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working out in a skirt: the ongoing saga


icon: "bloodcurdling (photo of me w wide-eyed snarling wild expression wearing "Red Queen" makeup: searingly red lips, darkened pointed eyebrows, black eyeliner, deep red & black eyeshadow accented with gold & silver, and black-outlined silver hearts & diamonds with red shadows on my cheeks)"

Every time I go to the gym, I am by far the fattest femme there and usually the fattest person, as well as the only one in a skirt. I feel like I am doing important work because if I was not me, and I saw someone my size and shape doing weight training in a skirt, it would encourage me and make me feel like I belong and like it is okay to be there. I want other femmes and fat people to feel empowered to take up space in a gym. Yesterday I did have a femme person come up and compliment me on my skirt, which made me happy. I'm worried that I gave them a "back the fuck off" look before they said that though because staff members keep on bothering me about it.

On my second visit to the gym one of the workers came and told me I couldn't work out in a skirt. The skirt fell to slightly below my knees: definitely long enough for "modesty" without being so long that it might create risk of tripping, and stretchy with no buttons or zippers to get caught on anything. I probably got an "I will FIGHT you" look on my face because it got my anti-discrimination hackles up. I was thinking of all the femmes who wouldn't feel able to talk back and would be effectively banned from weight training by this sexist bullshit, and all the people who don't have workout-specific clothes and can't afford to go buy them.

I asked to talk to their supervisor and when two tall barbie and ken people came over (seriously I was like "what is this, a surfer movie?") I said "this IS my athletic wear: I only wear skirts" (the worker was silent, probly embarrassed). Then ken said "well you can't have your midriff showing because of our rules about no skin on machines due to sweat" so I said I would pull my skirt up higher to cover the 1 inch strip of my belly that was showing, and did so. Then I returned to my workout.

It was a bullshit thing to enforce on me because many people in the room were wearing tiny shorts that were basically underwear and sleeveless racerback tops where their whole shoulderblades showed: they definitely had more skin touching the equipment. The worker who initially told me my skirt wasn't athletic wear didn't mention to the supervisors that that was what they meant, so we didn't even discuss that. Which was lucky for them cause I was ready to spend the whole night arguing.

Then the next week (last week) a different worker came over and told me I couldn't wear a skirt, and then called down their manager (2 steps up heirarchy wise), who I had the same argument with. They told me it was in the policy and I said no, skirts aren't mentioned (fact) and every argument they made I refuted but they kept on saying that it's against policy. Finally something seemed to get through and they said that I should email them and they would look in to getting the policy changed. This show of respect broke my self-illusion that this issue didn't affect me personally and I lost the ability to speak and left as quickly as I could because I knew an anxiety meltdown was imminent.

I went to the locker room and sobbed for a while, struggling to calm myself. Two people at different times talked to me and asked if they could help, and I said no it's anxiety and I just need to gather myself and focus on breathing to calm down. I was touched that they expressed concern and them asking what they could do reminded me of what I could do (breathing) so it did help indirectly.

After I gathered myself I went out to the weight room again and asked for the email address of the manager, they gave it to me and the following day I sent this (the binary language is so that there is less for them to argue with):

[long email]
Good afternoon [managers name],

You spoke with me yesterday and invited me to email you with my concerns after one of the staff interrupted my workout to tell me that my clothing was not acceptable.  Despite there being no mention of skirts in the policy (as defined here: [link to policies] ), my wearing a skirt has resulted in staff interrupting me multiple times to discuss whether or not it was acceptable.

My inclination is to just obey because I just want to work out in peace and it is very difficult for me to deal with these confrontations with staff.  But I can't in good conscience do that because this unspoken -- yet rigorously enforced -- skirt policy disproportionately affects women, particularly poor women. 

To restrict femme clothing and require pants or shorts excludes women who

1) do not own pants or shorts other than work pants (jeans / khakis / zippered pants) and can't afford to go out and buy them;

2) are modest and thus uncomfortable with displaying their legs all the way up to the crotch;

3) have body dysmorphia or dysphoria which make the exposure of pants a prohibitive barrier;

4) are religiously devout and wear skirts as part of their religious practice;

5) are fat and have a difficult time finding shorts/pants which fit (skirts are much easier);

and most likely women in additional situations which I can’t readily imagine.

You said that it was a safety hazard because my skirt might get caught in machines, but this is not true.  I am happy to try out every type of machine in the room while you watch so that you can see what I know from years of wearing skirts: as long as they are at least 8 inches above the ankle, it is practically impossible for them to get caught in the spokes of an exercise bike wheel. Skirts that are approximately knee-length do not get in the way of working out. There is no valid safety argument here, particularly given that loose pants are not banned and fabric around the ankle is far more likely to get caught in a machine.

In an environment which is already highly masculinized, putting additional financial and emotional burdens on women will result in women not participating; they will be excluded by default.  A no-skirts policy is plainly discriminatory. I propose that the clothing policy be amended to state that skirts worn must be at least 8 inches above the ankle to keep them from getting caught in any machines.  That should cover any actual safety issue while also making it clear to staff that any skirt that is shorter than mid-calf is acceptable.

I hope to hear back from you very soon on this matter.

Regards,
[my name and workplace]


Then I went in to the gym and spotted the manager, who nodded and waved me over to follow to their office, which I did. They then said they had been expecting an email, and I told them that I just sent one a bit ago, so they read it while I sat there so that I didn't have to say it all again. They were nodding a lot while reading (I watched out of the corner of my eye) and afterward they said that they totally agree and that they have made religious exemptions before so it is not an absolute rule. They said they will take my name off it for anonymity and send it to the director and get it discussed and that until it is settled I can wear my usual skirts. Then they gave me their card and went and talked to the workers so that no one would bother me.

I had initially interpreted them in a very negative light but now I'm realizing that that might have been due to my anxiety. I think they genuinely do agree that it is the right thing to do and will advocate for it. I hope this policy gets changed but I am pretty sure their bosses are old white men who want to discourage women from working out, so we'll see. I have title 9 (anti-sexism mandate) in my corner since this facility receives federal funds (I didn't mention it in the email because I was trying to be less hostile in tone).

If they end up not changing the policy, I'm gonna get a bunch of skorts and femmme the fuck out of them with fabric paint.

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Back July 3rd, 2018 Forward
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.