Gym manager responds to fat shamer in viral video: 'Show kindness'

Mandi Holden, manager of Anytime Fitness. (Photo: Facebook, Anytime Fitness, North Reno, Nev.)
Mandi Holden, manager of Anytime Fitness. (Photo: Facebook, Anytime Fitness, North Reno, Nev.)

Mandi Holden once weighed 420 pounds, but since joining a gym in 2014, she has lost 120 pounds, all while gaining a support system and safe place to be herself.

The 35-year-old Reno resident is now the manager of that very gym, Anytime Fitness in North Reno, Nev. Unfortunately, her “force field of confidence” was punctured last week when a potential member felt the need to comment on her size.

The passionate mother of two decided to share her story with her community and posted a video on the gym’s Facebook page, in which she emotionally recalls what happened.

In the video, which she filmed in the gym’s janitor’s closet for privacy and which has since garnered 204K views and more than 3.1K reactions, she explains that she was on the phone with another member when a group arrived to tour the gym. Another staff member stepped in to conduct the tour but not before Holden overheard one of the men in the group mutter, ‘Well, it doesn’t look like she works out very much.’” She let them continue with the tour but refused to let this man get away with that comment. “By the time they made it back to the office, I had decided I’m not going to ignore this. I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t hear it, like I usually do, because I know that people make comments all day every day. And that’s part of this job that I have accepted. It’s just part of it.”

So, she calmly approached him. “They introduced themselves, and I introduced myself, and there was some small talk about how beautiful the club is blah blah blah,” Holden tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “And I was like, ‘Great, I’m glad you like it. And before we get started, I just want to let you know, I know it looks like I don’t work out very much, but that’s because you did not see where I started from. Don’t judge a book by its cover. We don’t judge people by how they look here because you might be surprised. I just want to get that out of the way before we move on.’” It was uncomfortable for a second, but Holden picked right up and went on to present membership options.

“He did not apologize,” Holden says. “He seemed really surprised that I said something.” The potential client shook her hand at the end of the conversation and said that he admired her grit. “I believe that was his way of kind of acknowledging what he did was wrong,” she graciously adds, noting that he did not wind up joining. “I think that’s why they decided not to join, because it was kind of embarrassing.”

But Holden’s intent was not to turn him away. “If they had wanted to sign up that day, I would have let them sign up. I would have taken it as a challenge to change their minds,” she says. Her colleagues, on the other hand, would not have responded so kindly. “Everybody I work with disagreed, because they love me.”

Had the man made the disparaging comment as a member, however, she would have quickly dismissed him. “I have all the authority from my club owners and my bosses. … We wouldn’t tolerate it at all.”

That’s why Holden made the video — to let her clients know that she’d protect them and that the club has a zero-tolerance policy for shaming or bullying.

“Our members here are all kinds of shapes, sizes, and orientations. It’s really important for them to feel safe and that they’re not going to be made fun of,” she says. “And I think I felt compelled to do the video after because that’s still OK in our culture. I know there are so many more important things going on in the world right now. We hear bad news all the time, and I don’t want to be, like, known for feeling sorry for myself in a janitor’s closet. But it’s so accepted in our culture to just assume that overweight people are lazy and sloppy. It bums me out because so many people of all different shapes and sizes and circumstances come in and work so hard every day.” She also did it to share her story with members who haven’t met her or gotten to know her and have wondered the same thing. “I just wanted them to know,” she says.

Needless to say, Holden didn’t expect her video to get this much attention.

“My team is super-proud, because this is what we’re all about,” she says. Some have even brought her flowers. “I feel very overwhelmed with love. I’m kind of amazed that I haven’t encountered any trolls.” Luckily, that welcoming, loving attitude is the norm at Holden’s gym, she says.

But it’s not, sadly, the norm across the board.

“I am no stranger to this type of behavior, unfortunately,” Roz Mays, an National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trailer and creator of Dangerous Curves: A Celebration of Plus-Size Pole Dancers, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. It happens to her clients and also to her, she says, recounting a recent incident in Los Angeles, where she was testing out some new machines. “There was an older white woman who, within five minutes of me getting there, proceeded to come up to me and try and gym-splain me. Even after I told her I was a trainer, she tried to gym-splain me. But what was more annoying than that was that she was like, ‘Let me show you how to use the machine. Don’t worry; I used to be 218 pounds.’” Mays says she didn’t feel personally hurt but worried for her clients or other larger people who work out there. “She’s the reason that it takes my clients six months to step foot in the gym — and then some shit like this happens, and you’ve got to reset and do all this work all over again.”

Mays worries about the damage that even seemingly benign remarks can cause. “They are the reason why people do not and will not set foot in a gym,” she says. And that’s why she often winds up working with clients one-on-one.

“Nearly every single plus-size client who has sought me out as a personal trainer, they’ve all got that similar story,” Mays says, noting that, with body critics, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. “People are angry because they feel that my size, and my size alone, automatically deems me inadequate to lead anybody in fitness,” but then, on the other hand, “people get angry when they see fat people who are not working out, and then when they see people making an effort at the gym, they get angry. It’s like: I need you to pick a side.”

For Holden, it was her daughter, now 12, who helped her muster the courage to join the gym in 2014.

“I had struggled with my weight all my life, and then I had two babies and put weight on during my pregnancies, and while my babies were little, I was a single mom. And it happens,” she recalls. At 420 pounds, she was miserable. But her daughter’s first day of kindergarten was the day her life changed.

“We were dropping her off, and she kind of looked at us really scared that she was gonna start crying, but I watched her take a deep breath and puff up her chest and walk into the kindergarten room courageously and triumphantly. And I was like, ‘If she can walk through that door, I’m going. I don’t have any more excuses.’” So she went to Anytime Fitness later that day. “I didn’t even tour the gym. I just came into the office and said, ‘You better sign me up before I change my mind.’”

What she learned, she says, was that “working out affords you the confidence that you can’t manufacture any other way. You leave the gym feeling like “I am a goddess of life.” And that’s why I became passionate, because it feels so good.”

And she was not about to let one man ruin that for her.

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