I signed up for a membership for the next couple months. Been feeling like sitting at a desk all day and then being stuck inside because of the rain and cold the rest of the time is wearing me down. So I thought a little indoor exercise would be a great thing. When you sign up for a membership, one of the “perks” is a fitness orientation. Naively, I thought this would be some sort of you know…orientation. And maybe it would have something to do with getting fit.
Him: “What are your goals? Why did you decide to sign up for a membership?”
I explain about how I’ve been doing wilderness education for a couple years, and just switched to a desk job and feeling like I need to have some exercise to keep from going crazy in the dark wet winter. He blinked at me a few times. “so…would you say that you’re more interested in losing weight or in building muscle?” I explain again that neither of those categories really apply to me. I understand that both of those things are side effects of exercise, but I would not say that either of those things are my goals. He blinks at me some more.
Him: “Do you take any supplements or multi-vitamins?”
Him: “Well, everyone can really benefit from taking a multi-vitamin…”
Me: (mildly) “I disagree with you, but that’s okay.”
Him: (blink, blink) “Why do you disagree?”
Me: “The human body is highly evolved to harvest the nutrients it needs out of the food that it was designed to eat. If a person eats food that their body was designed to digest, they have no need of supplements.”
Him: (blink,blink) “But everyone can use more vitamins, even if it just means that you might live longer, I mean it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are unhealthy, but you could always be more healthy.”
Me: “I disagree.”
Him: “Well, I’m not going to argue with you about it!”
(Note: I am not claiming that I eat the diet my body was designed to digest, just that it’s possible to do so.)
He’s obviously feeling really frustrated now. He hasn’t managed to get me to fit into one of the two boxes he understands for why people exercise, and he hasn’t even got me to listen to his schpiel about vitamins. He shuffles some papers around on his desk for a minute, and then offers to take some measurements in order to give me a sense of my “current fitness level”. (Cuz, apparently, I’m not capable of knowing about my current fitness level by how I feel.)
And here’s the part where it gets really shitty. Up until now, the story has to do with this particular employee’s ineptness as a salesman, but from here on out, it’s a systemic process designed to make you Feel Bad™ about yourself. This is where the management of 24Hour Fitness has decided that the process all of their salespeople follow should involve as much humiliation and degradation as they can get away with.
To start, he’s going to take my measurements. And in order to understand how this is set up to make a person Feel Bad™ from the first, you should know that the sales desk isn’t in some nice little office in the corner of the gym. It is in an open space centrally located so that when you are at the sales desk you are in plain view of the rows and rows of stairsteppers, treadmills, elliptical trainers, and stationary bikes. Dozens of people have nothing better to do than watch whatever happens to be going on at the sales desk while they puff away on their going-nowhere machines. So we proceed with the measurements: neck, bust, bicep, waist (but not the dressmaker’s waist, they make it a point to measure the biggest part of your belly), hips, thigh, and calf. He writes all those numbers down as we go.
And then he pulls out these huge cheap-ass plastic calipers. This is what he’s going to use to calculate my body fat percentage. So keep in mind that we are standing right in front of the whole gym while he lifts up the side of my shirt, grabs a big fold of love handle as he can grab, and “measures” the thickness with these plastic calipers. Fortunately for me, I don’t have a whole lot of body-consciousness, and I feel pretty okay with the way I look. In fact, some of the folks I hang with might even get off on the whole “degradation in front of strangers” scene. But I think the vast majority of women would be mortified and humiliated to have their naked love handles measured in front of a crowd of strangers. And I assume y’all are smart enough to know that the thickness of your love handles has very little correlation to your percentage of body fat.
But whatever, I mean he took all these other measurements, so I was thinking maybe he had some complex formula to relate all those different measurements. We also go around the corner to the height/weight scale (hidden in a little Closet of Shame, because now that we’ve just shown the world my naked love handles, they want to hammer home the point that your weight is something you should be ashamed of).
