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Planet Fitness: Not Such a “Judgment-Free Zone” After All – Ban Women’s Hair Scarves

By Stephanie Humphrey

I consider myself to be many things – friend, tech-life expert, daughter among others.  I like to think that activist falls somewhere on that list, but beyond the sporadic addition of my name to a petition on Change.org, I don’t regularly make very many causes a priority in my life.  So while it might seem as if the mantle I’ve taken up is fairly trivial, I assure you it has implications much deeper than may appear on the surface.

My journey towards activism started a couple of weeks ago when I joined Planet Fitness.  I needed a place to run indoors while training for a 5K, and this gym had a lot of great incentives as well as a monthly membership fee that was very amenable to my budget.  I signed up online, and for a week I worked out without incident and was feeling pretty good about my choice of fitness outlet.  Then one day I entered the gym as usual, was checked in by an associate, and proceeded to the treadmill the same way I had done the week prior.  But today was different.  No more than a minute after I stepped on the treadmill, I was approached by the same associate and told that I would not be allowed to work out that day because of the scarf I was wearing on my head.  This shocked me a bit, as this was exactly the same type of scarf I had worn in the gym the previous four times I was there.

As it was explained to me, Planet Fitness has a ‘no headgear’ policy for all of its gyms, subject to the discretion of the individual owner/operator.  A Facebook inquiry yielded the following response:

“…We have a corporate dress code policy, for all Planet Fitness locations nationwide.

  • Dress Code:
  • No jeans
  • No head gear except baseball caps
  • No boots/sandals

The above are all subject to our discretion. Exceptions are made for medical and religious reasons. We believe that this corporate dress code policy helps us to consistently promote a non-intimidating atmosphere at Planet Fitness where members can feel comfortable working out no matter which Planet Fitness location they are using.”

While I appreciated the prompt response, something about this policy just didn’t feel right to me.  How was the decision made that headgear in a gym should be deemed ‘intimidating’?  And how was the further determination made that a baseball cap was less intimidating that any other headgear?  But on an even more fundamental level, how could headgear possibly be disallowed at.a.gym?

Here’s where I take a slight, albeit relevant detour.  In full disclosure, I am an African-American woman.  In print, on television, online, and anywhere else someone has been given a platform, much has been made of the “issues” African-American women have with their hair.  You can read about this at your leisure here, here, and here.  Let’s just suffice it to say that our hair proves a challenge for a lot of people to understand and leave it at that.  But just because you don’t understand something, that doesn’t mean respect and consideration shouldn’t be given when a specific need is brought to your attention.  My need is astonishingly simple:  I wrap my hair in a scarf when I work out.

85% of all women have said that the maintenance of their hair is one of the reasons for inactivity

I am not the only African-American woman, nor the only woman for that matter, who does this for any myriad number of reasons.  To protect the hair/keep it out of the eyes/prevent sweat from ruining the hairstyle/etc.  And while I’m certain the phrase “What’s the big deal?” immediately comes to mind for some who are reading this, there is actually more at stake than just vanity here.

It’s been shown that in a survey of women that don’t exercise regularly, 85% of all women have said that the maintenance of their hair is one of the reasons for inactivity.  This becomes especially poignant for African-American women, who are at a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease than other groups.  Last year U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin stressed the fact that removing any barrier to physical activity is crucial to the health of American women, particularly Black women.  Is hair an excuse?  Maybe.  But it wasn’t my excuse, or the excuse of hundreds of other women that were informed of Planet Fitness’ policy while they were simply trying to improve their health.

I’ve always been a firm believer of when you know better, you do better.  There is a chance that Planet Fitness wasn’t aware of how important this issue is with such a large portion of their customer base.  Could I just go to another gym?  Of course, but that wouldn’t solve the problem.  Policies can and sometimes should change based on response to customer needs, and cultural sensitivity is a serious need that Planet Fitness must address.  It’s a little thing, but a big thing.  I want to work out, and I want to wrap my hair.  What’s the big deal indeed?

Follow Stephanie Humphrey on Twitter.

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15 Comments

  1. ShirleyJune 28, 2012 at 9:55 amReply

    Banning scarves for a gym? For women? Costumes covering sexism and racism with tricky and silly policies. Baseball caps are allowed? When I work out I always have a head scarf for two reasons– to keep my hair out of my eyes and to keep the sweat on my head manageable. I say boycott Planet Fitness.

