The Planet Fitness Conundrum-Judgement Free or Discriminating?
Planet Fitness is a franchise gym chain which originated out of New Hampshire. To carve out their niche in this competitive industry, they created a ‘judgement free, everyone welcome except lunkheads ‘ corporate policy. Founder Mike Grondahl wanted to create a milder atmosphere, where no one feels intimidated or judged.
Their complete philosophy:
“As the most innovative health club brand in the United States, Planet Fitness is known for a lot of things – our absurdly low prices, our Lunk™ Alarm, and most of all perhaps, for our Judgement Free Zone® philosophy, which means members can relax, get in shape, and have fun without being subjected to the hard-core, look-at-me attitude that exists in too many gyms.
To enforce their corporate culture, they installed ‘lunk alarms,’ loud sirens set off when someone grunts too loud or drops weights. From the start, they have not hesitated to eject any member who sets off the ‘lunk’ alarm twice or fails to follow their dress code, shown in the image at right.
The company has found success through their methods, and made Inc. Magazine’s fastest growing (private) businesses list at one point. On their website, visitors can read the words: “A diverse, Judgement Free Zone...” This extends to the staff, who are not salespeople, and the free trainers. As planet fitness literature says, “If you’re looking for a comfortable, friendly place to exercise, and like a great deal, then you’ll love Planet Fitness.”
The memberships are certainly cheap, an average of $15/month, but to draw their desired clientele, the company has created advertisements stereotyping and insulting bodybuilders. You may have seen this ad before:
The planet fitness commercials subjectively define the demographic they are catering to. Funny or not, they do pass judgement on anyone resembling a bodybuilder. Their advertisements make it clear that not everyone is welcome.
Planet Fitness commercials get their point across through stereotyping and discrimination. They have created an atmosphere that is friendly, so long as your workouts don’t get so intense that you start making noise. Grunting is especially frowned upon, and can set off the ‘lunk alarm.’ This is a real thing, as seen in the video below:
Discrimination or Policy?
All arguments cease with the power of choice. If this atmosphere is too mild for someone, they do not have to workout there. The controversy stems from the blatant discrimination against people who the company or specific franchise deems ‘lunkheads.’
Based on their advertisements, exceptional musculature and high intensity exercisers seem to qualify. However, defining somebody as a ‘lunk’ is left to management’s discretion. Corporate policy dictates some specifics, such as the dress code that prohibits 'do-rags,' bandanas, skull caps, jeans or boots.
Many former members and non-member complaints state that the dress code, and enforcement of it, discriminates against certain ethnic and religious groups.
According to Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, "all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation... without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin."
So the question is, does planet fitness gym space constitute a private or public area? Because it is a members only club, one would think it qualifies for exemption from anti-discrimination laws. However, as the Valley Swim Club of Philadelphia found out when denying access to a group of African-American children, if membership to the club is open to the public, the facility must abide by civil rights laws.
Then again, Planet Fitness isn’t blocking anyone from joining their health club, just kicking them out if they don’t follow club rules; and making commercials alluding to what type of person is not welcome.
Planet Fitness has found an audience, even if their policies and commercials are found to discriminate against, or at the least, stereotype certain groups. They have built a gym culture for people who are not comfortable anywhere else, and this is a good thing if it gets folks into the gym who would not exercise otherwise.
Discrimination aside, one has to wonder about future policy repercussions. As one forum poster noted, “what happens if a member gets big from working out at Planet Fitness?” It is a valid question. If members stop fitting the ‘average folks’ profile, how long will it be before the lunk alarm gets sounded for them?
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Read more about Discrimination Laws
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