So then we head back to his desk in the middle of everywhere to look over all these figures. So we’ve got height, weight, measurements from neck to calf, and the love handle measurement. And I’m really curious what he’s going to do with all these numbers, and I’m watching him do some figuring on his scratch paper. I can see that the only numbers he’s using are the height, weight, and love handle thickness numbers. All the rest of those measurements were taken to heighten the sense of exposure (and possibly to make it seem like he was actually doing something scientific).So he comes up with a number and turns to this chart next to his desk. It’s basically a simplified version of the BMI. The 24Hour Fitness version has been converted from weight ranges to body fat ranges (how? I don’t know…probably by applying some sort of generalized formula about common body fat to weight ratios, thereby making it even less accurate than the BMI was to start with). And then they’ve added pretty colors to separate the Good (green), Fair (Blue), and Unhealthy (red, of course). And each little box in the chart is super-precise, like 19.7, 22,3, 24,1, 26.9, etc. So according to this guy’s calculations, I fall right in the middle of the red range. He points to my number, and then looking directly at me with a Sense of Deep Caring and Concern™, he says “That’s not good.” And I think here is where I am supposed to wilt into a Ball of Humiliation and Shame and throw myself into his professional hands to tell me what I can do to gain his approval and that of the whole world and I don’t care how much it costs.
But I don’t. In fact, I don’t respond at all. (blink,blink).
Him: “So where on this chart would you like to be?”
Me: “Sure, somewhere up there in the blue range, that would be great.” (read: Whatever, I’m really ready to be done with this now, and let’s just finish up your schpiel in a hurry.)
Him: “Go ahead and pick one of the actual numbers.”
Me: (sigh) “This is a chart designed based on averages. Since it is a chart that doesn’t apply specifically to me, it doesn’t seem relevant for me to choose a specific number. The 31.2 doesn’t really have anything to do with me as an individual.”
And then he starts trying to tell me about how the only accurate way to find body fat is with the dunk tank method, but this caliper method gets close so blah blah blah. I interrupt.
Me: “Actually, a couple years ago I worked in a research facility where we studied women’s health and where we had a very fancy and expensive machine similar to a CAT scan that actually analyzed each molecule in your body and gave you an in-depth readout of body fat percentage, bone density, calcium percentage, body organs by weight, and much much more. So I do actually have pretty good sense of where I am in terms of body composition, and also to what extent this chart doesn’t apply to me.”
Him: (long pause) “Okay, how about we just choose this largest number in the blue range, 31.5.”
Me: “Okay, sure.”
We turn back to his desk and he starts punching some numbers on his calculator. After some concentration and application of some apparently highly specialized knowledge on his part he pronounces, “It will take 6.2 weeks for you to accomplish this goal.”
Now it’s my turn to blink. I consider briefly trying to explain to him just how many ways that is bullshit, but I drop the idea quickly. In that pause, he decides to dive in for the kill.
Him: (with a Sense of Deep Caring and Concern™) “I’d really like to help you with that. I have designed a personal training program along with a diet program that will help you reach your goal.”
Um, hello? What planet are you living on? Cuz, it apparently is not even in the same dimension as the planet I am living on…you know, the one where I started out by saying that my goal was to get some exercise. But yes, he would like me to pay him $1000 (yes, that’s right one thousand dollars) for personal training. And he seems genuinely surprised that I am not responding to his sales techniques. It seems that the only two lines he can remember from his sales training class are “I would really like to help you with that” and “is that something you would be interested in?” The second line he keeps throwing out every time I say no. He goes back to the basic idea of personal training and ask if that’s something I would be interested in, desperate to get me to say yes to *something* that he can upsell from.
And of course, if things had gone according to plan, I would have been so humiliated by this point that I would have been willing to pay any amount to have someone help me become presentable to the general public. Too bad for him that I have a solid sense of self-esteem and I don’t buy in to popular bullshit about there being one way to look if you’re healthy. And too bad for so many people that this sales technique is probably very successful.