or not so silently judging me and not in the “awesome that you made it to the gym” kind of way. I am a walking disaster when it comes to workout videos – I’m spectacularly uncoordinated and inept at learning new routines. If they’re taught in a style I can follow, I might get 3 or 4 moves in a row correct the first time I do a class. With constant repetition, I might learn the whole routine, but more often than not, the video sits and gathers dust as I get frustrated and give up. I took a few zumba classes a couple of years back and almost took out a whole row of people by going left when I should have gone right and almost took out my neighbour with an ill-timed arm movement. That experience was enough to convince me that perhaps gyms and fitness classes weren’t really for me. Though I do like the idea of a regular time to workout and would love to experience the camaraderie that some of my friends have developed at their fitness classes.

A local gym has been doing a heavy push for membership and a few people I know in town have been raving about the place so I decided to give it a go.  Working from home and being self-employed has certain benefits – mainly that my “lunch hour” can be whenever I want it to be so I can do daytime classes that are less busy. Last week I checked the gym’s schedule online, picked a class that sounded interesting and put it in my calendar for the following morning.  I got to the gym early for the class, presented my “free trial” card, and a helpful staff member showed me to the change room. I put on my nice new sports bra that is supposed to help keep the girls in place, my favourite workout shirt, and some new yoga pants that allow me to move but have seams that don’t drive me crazy. I tied my hair back so it didn’t flop in my face, and went out to the class space about 10 minutes before the class started.  There were approximately a dozen people there, more than I’d expected but the space could easily handle twice that number so it wasn’t claustrophobic. I chose a spot near the middle – the instructor was fairly short and I wanted to be able to see her, but there’s no way I was going to be front and centre!

workout, fitness equipment

The class is a fairly new one at the gym (or at least in that time slot) so there weren’t really any “regular spots” and I had been one of the last ones out of the change room so I was pretty sure I hadn’t taken anyone’s space.  There were two identically clad girls behind me –  early 20s, tall, thin, beautiful, and wearing full makeup. I smiled tentatively at them and worked on trying to psych myself up to NOT take out anyone with my clumsiness.  The gym has music going but it isn’t overly loud, so you can hear the instructor. The instructor came in, class started. I’m not going to say that I was the epitome of grace, but I followed at least 60% of the instructions and didn’t hit or even come close to hitting anyone. I’d be lying if I said time flew by, I noticed and felt every minute, but I didn’t hate it so I’d consider that a win.

I walked back into the change room, some of the other people in the class went to do weights but I just wanted to get home to shower. The two girls who had been behind me in the class came in a couple of minutes later. “So, like, why are you here?” one asked – I thought I detected a note of hostility in her voice but told myself I was being paranoid. I explained that I was using a trial pass to see if the club was right for me before deciding whether or not to join. “Aren’t there like special gyms for uncoordinated fat bitches so they don’t have to embarrass themselves like you just did?” the second girl queried as her friend smirked. “You could be here 24/7 and you wouldn’t look as good as we do.” the first girl ‘helpfully’ pointed out.  Umm.. okay then. I’m not usually big on confrontation but I was tired and cranky and who the hell did they think they were anyway?  “Who says I’m here because I want to look like you?” I replied. “Well you certainly can’t want to look like that. We were behind you and nobody wants to see your hippo butt trying and failing to do such simple things.” At this point I was biting my lip so hard I could taste blood and willing myself not to burst into tears. “You could have moved spots if I’m that offensive to  you. I’m sorry that your world is so small that the sight of someone who isn’t a clone of you trying to learn something new and better herself upsets you”. I managed to gather all of my stuff in one arm and spin on my heel without falling over and walked out.

The same helpful staff member waved good-bye saying “see you again soon”, while I muttered “not bloody likely” to myself. I want to be the kind of confident person who doesn’t let that kind of thing get to her, but I’m not there yet. What those girls said to me hurt. I cried almost the whole drive home and have burst into tears a few times while writing this post.  I don’t understand why they would go out of their way to be mean. Surely it’s easier to just not say anything at all, but no, these girls took time out of their day to deliberately attempt to ruin mine – and they did. I’ve come up with all sorts of witty comebacks and smart responses in the days since ‘the incident’, but the truth is I’m hurt. I have noticed more negative body thoughts creeping into my head over the past few days. Instead of being proud that I could shovel and snowblow my way out of the recent snowstorm, I thought that if I’d been fitter, I wouldn’t have been so sore the next day. I’ve cancelled plans because I feel too ugly to be in public. I go through phases where the negative self-talk is louder, and I know this is just one of those phases but it still sucks right now. I was explaining what happened to an acquaintance at the store where I volunteer and he asked what I would have said in an ideal world. I said I’d probably just have used my favourite Audrey Hepburn quote: “Make-up can only make you look pretty on the outside but it doesn’t help if you’re ugly on the inside. Unless you eat the make-up” and tossed them some lipstick. Of course I’d probably have hit one of them in the face with it but such is life.  Thinking further though, I think what I really want to tell those girls is simply this: In a world where you can be anything, be kind.


