- Lethabo Kgadima bills himself as a “Gym Bunny” who works out 6 times a week.
- However, she said she was judged during a step class for being plus size.
- Kgadima said she wants to use her platform to raise awareness so others can enjoy the gym.
Lethabo Kgadima loves the gym.
She loves it so much that she goes for up to two hours six days a week and often takes step or spin classes — despite her friends constantly telling her to take it easy, she told Insider.
“I only rest on Sundays because I go to church,” said Kgadima, a South African makeup artist and influencer.
A self-proclaimed foodie and gym bunny, Kgadima has been documenting her fitness journey on social media since 2018 in a series called Lethabo goes to gym.
Still, Kgadima said she was judged for her height at Virgin Active South Africa on February 16 and the experience left her “emotionally drained,” she said.
She shared the incident in a now-viral tweet posted on February 19.
“What I didn’t tell you guys is that the moment I went into the step class, a @virginactiveSA teacher (Andile) came to me to tell me to leave the class when it advanced is,” Kgadima wrote in a response to videos of her at the gym, including the step class, in which she said she was discriminated against. “He looked at me and decided I can’t handle the class, tell me why?
—Lethabo (@missleejoyful) February 20, 2023
Kgadima told Insider that the comments shocked her. She was a step class veteran and had even taken classes with the same teacher.
On the day of the incident, Kgadima said she was five minutes late for class, keeping her pace and trying to watch her classmates to learn what she was missing. Then her instructor approached her.
“In my head, as he walked up to me, I thought it was because he knows me, he’s seen me before,” Kgadima said, “so I assumed he was actually going to show me, like, ‘oh , so the combo routine is that he just tells me, “Oh hello, sorry this is an advanced class” and that I have to go and get into an easier class.
Kgadima said she asked him to end the conversation with her and went to the other side of the room, away from the teacher, to end the class. She noted that although there were newcomers, she was the only one approached.
“So from the whole class, he looked at me and decided, no, you’re the one who won’t be able to cope with the class,” Kgadima said.
She said, told the fitness manager what happened and left the gym. Afterward, she took to Twitter to vent her frustration.
The tweet eventually led to a call to Virgin Active South Africa, she said, but said she was disappointed it took a social media post for them to take her complaint seriously.
—Virgin Active (@virginactiveSA) February 21, 2023
In a statement to Insider, Virgin Active South Africa said they “deeply regret” the incident and apologized, saying they “strongly reject any form of body shaming.” They also said they offered sensitivity training to their staff and pledged to turn the “unfortunate incident into a positive learning experience.”
“I was just embarrassed”
After five years of consistent training, Kgadima found comfort in the gym — a place she says she can be herself.
She says the last incident left her a little depressed. She began to question whether she even belonged in this space and began to feel the pressure to prove herself—even if that meant pushing herself to the limit.
“I just felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed, I felt so small… And I think it was worse because I felt comfortable in that place,” Kgadima said. “He took that from me.”
Kgadima is not alone. Weight discrimination is still a pervasive problem in fitness, and research has shown that oversize people are regularly discriminated against in fitness. In a 2021 BMC Public Health study, participants who experienced “traumatic experiences of weight stigma, self-discrimination, and fear of stigma” abstained from exercise or avoided certain physical activities.
Kgadima said she is very aware of this stigma and hopes other people who may not know they contribute to fat phobia will learn about these issues.
“If you’re a tall person and you’re moving into a gym, it’s not the easiest place to move as people will automatically look at you and assume you can’t or assume you’ll slow down the rate” , said Kgadima.
Kgadima continues to help others face their fitness fears
Following her posts about the incident, Kgadima received a surge of support.
Kgadima hasn’t stopped going to the gym and will continue to document her journey, she said. She’s still in step class.
Using her platform, she says she’s aware of the message her posts convey and says her posts have helped her connect with so many people who want to go to the gym but may be scared.
Kgadima also said people often ask her for help or advice when she goes to the gym because “I look like her. ‘”
And for people who are afraid to start their fitness journey because of discrimination or outdated stigma, she says the best advice is to find a community and everything else will work out.
“So I really don’t want to leave this community,” Kgadima said. “They’re in my corner all the time.”