A Planet of “No Judgment”Sunday, May 15, 2011
Less than two years ago, a Planet Fitness gym opened right near my house. I already belonged to two gyms that were not the garden variety, and I wanted a third membership very close to my house to accommodate quick, on-the-go workouts. Accordingly, Planet Fitness, with its $10-15/month price tag, seemed like a potential fit. This was prior to the emergence of the company’s commercials that have been shown repeatedly on television, so I knew zilch about the company’s philosophy for not working out.
I visited my local Planet Fitness in late 2009, and immediately, I was met by a young, smiling, female salesperson who insisted on taking me on a tour of the gym. I had just left my Powerhouse gym, fresh from a workout, and in those clothes I was wearing it was likely that I could not hide that I was a serious weightlifting buff. But still, she couldn’t wait to take me to the vast array of hamster wheels (cardio machines revered by women), followed by the … special “zone.” The zone is the “Judgment Free Zone,” a part of the gym that is reserved for folks – mainly women – who don’t want to be “judged” by others. Presumably, this area sends out a series of remarkable transparent rays that block the subjective judgments of others so you don’t have to worry about being “judged” while you work out. Indeed, I even had the nerve to ask why there was no power rack or barbells in the gym, and I was met with a terse response that Planet Fitness is a “different type of gym.” At this point, I had not yet put together the whole picture surrounding the gym’s mission.
The “Judgment Free Zone” – a registered trademark; don’t make me laugh – is described as a place where “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.” A “Look-at-me-attitude?” In spite of my vocal disdain for much of the conventional bodybuilding crowd (I prefer a functional fitness/powerlifting/cross-fit/MMA mix), I can’t even begin to understand what that statement means. “Hardcore” – meaning serious, or dedicated, or enthusiastic about one’s fitness level (and yes, perhaps even body aesthetics)? Unfortunately, we have arrived at a point in Amerikka where people, in general, worship the notion of being nonjudgmental as a general rule for living life. And then, as a part of this nonjudgmental religion, its adherents judgmentally unleash contempt upon others who shun the standards for conformity that have been set by the judgmentalists.
In sticking with the uncomplicated Oxford Dictionaries (online) definition of “judgmental,” the word is defined as “of or concerning the use of judgement.” Every decision and every choice humans make involves the act of judging, or being judgmental. If I was not judgmental, I might perhaps find myself married to a coke-snorting, bank-robbing criminal, or worse …… a card-carrying socialist (ahem). Fortunately, my being judgmental precludes me from getting involved with folks whose character is suspect based on my initial judgments. We all must be judgmental at all times in order to remain free of trouble and stay righteous and enlightened. We use judgments when making friends, selecting jobs, deciding on the right food, embracing certain behaviors, and making product choices. Being judgmental is not one of those traits that anyone can afford to discard. We know what happens to folks who lack good judgment – they end up leading dysfunctional or villainous lives.
The whole concept of a “Judgment-Free Zone” is comical and irresponsible because no “zone” or sleek advertising presentation can deactivate someone else’s judgment. Judgment is subjective to the individual. I know, I know – referring to the sovereignty of the individual concerning his own mind is an egregious crime that flagrantly disregards the collective. Shame on me! Fact is, you can’t stop me from “judging” you within my own mind. I am the architect and keeper of my thoughts, right or wrong, and no cultural forces from the outside can enter my mind and foil my internal judgments of things external to me. In order to stop my train of judgmental thoughts – and yes, I do produce these in excess – you’d have to kill me and terminate my heart and brain functions.
If I think you are ugly, fat, weird, or even handsome, I own those thoughts, and you cannot impede or change them. Unless I express them verbally, you do not even know the details of the judgment I formed about you. If some folks are so distressed by the judgments of others, those people are probably spending too much time and energy forming judgments about the judgments of others, and perhaps those folks have personal troubles and/or self-esteem issues that could benefit from some thoughtful introspection.
While I always found the Planet Fitness motto to be bizarro, I certainly understand it from a marketing point of view. The fitness club chain is conforming to the prevailing culture of political correctness and apologia that most of its potential members will embrace without ever questioning the definition and meaning of the slogan. Hence, it is probably a realistic strategy when trying to compete for profits in a culture where slick sound bites and politically correct mantras triumph over critical thinking skills and the substance of actions. Joe Sobran, in a 2007 article, referred to this as the “Age of Nonjudgmentalism.”
What is interesting is that Planet Fitness has employed a very aggressive marketing program that ridicules bodybuilder/powerlifter types in its commercials that show a Planet Fitness employee escorting a very imbecilic bodybuilder, speaking in a Schwarzenegger-like accent, out the door of its purple-and-yellow non-judgmental facility. The whole commercial, of course, is a platform for judging bodybuilders based on established stereotypical views that the company employs to undergird its campaign against being too, well, judgmental.
In the past, I had little incentive to write at any great length about this tale because it was mostly trifling, and also, I was certain that my unrepentant criticism of the accepted orthodoxy on being judgmental would generate the usual chorus of hostility and condemnatory utterances because I was challenging – no, repudiating – the blind adoption of ridiculous rituals for the purpose of submitting to popular opinion. But last week I was alerted to this article in Slate that is critical of Planet Fitness and its planet of no-judgment: “Gym Rat Control.” The author, Luke O’Neil, provides the following observations:
Then there’s the fact that certain bodybuilding exercises—like dead lifts and clean-and-jerks—are prohibited.
…The facility also comes equipped with a “lunk alarm”—a siren that is supposed to go off whenever someone grunts too loudly or drops a heavy weight on the floor. (The latter is a moot point at most Planet Fitness locations, where they don’t even have any large weights.) I’ve never set off the alarm, but on more than one occasion, in different locations around the country, I’ve been lectured by staffers for breathing too hard when lifting, and I’ve gotten dirty looks for excessive sweating in the weight room. Clearly it’s not my planet either.
Mr. O’Neil also notes the attack on Planet Fitness from around the blogosphere, as well as the mention by Men’s Health magazine, which recently selected Planet Fitness as the “Worst Gym in America.” O’Neil also brings attention to what is perhaps the most brilliant and amicable criticism I have seen yet of Planet Fitness and its no-workout zone. This video linked by Slate highlights Iron Sport Gym, a hardcore gym for resistance training enthusiasts in Pennsylvania that is owned by Mike Pulcinella. A relative, Joe Pulcinella, is a libertarian and long-time reader of LewRockwell.com. It was Joe who alerted me to the Slate piece and this great riposte from Iron Sport Gym.
All said and done, after my 2009 visit to the purple-and-yellow, no-workout, no-sweat, no-anything chain that exalts no judgment, I dissed Planet Fitness and instead joined a nearby Fitness 19 club for $12 a month as my ‘quick-in-and-out’ gym. No low rate – even $10/month – can make me give up my deadlifts, squats, and 10 mph treadmill sprints (Tabata intervals) while minding my own business (read: not paying attention to your existence), in order that I don’t offend some cellulite-ridden slug who is going through the motions on some absurd hamster wheel or sit-as-you-go leg machine next to me.
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