Thank you to everyone who has commented both here and on Facebook and Twitter. Your support and kind words mean so much!  I went to the gym today, and sat down with the manager and told him about what happened. A few staff had suspicions about the girls in question but since nobody had seen them doing anything against gym rules, and nobody (until me) had complained, their hands had been effectively tied. With my complaint, (and using my post instead of making me write it out again) there was more than enough grounds to cancel their memberships and the manager was going to warn the staff he knew at the other gyms in town as to why these two girls were no longer welcome at his gym.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go back right away, there are other gyms in town and I may try out the local community centre that does daily aquafit classes (assuming the pool isn’t an over-chlorinated fume hood) during the week.  I understand that it was never about me – it was about them projecting their insecurities and self-hatred onto me. I’m glad that the post left people shocked, because it means that this behaviour is not the norm.  While part of me wants to be there when the mean girls show up next and are informed of the consequences of their actions, I’m also glad to never (I hope) have to deal with them again. If you regularly go to a gym and see someone looking a little scared or out of place in one of your classes or looking a little lost in the change rooms or on the floor, smile at them and send some encouragement their way. Let’s turn an act of hate into a movement of kindness.


By koalateagirl

Jenn Annis is a writer, editor, historian, special needs advocate, and tireless defender of the Oxford comma. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.


  1. I want to believe with all my heart that this is a fiction piece. I am so hurt for you. I am upset that this happened to you. I am appalled at it, actually. I feel very sorry for those girls: what a narrow and ugly view of the world they must have to be able to speak those words to another person. You are beautiful, Jenn. You are unfailingly kind, and that is why those words hurt you so much, NOT because there’s one shred of truth to them. Do NOT let this ugliness take any of that kindness from you. I hope you can put this behind you. Man, I wanna come kick some lycra ass for you!

    1. I wish it was a fiction piece too. I wrote out the conversation as soon as I got home so i wouldn’t misremember it – but struggled with writing the piece. Then today it just rushed out. (With more tears).

  2. This is beautifully written Miss Jenn Annis. Those girls are ASSHOLES. Wow. No words for how inexcusable and rude that behaviour is. You could come to my Y classes any day and nobody would judge you or judge anyone for that matter. I wonder how people like that can sleep at night. Please find a class and a space where you are accepted and loved and not judged. That gym sounds like a crappy place if they let MEAN girls with no personalities join it.

      1. Hell, I’d say that the gym needs to know that their members are driving away potential customers. You should let someone know. Not as a tattling or whatever thing, but I’m sure there’s a code of contact that their members are supposed to stick to… plus yeah – driving away potential customers.

    1. Merry – exactly what I wanted to do. I hate that Jenn lives so far away from this group of people that would happily throttle anyone for saying anything so crappy to any human being.

  3. Let’s go back to that class together. I’m sure you can easily bring a posse.

    I’ll clearly illustrate in no uncertain terms what public shaming means.

    Bring it on.

    P.s. you are amazing!

  4. I am SO pissed off after reading this. All that sweaty makeup is going to clog their ugly to the bone pores and they’ll be lucky to look like Kellyanne Conway after a bender by the time they’re 50. Because Karma. In the meantime their asses should be banned from that gym. I’m so sorry you had to listen to those morons.

    1. Ha. That was always my worry when working out with makeup – it can’t be good for your skin can it? Their asses have, in fact, been banned and the gym manager is going to alert the other gyms in town as to the reasons WHY… Hopefully it at least makes them stop and think before they open their mouths again.

  5. Really glad you’re going to speak to the manager. Please know you are beautiful. And to say such things to you is profoundly ugly. That sort of behavior has no place in a gym or anywhere else, for that matter.

