It's understandable for gyms to take to the web to gain new members. But when a gym's ad uses shame and insults to get people to move, it usually ends up missing the mark—and earning more criticism than sign-ups. Last weekend a Gold's Gym location in Cairo, Egypt, did just that when they posted a photo of a pear with the line "This is no shape for a girl" on their Facebook page.

We reached out to Gold’s Gym International for comment, and they referred us to their statement on Facebook.

The ad quickly went viral and sparked plenty of online outrage. and NLA for Her athlete Jessie Hilgenberg took to the web once she saw the ad, voicing her disgust and working to turn the offensive message on its head. Here's her take on the situation, and on how people can empower themselves in the face of such misguided messaging.

Q. What was your reaction upon seeing the ad?

I couldn't believe my eyes. I was immediately mad, and then very disappointed. I don't use my Facebook page to take a stand against things often, so when I do, it means I really need to vent and get the world to rally with me in making a difference. My main goal is to turn an extremely negative message like that one into a positive movement.

What struck you as fundamentally wrong with the Gold’s Gym message?

It was so discriminating and objectifying. Women—or, as they called us, "girls"—were compared to fruit. Really? To compare fruit to the shape of a woman's body is beyond absurd.

Still, this is nothing new. We've all heard women's shape either related to top-heavy apples or bottom-heavy pears and understood the implicit criticism: hips too big, chest too flat, and so on. How can women reframe this distorted body-image message in an empowering way?

First, I think comparing any person to a thing or category is ridiculous and needs to end. Media and advertising play a large role in this, but body-image issues begin when we women are very, very young. We're programmed early, from the dolls we play with, to the clothing sizes we’re given, and the models we're taught to aspire to look like. The fact is, there are so many body shapes and sizes—why does anyone get to decide what is beautiful or "normal?"

I don't think we'll be able to avoid it, but we can start with how each of us talks to young girls and women. We should love our individual bodies and celebrate the things that make us feel strong and beautiful and confident on the inside. My number one piece of advice is: "Don't change your body, change your attitude." You have the power to change the way you feel when you walk into a room. Own it!

Many men and women exercise to look better. Is that the wrong reason?

It's not wrong at all! I exercise to look better, to feel better, to run faster, to lift heavier weight, to grow bigger muscles, to keep up with my toddler, to live longer… the list goes on. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't put effort into looking great. We shop for cool outfits, go to hair appointments, and put makeup on. Going to the gym to look better is no different. You gotta do what makes you feel wonderful!

If you were coming up with a campaign to get women excited about joining a gym, what would your slogan be and why?

This question goes to the core message of my Jessie's Girls programs: "I want women to know what it feels like to be strong." Get in the gym and lift weights, and stop focusing on losing fat. Once you start enjoying the process of building muscle and strength, the movement begins. You start to see muscle and feel stronger. That is incredibly empowering.

Any final empowering words for women looking to better themselves (in any way)?

What makes you happy? Do that. Change your attitude!

About the Author

Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith is a New York native who caught the fitness bug while earning a master's in journalism at the University of Missouri.

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