Gold's Gym Apologizes for Fat-Shaming Kids in Ad

Tanya Edwards
A Gold’s Gym in Texas is under fire for a controversial ad. (Photo: B Christopher/Alamy Stock Photo)

After what seems like a misguided attempt to reach out to kids about getting healthy, a Gold’s Gym in Texas is under fire, according to KHOU.com, for a recently mailed ad promoting its youth performance program in Kingwood.

Why? The ad features two images: In one, a young boy is shown, with a caption that reads, “My fat may be funny to you, but it’s killing me.” Next to it is a photo of a tween girl. The caption reads: “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.”


A local mom was shocked by the ad, thinking it might do more harm than good. “I just thought, ‘What if a teenager sees this?’ That would be really hurtful to see a message like that,” Marcy Young told KHOU. “I think there are a lot more positive ways to get our kids [healthy].”

And she’s right, according to Mayra Mendez, PhD, a psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

“Yes, that kind of imagery is very hurtful,” she tells Yahoo Beauty, “primarily because it doesn’t speak to the person’s value, their inner self.”

Mendez also questions the accuracy of the ads. On the ad featuring the boy, she said: “The commentary isn’t even accurate. From my perspective, the weight may not be killing this boy; he may be healthy. Overweight doesn’t mean unhealthy. They might be better off saying he wants to be more healthy. You can be overweight and be successful. You can do many wonderful things — sing, dance, participate in sports. It’s a very harsh term. What might be more damaging is the bullying around him, which destroys his self-esteem and positive identity.”

She adds: “For the little girl, you’re still a little girl, even if you’re a big girl. You’re still a child. That’s what I think is damaging.”

Mendez was emphatic that these kinds of ads send the wrong message to children. “It promotes shaming and bullying,” she says. “It gives kids permission to bully, to say ‘You’re different, you’re not like us, you’re grotesque, you don’t matter.'”

She added: “On top of everything else, if a child already has self-esteem issues, these kind of images can create anxiety and depression and play on identity conflicts — the struggle of who they are. Our job as adults is to build kids’ self-esteem, not to destroy it.”

Gym member Young posted a photo of the ad on Facebook (her page is set to private), and emailed the gym’s owner, T. Bryan Murphy, who has not yet responded to Yahoo Style’s request for a comment.

“He took total ownership of it, like a good company should. He apologized,” Young told KHOU. “He said he totally did not mean to offend anyone, and he was very sorry about that.”

Young shared Murphy’s statement with KHOU. It read, “As a father and a person who is deeply committed to children’s health and wellness, I was devastated to learn that some people saw my ad as an attempt at body shaming. … Reflecting on your remarks helps me to realize that there are more positive ways to communicate my commitment about the programs we offer. Moving forward, I will be more thoughtful as to how we seek to move our message.”

Gold’s Gym has a touchy history with insensitive ads. In 2016, another one of the franchise’s locations enraged customers when it shared a picture of a pear alongside the caption, “This is no shape for a girl,” on its Facebook page.

Update: A representative for Bryan Murphy, owner of the gym, sent Yahoo Beauty the full text of the letter he sent to their concerned member.

Marcy

I am the owner and operator of the Houston gyms, and, as a father and a person who is deeply committed to children’s health and wellness, I was devastated to learn that some people saw my ad as an attempt at body shaming. I had no idea anyone would take it that way, and I apologize from the heart to you and anyone who was offended.

I want to share with you that I have personally worked with kids dealing with the issue who have struggled with depression, bullying and serious health problems. It’s heartbreaking.

My goal is to inform parents that we have a solution where our trainers encourage and motivate kids of all shapes and sizes to exercise, and show them how to work out so they can form the lifelong healthy habit of staying active. More than 11,000 kids in our area have gone through our Youth Performance Program, and seeing the transformation for kids as they build self-esteem, better health and positive habits has been my greatest reward.

Reflecting on your remarks helps me to realize that there are more positive ways to communicate my commitment about the programs we offer. Moving forward, I will be more thoughtful as to how we seek to move our message. I am working with the Gold’s Gym corporate team to make sure I communicate our values of motivation and strength in a supportive and encouraging way.

The purpose of my work, especially in the eyes of my family, is to support everyone’s fitness goals.  Above all things, I never want to offend others, appear hurtful, or let down those closest to me.   I’ll do a better job moving forward.

It would be my pleasure to apologize to you directly, and/or hear more from you on ideas or concepts that you feel would better communicate our intentions moving forward.

Sincerely,

Bryan

Gold’s Gym shared the following statement.

We agree that fat-shaming children – or anyone – is wrong. At Gold’s Gym, we strive to provide a supportive, motivating environment that helps people feel healthy and strong. Our local Houston gym owner has worked for years to help kids live active, healthier lifestyles and more than 11,000 Houston-area kids have participated in his Youth Performance Program. While we don’t condone the wording or images of his mailer, we recognize his commitment to area kids, and are working to help him frame his message in a positive way that reflects Gold’s values. We apologize to our members and everyone who was offended by this ad.

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