A Plus-Size Influencer Was Told a Fitness Class Was Too Hard for Her
- Lethabo Kgadima calls herself a “gym bunny” who works out 6 times a week.
- However, she said that she was judged during a step class because she is plus-size.
- Kgadima said she wants to use her platform to bring awareness to help others enjoy the gym.
Lethabo Kgadima loves the gym.
She loves it so much that she goes six days a week for up to 2 hours, often participating in step or spin classes — despite her friends constantly telling her to take it easy, she told Insider.
“I only rest on Sundays because I go to church,” Kgadima, a South African make-up artist and influencer, said.
A self-described foodie and gym bunny, Kgadima says has been documenting her fitness journey on social media since 2018 in a series titled “Lethabo goes to gym.”
Despite this, Kgadima said she was judged at a Virgin Active South Africa on February 16 because of her size, and the experience left her feeling “emotionally drained,” she said.
She shared the incident in a now-viral tweet posted on February 19.
“What I didn’t tell you guys is that the minute I walked into step class, a @virginactiveSA instructor (Andile) came to me to tell me I should leave the class as it’s advanced,” Kgadima wrote in a reply to videos of her at the gym, including the step class she said she was discriminated in. “he looked at me decided I can’t handle the class, tell me why? It’s screaming fatphobia.”
Kgadima told Insider that the comments shocked her. She was a step-class veteran and had even attended classes with the same instructor.
On the day of the incident, Kgadima said she came to class five minutes late, grabbed her step, and was trying to watch her classmates in order to learn what she had missed. That’s when her instructor walked up to her.
“In my head, when he approached me, I’m thinking it was because he knows me, he’s seen me before,” Kgadima said, “so I was assuming he’s coming to actually show me like ‘oh, this is how the combo routine is’ only for him to tell me ‘oh, hi, unfortunately, this is an advanced class’ and that I need to leave and come at an easier class.
Kgadima said she asked him to stop talking to her, and moved to the other side of the room, away from the instructor, to finish the class. She noticed that she was the only one who was approached even though there were newcomers.
“So out of the whole class, he looked at me and decided no, you are the one that won’t be able to handle the class,” Kgadima said.
She said told the fitness manager about what transpired and left the gym. Afterward, she took to Twitter to air her frustrations.
The tweet eventually led to a call with Virgin Active South Africa, she said, but she said she was disappointed that it took a social media post for them to take her complaint seriously.
In a statement to Insider, Virgin Active South Africa said they “deeply regret” the incident and apologized, saying they “strongly oppose any form of body shaming.” They also said they provided sensitivity training to their staff and were committed to turning the “unfortunate incident into a positive learning experience.”
‘I just felt embarrassed’
After five years of consistent workouts, Kgadima felt comfortable at the gym — a place she says she can be herself.
She says the latest incident left her feeling a bit defeated. She started to question whether she even belonged in the space and began feeling the pressure to prove herself— even if it meant pushing herself past her limits.
“I just felt embarrassed. I felt shamed upon, I felt so little … And I think it was even worse because this was a space where I was comfortable,” Kgadima said. “He took that from me.”
Kgadima is not alone. Weight discrimination is still a pervasive problem in the fitness sphere, and research has found that plus-sized individuals regularly face discrimination in fitness. In a 2021 study in BMC Public Health, participants who experienced “traumatic weight stigma experiences, self-discrimination and fear of stigma” excluded themselves from exercising or avoided certain physical activities.
Kgadima said she is very aware of this stigma and hopes that other people, who may not be aware that they are contributing to fatphobia, learn about these issues.
“When you are a big person and you move into a fitness space, it’s not the easiest space to move in because automatically people may look at you and assume you cannot or assume you’re going to slow down the class,” Kgadima said.
Kgadima continues to help others face their fitness fears
Following her posts about the incident, Kgadima received an outpouring of support.
Kgadima did not quit going to the gym and will continue to document her journey, she said. She still attends the step class as well.
With her platform, she says she’s aware of the message that her posts convey, and says her posts helped her connect to so many people who want to go to the gym but may be afraid.
Kgadima also said that when she goes to the gym, she often gets approached by people for help or advice because “I look like them. When they walk into class, immediately they feel safe to say ‘Oh, there’s somebody that looks like me.'”
And for people who may be afraid to start their fitness journey due to discrimination or outdated stigma, she says the best advice is to find a community, and everything else will work out.
“That is why I really don’t want to leave this community,” Kgadima said. “They’re in my corner all the time.”
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