Source: BBC News
Working up the motivation to go to the gym can be tough enough – but what if you’ve got to worry about “creeps and weirdos” when you get there?
That’s the latest question people are asking on TikTok, where videos with the hashtags #GymCreep and #GymWeirdo have more than 100 million views.
The terms usually describe male gym-goers staring at or approaching women who are trying to get a workout in.
Based on the comments, lots of people can relate to the uncomfortable situation.
Some on social media have suggested men are being unfairly targeted by the videos, and there has been criticism of people filming without permission.
But for London-based fitness influencer Natalee Barnett, it’s not about targeting men but more about women feeling safe and comfortable.
The 23-year-old has been posting about fitness online for around five years and says while her general experience of the gym has been “OK”, she has experienced sexual harassment.
“But since [that experience], it’s a mission of mine to talk and raise awareness about gym harassment, because I have experienced it quite badly,” she says.
A US survey from Run Repeat in 2021 suggested 56% of women reported facing harassment during their workouts.
Natalee describes experiencing different “types of gym harassment… staring, following, kind of being cornered and touched inappropriately”.
“It really does throw you off, especially given what the gym is about. You go there to focus and put your head down.
“For a lot of people, it’s therapy. So I joined the gym when I was really depressed.”
Natalee, who has more than one million followers, uses her online presence to raise awareness about gym harassment – calling people out and making sure they understand “proper gym etiquette”.
She once posted a video on Twitter about feeling uncomfortable when a man shoved a mat under her while she was sat doing an exercise.
She says it came across as “a little creepy” but feels it’s more a case of poor gym etiquette.
Natalee wants to start her own women-only gym, after her own experiences and being messaged by young women of their own stories of harassment, including men commenting on their bodies.
“I feel like it’s my duty to do this for women, because there are few women-only gyms and they tend to be very small,” she says.
“It’s all about bringing women together in a safer environment. And I always say that women-only gyms are not an agenda against men.”
Natalee feels men should call out other men, to support women – just like they would in non-gym situations.
“And [when] checking in, with the women just have a softer approach,” she says.
“Because sometimes I think men aren’t aware of how tall they are or how big they are. And sometimes it’s very intimidating.”
But she feels big gym brands also need to do much more, and says it can feel like they “care more about memberships than members”.
“I think memberships need to get revoked way more, because a lot of the time it’s just a slap on the back of the hand and you go back.”
Newsbeat asked several gym chains around the UK about the issue.
Ann-Marie Murphy, from The Gym Group, said: “We have policies in place to make sure our teams and members know what behaviour isn’t acceptable.
“These help us to promote an inclusive environment where people feel comfortable to voice any concerns, knowing they will be supported, and a clear process followed.”
A PureGym spokeswoman said: “Harassment of any kind is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in any form, by any person, at any time.
“Any allegation of misconduct is followed by an investigation and appropriate action would then be taken based on the evidence and information available. In serious cases, this could include an individual being banned from the gym or involving the police.”
Nuffield Health also said it had “a zero tolerance approach”.
“Any unacceptable behaviour towards women or any member will result in the termination of the contract of the offender.”