Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fitness Barbie

It's the beginning of 2013, and with a new year comes new year's resolutions, usually taking the form of masses of people running to the gym in January. I am no exception to the trend, and typically exercise vigorously post New Years Day, only to stop in February and then panic and run like a madwoman in May when bathing suit season too quickly approaches.

This year, however, I wasn't burning calories on January 2nd; instead, I had a coupon that enabled me to join a new gym on January 10th for $1.  So I refused to work out until the 10th, because I knew I would be cashing in on this sweet deal and sweating off the massive amount of wine and cookies I had ingested over the holiday season... which in my case, started pre-Halloween.

At around 4 PM on the 10th, I stepped into my soon-to-be new gym and approached a young girl in a tracksuit who appeared to be a staff member... and a Barbie doll.  I held up my coupon in triumph, excited to embark on my 2013 fitness journey for only ONE DOLLAR.
The real life Barbie Doll didn't wear this outfit... THANK GOD.

Barbie Doll was elated and quickly ushered me to her office to start paperwork.  She left the office door open, and I tried to understand her as she was explaining that I would be paying $1 today... but, um, $450 soon after.   Sure, I had been scammed by a flashy postcard promotion, but I still wanted to join.  I had procrastinated to the 10th of the month, after all.

Barbie's squeaky voice was competing with the surrounding echo of treadmills and elliptical machines, and while I was following most of what she was saying (like that she called me ma'am repeatedly... am I really old enough to be ma'am?) I'm also a much better advocate for myself than I used to be, so I stopped her and explained my hearing situation.  She asked if it would help if she shut the door and I agreed that would allow me to understand her better.

As Barbie shut the door, I guess she explained to a fellow staff member outside of her office that she was dealing with a hearing impaired customer, and news of my situation- exciting, I know- must have spread like wildfire.  Probably thirty seconds later, a staff person entered the office to retrieve some paperwork.

She looked at me and smiled in a rather phony and uncomfortable way.  "Hiiiiiii!"  she said loudly, her one word taking way too many seconds to say.

"Um, hey," I responded normally, disliking her immediately.

Another thirty seconds passed and the gym's owner decided to stop by my meeting with Barbie. 

"Hi, I hear you have some trouble hearing," he stated right away.

He could have said, "Hi, I'm the owner, and I'd like to tell you about our gym."  Or "Hi, I'm the owner.  What kind of fitness goals do you have for yourself?" But no.  I don't even know his name, but I know he knows I have trouble hearing.   

By this point, I'm fired up.  Do they make this similar introduction with say, a gay person?

As in, "Hi, I hear you're gay.  Thanks for stopping by."  What if the customer was scratching his head, and then admitted to Barbie he had a dandruff problem.  Would the owner stop by and say, "Hi, I hear you have dandruff."  NO... because it's TOTALLY UNNECESSARY.

Meanwhile, Barbie was fine.  She identified my concern, she asked what to do to make it better, and she helped by closing the door.  But I classify the follow-up from the other staff members as borderline ridiculous- actually, scratch that... it WAS ridiculous...  and certainly not the way businesspeople should address a prospective customer.  I could justify the behavior if the staff wanted to ask about how to best communicate with me, or if they were concerned about safety,  but there was no mention of any of these issues.  I'd like to think maybe they were considering these thoughts and upon hearing my response, their concerns were alleviated.

At this point, I tell the owner, "Yes, I am hearing impaired but I got a cochlear implant this year and I'm re-learning to hear.   You don't need to yell... I may ask you to repeat yourself sometimes, but for the most part, I do very well.  And I don't talk to people when I work out anyway."

And that seemed to end my conversation with the owner.  He left. 

When I told this story to my husband, he reasoned, quite simply, that this particular gym staff was not normal.  But I beg to differ.  This is not my first awkward hearing moment at a gym; in fact, there was one encounter at another gym that was even worse, and I vowed never to return... but I'll save that story for another blog post.

To make this a teachable moment, I'm asking readers to consider this thought.  When encountering people with differences- whatever it might be- try to learn how to help the person, and focus on the act of helping them, not on the difference that constitutes the help.  Having worked in human services and in education for more than a decade, I've encountered many adults with limitations of some kind, and more often than not, they KNOW what accommodations they need to live successfully.  They also know that they don't need people identifying their limitations just for the sake of saying the name of their disability out loud.  Letting someone know that YOU KNOW they have a disability does not make you a caring person.  It makes you a DUMBASS.

So, while I'd never thought I'd advise this, here I go: Be like Barbie.

Happy to help, MA'AM!


  1. What a crappy start to a new start.

    I take every one of these stories and carry it with me. It by no means prevents all moments of dumbassery on my part, but it helps. I hope you didn't take my invitation to the theatre benefit as a dumb ass move.

    Here' hoping your next visit is better.

    1. First of all, I'm very excited to add "dumbassery" as a new part of my vocabulary. Thank you for that gem.

      As for the benefit, I'm excited to be invited to anything. I'm a super social being and want to be out there. The more I do, the more I hear, the more I learn. Every situation is a learning opportunity. :)

  2. Pam, I just can't stop's too funny!

    1. I laugh about it too, Teresa, and I'm glad for that, at least. Proof that I'm moving forward. Just wait until I write about the OTHER gym story! People act in strange ways sometimes...

  3. Oh Pam so many people are ignorant when it comes to disabilities. Hopefully you can continue to change those attitudes through your blog. So proud of you.