Size, shape, gender—whoever you are, you’re welcome
Image via Everybody
The gym can be an unwelcoming place. It seems like there’s always some guy with arms the size of Volkswagens doing curls in front of a mirror, and over there on the treadmill, a woman with no waist. Not that either of those things are bad—all bodies are different—but it can intimidate us mere mortals who don’t conform to those ideals. Add in some unwanted leering and gross fluorescent lighting, and a health club is a big fat no for a lot of people.
“It’s crazy how many barriers there are in gyms to just feeling good,” says Sam Rypinski, who co-founded Everybody, a new gym in Los Angeles that wants to strip all those barriers away. Sure, a lot of health clubs say that’s their goal, but Rypinski and his business partner Lake Sharp understand some people’s anxiety around gyms goes beyond their fitness level and physique. Gyms can be a judgmental place that reinforce traditional norms of masculinity and femininity, making it a pretty uncomfortable place for someone who is gender nonconforming.
Everybody’s founders believe that discomfort shouldn’t stand in the way of a good workout. Which is why Rypinski and Sharp have created a gym few have ever seen before. Everybody is a health club that outwardly promotes radical gender, racial, body type, and, generally, intersectional inclusivity.
“We’re trying to recontextualize ‘gym,’” Rypinski says. “That’s why our tagline is ‘Less Gym, More Movement.’ It’s a very pointed double entendre. We’re trying to create a movement of awareness and radical inclusion, and a broader sense of what it means to be healthy.”
Image via Everybody
For Rypinski, who is transgender, opening Everybody was very personal to him. He grew up in 1980s Newport Beach, California, a city in Orange County known for being very Christian, wealthy, and conservative. But Rypinski excelled at rowing, and the gym became a haven until he could find a way to leave the city.
“I was a minority for a lot of reasons: I wasn’t blond, I wasn’t normatively gendered, I was queer, and came out really young,” Rypinski says. “But the gym and sports were where I found myself and learned to feel comfortable in my own body. It’s so important for so many people who are odds with their bodies, in one way or another, finding that.”
Eventually Rypinski went to college to row, crediting fitness and sports as his bridge to the outside world. Through all that, he was privy to many a locker room.
“I, to be honest, haven’t had a hard time, because I pass pretty fluently, and don’t have to put up with a lot of the barriers that a lot of people do,” Rypinski says. “Though having been in those spaces, I know the problems in the women’s locker room and the men’s locker room. They’re different problems, but there’s still a lot of body shame. I started talking to people and it was surprising to me how so many people related to that on some level.”
After meeting at a business conference in LA, Sharp and Rypinski worked together to build Everybody so people could find a refuge in physical fitness like Rypinski did. Their efforts have been far more than a mere marketing ploy. From creating classes to designing the space, they’ve sought to reimagine the gym to defy people’s expectations and draw a different type of health club clientele.
But the founders knew they couldn’t do it alone. They realized their personal histories could leave them with blind spots to other people’s struggles. So they’ve listened to a lot of voices to create Everybody.
“We have a board of advisors that’s really diverse that can help me see when I can’t see, when I’m making missteps, and I’m really open to that, and want to know, so we can avoid that,” Rypinski says. “For instance, we’re trying to be really aware of ableism and different bodies that don’t perform in the same way. One of our organizers is a disabled activist, and really opened my eyes to ways to make sure that we’re inclusive.”
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]I’ve experienced an atmosphere far more welcoming than other health clubs I’ve tried.[/quote]
That attention hasn’t gone unnoticed by Everybody’s members. “I love it,” says Emily Barker, who has an incomplete spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair. “The music’s good and the message is great. I’ve been to every gym in the LA area. It’s definitely the most accommodating. This place is the most accessible gym I’ve ever gone to by far. What was also great is that I was told that a few of the classes would be good for me to go to and that the instructor would make sure to let me know how I could modify my poses.”
I’ve felt much the same way about Everybody. I joined the gym soon after it opened January. In my few months as a member, I’ve experienced an atmosphere far more welcoming than other health clubs I’ve tried. Surrounded by people of every demographic, there’s a sense of relief that there’s no one “right way” to be or a singular norm you’re judged against. It does feel like ditching race, gender, or body-type norms has freed us all to focus less on the superficial and more on getting healthy.
And, yet, for all the barriers Everybody has tried to tear down, there remains one it hasn’t toppled: separate men’s and women’s locker rooms. Rypinski wanted the intentional inclusiveness of Everybody to include gender-free locker rooms and bathrooms. The city of Los Angeles had other ideas—and old laws still on the books.
“We wanted it to be one room, but they insisted on two rooms. I met with the mayor, and he was behind reforming that, but it’s just such a bureaucratic nightmare to change laws like that. We were in a lease for a year trying to jump through hoops in order to get things the way we wanted them to be, and ultimately, we had to comply with what they had originally asked for.” Rypinsky says. But they’ve tried to find a clever solution. “We now just keep the doors open to them all the time.”
The next steps are for Everybody to establish a body work area—they just opened a series of wellness rooms that will feature everything from massages to healing arts programming in collaboration with Queer Care, a collective of queer healers and herbal practitioners who do everything from Reiki to acupuncture to tarot—and a cross-training area that will be the site of biweekly sessions this summer. Plus, Rypinski says, they will be hosting events—they’ve already held several parties and a fundraiser for the ACLU—and bringing in more guest teachers.
“I really want to get Richard Simmons here,” says Rypinski with a laugh. “That would be a real dream come true.”