Every September, hordes of Western students head over to the Rec Centre and the campus gym is one of the busiest places on campus. With so many new students visiting the gym for the first time, many may not be aware of the dress code guidelines at the gym.
However, the more than a decade-old dress code has come under fire for forcing people to cover up. While enforcement has been lax in previous years, students have reported being asked to leave the gym for wearing apparel that does not follow gym guidelines.
Michelle Harvey, coordinator of fitness and wellness at the recreation centre, outlined the dress code and the reasons behind it. The policy states that nipples, midriff or glutes cannot be visible at the gym.
This means gym patrons aren't allowed to wear certain apparel including sports bras, crop tops, athletic shorts and loose tank tops that might be too revealing.
According to Harvey, the dress code is based off a study that found that such rules help people with body image issues who otherwise are less likely to frequent the gym.
“People who work out in a sports bra and tiny little shorts are still going to work out if you make them do it in shorts and a T-shirt. But people who have body image issues are less likely to come back to your facility if [others] have lower amounts of clothing on,” Harvey said.
Harvey also added that wearing full-length shirts is a sanitation measure to prevent sweat from making contact with the workout machines.
According to Harvey, this policy was already in place when she started working at the recreation centre in 2005.
“I don’t want to put up more barriers for people to exercise. We want people here. But we want everyone to feel comfortable here,” Harvey said.
The dress policy has sparked conversation amongst both students and professors on campus. Samantha Brennan, professor of women’s studies and feminist research and philosophy shared her thoughts on the dress policy.
“My original thought was [that] as long as it’s gender neutral and gender neutrally applied there isn’t a particularly feminist objection to having a dress code. Twenty-four hours later, after hearing all of my friends' outrage at the idea of a dress code, I did begin to wonder what the point of a dress code is,” Brennan said.
“If it’s simply to make other people feel comfortable, I’m not sure we should have a dress code. I think probably people should just decide for themselves what they want to wear to the gym and if you don’t want to look you shouldn’t look.”
Thanoja Gnanatheevam, fourth-year honours specialization student in health and biology, also spoke out about the policy.
“I believe that everyone going to the gym should be able to go in whatever they are comfortable with wearing and that they should be comfortable in their own skin regardless of how any one else is dressed or how any one else looks,” she said.
Private gyms such as GoodLife Fitness do not enforce dress codes similar to one at the Rec Centre and patrons have more freedom in choosing their workout attire.
The dress code is posted on a pillar in the weight room, on slideshows on TVs in the weight room and on the Rec Centre's Twitter account.
Harvey made it clear that she is open to engaging in the conversation.
“If people have suggestions or other things they want to talk to me about I’m always willing to meet with students and address their concerns. I’d love to hear feedback, positive and negative. We usually only hear the negative but obviously people still keep coming back so I’m hoping that it’s a positive experience,” she said.
At the time of publication, Michelle Harvey could not be reached to identify the study.