Opinion: #gymcreep sheds light on the problems with gym etiquette and online discourse

#gymcreep has sparked a heated online back and forth


Social media influencers have taken over gyms in search of their next viral moments. Photo courtesy Nenad Stojkovic/Flickr.

With over 40 million views on TikTok, the viral hashtag #gymcreep has brought exposure to the rising problem of filming strangers for social media and the continuous issue of sexual harassment in the gym. Women, and sometimes men have taken to the trend to raise awareness of sexual harassment as a preventative measure and to create a safer environment within gyms.

However, there are a number of problems with following and participating in the #gymcreep trend. As is often the case, what originally started as a well intentioned appeal to the masses to address an issue has instead turned into a divisive back and forth that is ultimately not productive.

First, filming and posting supposed offenders without consent is like fighting fire with fire. When someone feels harassed or unsafe near an individual, it is best to find safety or ask for help rather than potentially aggravating that person by filming them.

Next, engagement with these videos only reinforces “main character syndrome” in people. Social media engagement can, according to Psychology Today, manipulate people into, “more and more outrageous behavior in order to obtain the social approval that they may crave but otherwise lack.”

The gym is a shared space and there is no reason to film strangers with the intent of posting about them negatively. People are at the gym to get a workout, not to be exploited for a wannabe influencer’s five seconds of fame.

At the gym, people look around, glance and stare for a multitude of reasons. People can no longer see past themselves that even a glance can be taken the wrong way. People continue to film and post these videos despite backlash for the validation they receive; they are right and the other person is wrong.

The engagement with these videos reinforces the self-centered behavior because people can post whatever one-sided narrarive they please for an audience. All the while, addressing the real issues women face in gyms get lost in the endless abyss that is online discourse.

Joey Swoll, a fitness trainer and influencer who calls himself the “CEO of gym positivity,” has taken it upon himself to react to these types of TikToks as if his opinion is the gospel of the fitness world. The man has a self-proclaimed title and his popularity stems from these reaction videos. Despite Swoll preaching positivity and calling out false claims, he is only bringing more attention to these types of videos.

Jessica Fernandez, a Twitch streamer, recently received backlash for recording what she called a “feral” man in the gym watching her “like a piece of meat” and posting it on TikTok. The video shows a man that glances a few times, and comes over to offer her help with the weights.

Fernandez realized her mistakes after many people left their opinions about her post. She then tweeted an apology statement with Twitlong saying, “He didn’t do anything wrong to me and I blew our interaction out of proportion …If I wasn’t called out for this video I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn from this mistake or even realize I made a mistake to begin with.” She even thanks Joey Swoll for his input on the situation.

A major problem with posting videos like these is victim blaming after many have watched countless videos of false claims. For example, in Tampa, Florida, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office shared a video on Twitter of a woman who was physically assaulted by a neighbor she let in the apartment complex gym.

The video shows Natasha Alma, who was working out alone, opening the door for a supposed neighbor. He then attacked her and she fought until she could escape. S

Some Twitter users took the opportunity to turn the blame on Alma.

In cases where someone is actually experiencing assault, people on social media are finding ways to actually blame the victim rather than focusing on the abhorrent actions of the perpetrator.

Filming strangers in the gym has to stop. The gym is a space to workout primarily and can already be an uncomfortable place for people. No one should have to fear for their privacy or reputation when walking into the gym for the sake of someone else’s viral moment.