Sallam speaking at the 13th AWID Women's
Rights Forum in September 2016
Today, after many long months of not doing any sports (because of frequent travel and falling sick), I decided that this should be my kick start. I took my bike to the gym and decided to try a new branch, Gold's Gym Maadi.
I started my workout quiet happy listening to my music. I always put in my earphones to detach myself from casual talk while I'm working out. I was stretching when one of the trainers signaled to me, and to my surprise he asked me about my water consumption (which I answered with 3L/day). He said this is not enough (I'm sure any amount would have been "not enough") and added: "that thing on your leg is not fat, it's extra water" then he continued giving me tips about how to lose the "water not fat" in my thighs! At first I thought he was maybe referring to dry skin then I realized what he was talking about and I didn't know what to say.
I am sure this is a way----from his point of view----to pick customers for a "personal trainer contract," but who said that every person going to the gym for a workout is looking to change a part of his or her body? And who said it is acceptable for someone to assess someone else's body and decide to give the person advice on how to change it? What if----God forbids----the person is happy with how they look? God forbid, I am able to accept and love my body the way it is... should I not play sports? Is working out strictly for those who want to "change" their body size?
I shouldn't have to pick sports places just based on where I get respect -- I have the right to it -- to my body and my privacy. There is a branch of Gold's Gym Egypt that already lost its franchise because of a body-shaming campaign, and it seems that there is a need to train Gold's Gym Egypt staff in general on what's appropriate and what's not.
Many friends prefer not to go to the gym, and instead look for studios that give classes, or do outdoor sports (mostly football). The argument I get for rejecting the gym as an option is that it is a space for a testosterone competition, and if consulted, trainers would give you a standard answer to whatever you want to do----and definitely advise you to lose those few extra kilos even if you don't want to.
As a child I grew up with sports being an important thing in my life. I recall going to the sports club, and playing almost every sport that was available to me, and as I was growing older----since I didn't want to be a professional sport player----the only option I found for a regular workout was the gym. I've been a regular with Gold's Gym Gize for a few years now, and found a great trainer who is not like the stereotype of what people fear, but now I'm considering moving gym branches. Today was my first experience with the Maadi branch and I feel very disappointed.
I'm discovering other sports that can be exercised outside of a gym, but I shouldn't have to pick sports places just based on where I get respect----I have the right to it----to my body and my privacy. There is a branch of Gold's Gym Egypt that already lost its franchise because of a body-shaming campaign, and it seems that there is a need to train Gold's Gym Egypt staff in general on what's appropriate and what's not. A closure of one branch is not enough. I'm sure an explicit policy to all branches can fix that. The gym should be a safe space for those who chose to subscribe to it for whatever purpose they want----to play sports, change something in their bodies, or any other reasons----but gym trainers should not give unsolicited advice.
This article first appeared on Sallam's personal blog, Talking Personal, on October 17, 2016.
Yara Sallam is a prominent Egyptian feminist, activist, and defender of women's, children's, and human rights. She has worked as a lawyer and legal expert for many Egyptian and international organizations which specialize in human rights----such as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), African Commission for human and people’s rights. She has been fighting for rights from an early age, having joined the The Young Eagles----a children's rights group----as a young teenager. In 2013, Sallam was awarded the North Africa HRD Shield for her activism in Nazra for Feminist Studies and EIPR. She blogs at Talking Personal.