  6. What did I just read?!
    Who are these people?
    I feel sorry for them, living with that much hate and bitterness. Just know that there are so many of us who a) support you and b) would stand up for you in a heartbeat, and maybe even get in a throat punch, or two! In all seriousness, hope you get it sorted out with the manager, but in the meantime, know that we are sending you heaps of love and hugs!

  7. What awful girls! I’m just thinking…. in their mid-20’s and they’ve learnt nothing about being a human being. Ther’s no hope for them! Good on you to go back and speak to the gym. Let me know what they say! Best o Luck!!!

    1. I would have serious words with an elementary school aged kid for saying anything close to that, how they got to be adults is beyond me. I’m just glad they won’t be able to hurt anyone else with their words.

    2. Hopefully they will gain 100 pounds by menopause and have trouble at the gym themselves. Life will catch up to them. I am heavy and older and if they said that to me I would tell them that they look like hookers and sluts and ask what are they doing here ‘you could join a brothel as you look the part’. I would call them spandex sluts, skinny sluts, etc. and tell them that they should get tested for every sexually transmitted disease. I do not go around insulting people but if I received negative comments about my weight at the gym (and I am obese) I would dish it out to them. I am older and I stick with older people – most of us are at least a bit overweight from menopause, having had children, age, slower metabolism. Some of the nicest people I have met are other middle aged people at the gym. If someone young enough to be my daughter said this to me, there would be trouble…..management would be notified and I would want them banned due to discrimination against other patrons. Granny fights evil…I swim with older heavier people. We are all fighting the battle of the bulge and many of us have arthritis and cannot do all the moves in aqua fitness and other classes but we are trying.

  8. Oh boy, Jenn, I am so sorry this ;)+! Happened to you. I am glad you stood up to it. (read other post). I worry about my appearance all the time and I don’t know if I Have the strength to stand those mindless insults. I might have just crumbled. I am glad you are strong! (hug)

  9. I’m in shock after reading this. I have worked in a gym, used a gym for years and run all the time in the outdoors and have NEVER EVER heard anything as disgusting as what was said to you by those girls. I only wish I was in the change room with you. I would have said something right their faces. I don’t like bullies and I don’t stand by and just ignore something when someone is being bullied. I’m glad that you spoke up to them. I’m so sorry that this happened to you. You don’t deserve it, no one does. There’s something wrong with people like them. I just hope karma turns around and bites them in their butts!

    1. Of course they did it when it was just the 3 of us.. and they did it where there aren’t cameras (change room) – because they’re cowards. I’m glad I went in and talked to the manager.

  10. I’m speechless that anyone would ever have the nerve or the desire to speak to someone or treat someone that way. Beauty fades I hope they have a Plan B given their total lack of personality and character.

  11. I am so sorry this happened to you. I just can’t even fathom them making an effort to be that stupid.

    Good for you for trying the class, good for you for being brave in the face of their hate, and good for you for sharing your heart here.

    1. Thank you. I felt like I was going to be sick as I walked into the gym to talk to the manager but I’m so very glad I did. I wasn’t their first victim, but I was their last.

  12. What they said sounded like lines in a movie, it’s that cruel & unbelievable. I think your response to them was bang on. I don’t know how I would have handled such abuse. (I always say shoulda coulda afterwards). Whenever I read these open letters to offenders, I always wish they could read them. Jenn I think it would be ideal if you share this with the gym for them to post, and give to the instructor to share with the class/post it in the class, call out those mean girls. I just want them to know what assholes they are.
    It disgusts me that body shaming continues to thrive, it’s very much alive and well. Equally disturbing is that there’s such a cruel streak in some women to hurt others. Where’s the sisterhood? Where’s the support of fellow females? I’m sad & angry you went through this Jenn. (Hugs)

  13. Believe in Karma. What goes around will eventually come around for that duo. This really sounds like bad juvenile fiction. The beauty of women can be our ability to support each other in all of our imperfections. Take heart that there are gyms and classes where we can laugh it off as well as sweat it off. It’s agreed that showing up to move is often the greatest of successes, regardless of coordination or high performance levels. Glad to hear you brought the issue back to the gym. It will help build your confidence back up. It’s not easy to do that when you are feeling humiliated. You are a strong lady. In my mind, just so you know, I punched them in the face for you. Lol. Nice to meet you. I’m Peady’s sister. Thanks for sharing. That shows how strong you really are. Girl Love is so much better.

