In an effort to create a more comfortable workout environment for plus-size women, Body Exchange, a Vancouver-area gym, has adopted an unusual membership policy. It doesn't allow men or thinner women to be members, the British Columbia-based newspaper, The Province, reported.
Body Exchange caters to plus-size women of all ages, though the majority of their clientele are between 35 and 55. All potential members go through a phone screening process. If they don’t meet the gym’s criteria, they simply aren’t invited to join. The founder and CEO of Body Exchange, Louise Green, told The Province that the gym's members are looking for a place where they can exercise and get healthy without feeling self-conscious. “Many of our clients have not had successful fitness pasts, so I can see the anxiety before we get started, and I can see the relief and happiness after we finish,” Green said.
Green hoped to create a place where women could feel “camaraderie” and comfort when they came to the gym. In addition to providing an indoor gym that is comfortable for plus-size women, Body Exchange offers various boot camps and off-site exercise retreats. (One is even held in Mexico!) And Green’s initiatives seem to be working. Mary McNary, one of Green’s customers, told The Province: “It’s intimidating going into a gym setting. I honestly think some people in a gym setting are judgmental to people who are overweight or have a different body type.” She said doesn’t feel that way at Body Exchange, where she’s been a regular member for nearly three years. McNary works out six days a week, has lowered her blood pressure and has lost 50 pounds.
Body Exchange isn’t the first gym to create workout spaces specifically for plus-size customers. Downsize Fitness, a gym with studios in Chicago, Las Vegas and Dallas, targets “chronically overweight” clientele, although it doesn't specifically ban anyone, the New York Daily News reported. “We make it known that our specialty is working with people who have at least 50 pounds to lose," he told the paper. “Most people who come here, come here for that reason.” Michael Hayes, owner of Buddha Body Yoga in New York City, said that his studio has a similar policy.
Green told The Providence that her primary goal is to give her customers the ability to get fit and feel good about themselves. Weight loss is something that might happen as a result, but it’s not the focus of the gym, she said. At the end of the day, she added, she strives to make Body Exchange about enjoyment: “This has got to be fun or it’s not going to work.”