  2. cjSeptember 19, 2012 at 2:49 pmReply

    Hey Stephanie,
    First I commend you for keeping it together and investing in yourself. Now I do not agree with Planet Fitness’s policy but I do understand. As a teacher of healthy eating and working in different ethnic communities, I to was confronted with the head wear issues but by the kids as I taught my classes. Many communities have gang member and colors indicate who is who and can often pose a problem. It became a tricky situation for me and possibly what PF is going through since there has been an insurgence of PF popping up all over in various communities. Not sure but just my two-cents on the matter.

  3. CryssiDecember 10, 2012 at 7:19 pmReply

    Same here…I was asked to leave because I was wearing a silk scarf. The first time this happened, I just so happened to be wearing a hooded jacket so the employee told me he would allow me to stay if I wore the hoodie over my scarf. The next time I tried this, the manager wasn’t so lenient. That same day I called corporate to complain and cancel and they backed up the staff saying this is our policy!!!

  4. Jar-Jar BinksDecember 27, 2012 at 3:37 amReply

    Obvious racist policy is obvious.

  5. shariceFebruary 1, 2013 at 4:45 amReply

    It is their policy. They tell you the day you join. Wear a headband if you want your hair out of your face. And your “survey” is a load of crap.

  6. KayFebruary 2, 2013 at 7:29 pmReply

    My guy friend and I were working out, and he runs with his hood on, thats just how he works out and sweat. Well, one of the staff member tried to pull him off the treadmill because of his hoodie, upset he didn’t budge and demanded to see the policy. Why wasnt this disclose prior times? So, to the above comment-I’m surprised they would have even suggested you to put huge hoodie over huge scarf, thats like a double headstone if they were trying to enforce their dumb policy.

  7. ReenFebruary 13, 2013 at 6:30 pmReply

    I’m having the same issue at the planet fitness I attend. I’ve been going there for 3years…and no one has said anything to me…now they are

  8. KFebruary 21, 2013 at 9:00 amReply

    I was told that I couldn’t wear a shirt on my head because it was considered a bandana… I asked if I could wear panties on my head and they said only ballcaps and beanies… I will try a truckers-cap next time…. BTW: I’m a male with long hair and I usually wear a du-rag when I exercise at 24hour fitness, but I only go to planet fitness when my gym is too busy. The only “good” planet fitness is an empty planet fitness lol.

  9. TinaMarch 1, 2013 at 5:46 pmReply

    I left Planet Fitness a couple years ago because of this. It makes no sense.

  10. ConradMarch 6, 2013 at 9:53 amReply

    Thanks people. Now I will NOT join. Yes I also say boycott them.

  11. JKinMXMarch 10, 2013 at 5:41 amReply

    From a friend on Facebook: “I had to go cancel my Planet Fitness membership today and I only wish I could have done more than just stop giving them my money. There is a young woman we know who is currently undergoing chemo for breast cancer. During a recent work out, a Planet Fitness employee informed her she had to remove her “headgear”–a floral scarf concealing her hair loss. When she explained her situation to the employee, the woman wouldn’t budge and quickly reduced her to tears. They have a policy about no “headgear” (save for baseball caps?)–Period. We got to deal with that same employee today when we canceled, and she clearly has no regrets. She even informed us, “I have a friend with cancer, too, but we can’t discriminate against people who aren’t bald from chemo.” Wow.”

  12. Sara JoMarch 12, 2013 at 5:30 amReply

    I have belonged to Planet Fitness in the past and my kerchief was never a problem. I joined two days ago and was told I couldn’t wear it because “meat heads” wear them. I don’t see them banning spandex or walkmans.

  13. SalemCatDecember 6, 2013 at 3:00 amReply

    This just makes me like Planet Fitness MORE !

    Wearing headgear INDOORS is just plain stupid. It ain’t raining inside, folks !

  14. mrs baconFebruary 27, 2014 at 2:15 pmReply

    Wow this is the reason I stop going….however i am glad to have found this page….boycott boycott

  15. LovelyMarch 20, 2014 at 5:54 amReply

    The latest thing is a woman in California wearing a tank top that showed her stomach and tights was told that her toned body was intimidating other guests. She was asked to put on a shirt. Her outfit was perfectly reasonable for working out. It bothers me that some silly staff member can just decide they don’t like what you have on… That doesn’t sound like a judgement free atmosphere to me.

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