  14. I can’t believe people like that still exist. And that there are two of them!? I feel so sorry for those women as anyone who could be that mean has something really wrong. I love exchanging smiles with the many women of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethic backgrounds in the classes I attend at Movati. I am the gangly, awkward one who crashes the wrong way every time. I wish I had been in that change room with you. We could have stuffed them in a locker and sprayed soap through the cracks…

    1. Ha. yeah.. they would have totally fit in a locker too 😉 But I think taking the high road has some definite benefits. Namely that they can’t go to the gym anymore but I can if I choose to.

  15. That is awful. I am not fit at all or coordinated so when I sign up for an exercise class I always feel self conscious. I usually pick one that is at a very very low skill level so that I can fit in better. I am glad the manager is doing something.

  16. I am sorry that happened to you. I’ve been overweight since junior high school and as a consequence of being mocked for having the audacity to just show up for HS gym class I’ve got a practiced stink eye for gymbos that usually makes them back off.

    I started going back to a fitness gym recently after a few years away and fortunately for my soul it’s populated with people like us. I’ve got the fire and the drive to finish losing my extra weight and do more with my monthly membership than stand around yapping with other gymbos and blocking the machines.

  17. SO PROUD of you for going back and making your concerns known to the management! <3 Like Paula said, they're ASSHOLES, WOW.

    I have a feeling that you're not the only one that they've bullied. I'm torn between hoping they never have local access to a gym again, and feeling sorry for them that their self worth is all based on their looks. They are going to be miserable for their entire life.

    The conspiracy theorist in me wants to suggest they work for a competing gym and this is their scare tactic to have potential members leave the gym you tried and go try another local spot. 😉

  18. first of all it seems like you handled yourself PERFECTLY … even though yes you came up with more witty comebacks in your head afterwards, they wouldn’t have listened anyways. What you did was tactful and graceful and you should be proud of yourself.
    Oh and the crying in the car? That’s totally okay. I would’ve done the exact same thing. It’s a great way to release all the emotions.

    And lastly … 100% hooray for going back to the gym again. The gym should be about taking care of your physical health, which often helps your mental state as well. It should be just for you, regardless of what anyone else thinks. And now that you’ve been hurt by some horrible, ugly people I have no doubt that if you see someone like you at the gym you’ll smile and help them feel more confidence in themselves… so maybe something good will come from this after all.

  19. I wouldn’t have been so reserved. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have gone to a gym in the first place. I’m not big by any means but I do need some work. I’ve gained some weight over the past year (most of it in my belly and thighs). On the best of days, I dislike even going out in public. I always get asked “How far along are you?” I’m always embarrassed and pretend I didn’t hear the question. I don’t like going out anywhere really just for that fact alone. I, like you, am not the video workout type. I prefer to either swim or walk in the woods (even this is challenging). Swimming is a challenge as I refuse to go to a public pool. Oh heck – I have not worn a bathing suit in over 22 years! I refuse! You won’t see a photo of me from the neck down either. It’s also getting harder for me to “work out” due to all my physical ailments. I’ve just become accustomed to how I look and have embraced the fact that it’s not going to get better any time soon.

    1. I don’t mind going to public pools – if they’re not overchlorinated. I generally feel very self conscious but once I’m in water I forget about it because i love the water so much. I get the “hard to workout” bit.. I’m too competitive for yoga – I get frustrated when I can’t do something right which I’ve been informed is NOT the point of Yoga. There are some wonderful restorative yoga classes though that are made for people of all abilities. (I also can’t get my mind to slow down enough for it)

      1. If I could wear a T-Shirt and a pair of shorts in a pool – I’m there! I love to swim. I was a lifeguard (many moons ago) and swimming was my life. I was very active on swim teams, track and field, gymnastics and ice skating (well past the days of high school). Then kids came and a work related injury and then it was all downhill from there. I’m 48 and a lot of days I feel like 80! Ohhhh to be young and fit again -lol-

        1. I wear guy’s swim trunks and a rashguard at the cottage. I can’t see why you wouldn’t be able to wear short style bottoms and a t-shirt style rashguard (though wear a bathing suit top under – trust me.. there is NO support in a rash guard.)

