A 30-year-old Ottawa woman is speaking out after a gym supervisor accused her of dressing inappropriately—not because of the type of top she was wearing, but because of the size of her breasts.
“Typically I wear a t-back tank top and a pair of yoga pants,” said Jenna Vecchio, who goes to the gym around five times a week. “That’s what I feel comfortable in.”
On Saturday, May 14, however, supervisors at the Orleans location of Movati Athletic Club, whose slogan is “Feel Welcome, Feel Healthy, Feel Comfortable”, approached Vecchio and made her feel anything but, she said.
“The Movati staff never indicated Ms. Vecchio’s style of shirt was not appropriate—it was the lack of coverage that was the issue as she exercised adjacent to other members,” a spokesperson for the athletic club said in a statement (provided in full below). “While in no way did we mean to embarrass Ms. Vecchio, we did feel it necessary to address the situation with her due to member discomfort.”
We caught up with the Vecchio to get her side of the story.
You had been a member of Movati for a little over a month. How were other women at the gym dressed?
There was a wide range of people of all shapes and sizes at Movati. I saw women in various styles of tank tops, spaghetti straps, the t-back like mine, or the ones where the back is completely open.
So, what happened on Saturday?
I went to the gym with my husband and started exercising on the elliptical in the co-ed side of the gym. I was a few minutes into my workout when the supervisor from the gym came over, walked around me, and stared at my chest. My husband and I proceeded over to the free weights, and I saw the supervisor staring at me again. And then the third time she came around, she approached me.
What did she say?
She informed me that there had been three complaints about my tank top and the way that my chest looked in it, and that I would have to come back in a t-shirt.
What was your reaction?
Immediately I was humiliated that we were talking about my chest. I was confused too because women wear tank tops at the gym. Very few actually wear a t-shirt. I said to the supervisor, “But tank tops are allowed here and I’m in a tank top. I can’t help the way that my chest appears in it. You’re telling me that my body part is offensive.”
Had you ever been made to feel self-conscious like this before?
At the gym, no. But, with a larger chest, sometimes I feel like people judge you for what you’re wearing, so you have to be very careful. It sounds like an absurd statement to make: that I could wear the same dress as a girl with a smaller bust size, but people would view me differently.
What’s your take on gyms enforcing a dress code?
I have no problem with gym rules or dress codes. I did have a problem with it being applied differently to each member.
Did you speak to other women at the gym?
When I left the floor after speaking with the supervisor, I was extremely upset and I didn’t understand how I was so offensive. I asked women in the change room if there was anything wrong with my outfit. All of them said, “No, absolutely not” and seemed very confused.
Why did you decide to post it on Facebook?
When you feel singled out, you start to question the way that you’re thinking. For the gym staff to talk about my body that way, it didn’t sit right. It felt discriminatory. I wanted to find out what others thought.
What feedback did you receive?
I got lots of messages of support and I’ve also heard many other stories from women with similar experiences. It’s great to start a conversation about it, because when it happens to you, you feel targeted and it’s embarrassing.
Was there some negative response?
There were comments about my overall appearance, about my tattoos and hairstyle, even some saying that I looked like Skrillex with boobs; sometimes people can be very judgmental. People have their own opinions and it’s in their right to express that. However, it’s 2016. Discrimination of any form is not OK.
Why do you think your story resonated with so many people?
Because people can picture it possibly happening to them, not just with their chest size, but maybe with their bottom, the style of pants you chose to wear that day. Just the thought of, “Next time I go to the gym, will I be judged?”
Did this experience shake your confidence?
It did at first. But, after hearing all the comments of support online, it feels empowering to know that your voice can be heard.
Are you thinking of taking legal action?
I am, we’ve contacted a human rights lawyer. If it proceeds, I hope to that when a dress code is enforced, it’s enforced equally.
What have you taken away from this experience?
I’ve learned to stand up for myself, and trust my gut instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.
Vecchio and her husband have since cancelled their one-year Movati membership and signed up with GoodLife Fitness. She continues to wear the same workout gear, including the now-notorious black cotton tank top. “I wouldn’t have the money to go buy a whole new wardrobe,” she laughed.
Following the incident, Movati provided this statement to FLARE:
At Movati Athletic, we strive daily to create an atmosphere where all our members feel welcome comfortable and healthy. We ask all members to be respectful of each other when in the gym including wearing modest athletic attire and appropriate shoes, limiting cell phone usage and keeping the facility clean. It is important to us that all members have a positive experience at Movati particularly as we have members of various ages, varying levels of fitness and from different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Our main goal is supporting all our members in the pursuit of a healthy and a positive lifestyle.
While it may not have been intentional, Ms. Vecchio’s attire was not as modest as she has suggested via the images she shared recently on Facebook and through media interviews, and caused multiple members to feel uncomfortable and voice their concerns to our staff. Following Ms. Vecchio’s own social media postings on this matter, we conducted a thorough investigation which included first-hand accounts from members and other staff, and a follow-up meeting with Jenna herself, who seemed to leave the facility feeling as though she had expressed her position. Upon conclusion of our interviews, we stand by the original decision that confirms that Ms. Vecchio was dressed inconsistently with our code of conduct. The Movati staff never indicated Ms. Vecchio’s style of shirt was not appropriate – it was the lack of coverage that was the issue as she exercised adjacent to other members. While in no way did we mean to embarrass Ms. Vecchio, we did feel it necessary to address the situation with her due to member discomfort. Although our staff were professional and discreet in their approach, and followed our process of not asking a member to leave or conclude a workout, she and her husband chose to escalate the matter publicly.
While it is unfortunate that Ms. Vecchio felt she had a negative experience, it was certainly not Movati’s intent. Our complete focus is a positive, respectful and healthy environment for all members as they pursue their fitness and wellness goals.