  20. Jenn, you are more lovely than ever! I’m so sorry that such hatred was inflicted upon you. You handled yourself with the kind of grace that cannot be taught in an aerobics class or or purchased at a fashion retailer. Good for you for standing up for yourself and reporting these women.

  21. Man. I have always felt insecure trying new fitness things: too puffy, too jiggly. This story takes me right back to my school days and confirms why it’s so hard to shake these insecurities.
    But whatever. You know you’re a rock star for getting out there and we all love you.

  22. Just… wow. Clearly these two twats only go to the gym to try and gain some sort of disillusioned admiration, based on what they think of themselves. Makeup while working out? Bitches please! I’m glad you said something, and I’d love to be the one to tell them their butts aren’t welcome through the door anymore.

    They’re not worth your time.

  23. I don’t know you but I feel for you. I am so very sorry you had to endure that… but I don’t feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for two girls who have gotten this far into life with the kind of self-loathing that is a requirement to be able to speak so cruelly to anyone. Instead I feel a sense of solidarity and a sense of pride in your response. I’m very much the person who wouldn’t have said anything and often wish that weren’t the case. I hope you know that people like that really aren’t normal… and I hope one day this experience becomes enough of a distant memory that you feel confident in doing whatever the fuck you want because you deserve to. Kudos to you for taking it to management and calling them out. And many thanks for sharing your story.

  24. I am so freaking proud of you for working out.

    I am so amazed at your 60% accuracy rate first time out!

    I am so horrified by those girls (what grade are we in again?) and heartbroken for you.

    I’m glad they were outed. I’m glad they were cancelled and I’m going to bless their hearts and pray for excessive cellulite and deep lines for them 😉 xoxo Not really, but I really wanna…

  25. Hiya Jenn!

    I wanted to swing by and tell you how incredibly proud of you I am.

    You were brave to stand up for yourself then and there, but it took real guts to write about this, share, engage in a LOT of conversation about this incident (and post) and then to follow through with going back. 😀

    Aren’t you glad that you were the one who spoke up? You have proven what speaking up can do! Suspicions are only that until a brave person confirms what people were thinking. BRAVO!

    I am so happy I waited to comment (here – heh heh – you got ALL my comments when it was fresh!) because there is a happy ending! Kindness really does win in the end. 🙂

  26. This made me physically sick reading it. I know exactly how you feel Jenn and how sickening what they did was. You are one of the most genuinely fantastic people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and had I been there, I would have gone ghetto on those women just for you ….. Meowy Hugs!

  27. Good god this is hideous to read (not because of your writing by the way) but the things that were said to you! I know this isn’t any less reassuring but I will be totally honest…

    I’m a gym rat, I go about 4 times a week, and have done for over 2 years. I’m pretty toned and slim and work as hard as I possibly can. I’m not vain though, if anything I’m quite insecure despite how much I train. But I still get those looks… those ‘who do you think you are’ looks.

    Thankfully I’ve never had anyone say anything to me directly… but I feel those awful looks. Honestly, no matter what you look like in a gym you will always get some nasty judgemental girl. Those types of girls are always hanging around gyms. Funnily enough they are usually the ones with a tonne of makeup on but hardly work up a sweat (wouldn’t want to smudge it now would they…) having said that I’ve had girls give me deadeye that have been overweight as well… so I can’t say it’s just the ones who are slim. The slimmer ones definitely get more territorial though. I like to get down and dirty at the gym and don’t care about using heavy weights. I also go all out on cardio especially on the treadmill I love to sprint like a hungry lions after me… but girls will give me awful looks for working hard! The worst one I get is a girl who goes with her boyfriend. Every move I make, she will mutter something to her boyfriend and instinctively he turns around and glares at me – making it ridiculously obvious she has said something about me. She’s an overweight girl and doesn’t have much going for herself looks wise… but still she tries her hardest to intimidate me and give me nasty glares and comments to her boyfriend. I go with my boyfriend and even he notices that as soon as my back is turned, she will nod or point at me and her boyfriend glares at me. My boyfriend has felt angry for me because they both make it obvious that they’re talking about me.

    My point is that I don’t want you to EVER feel like how YOU LOOK is any justifiable reason for people to give you crap. You could be fat, thin, athletic, muscley, ugly average or beautiful. People like that find something wrong with EVERYONE. They are the problem – not you. So please whatever you do, never ever blame yourself! Deep down they hate themselves, not you. Be happy with yourself and ignore these losers!

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