Dubai woman in online spat with gym owner who called her fat

Canadian says she had gym membership request rejected because of her weight and says gym owner then launched tirade of insults at her online.

At first Labiba Laith thought her application for a free trial at Symmetry Gym was rejected because the owners assumed she could not afford to pay their fees. But when she sought an explanation, co-owner Amir Siddiqui was blunt about her physical condition. Satish Kumar / The National
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DUBAI // A woman who claims her gym membership application was rejected because she couldn’t afford it, has hit back at offensive online comments about her weight made by a personal trainer at Dubai’s Symmetry Gym.

Gym co-owners Alexandra Causton and Amir Siddiqui boast about being body-transformation experts and having Dubai’s most expensive personal trainer at their Sheikh Zayed Road premises.

Fees start from Dh2,400 a month, with a minimum three-month term, but costs can stretch to Dh15,000 a month for the most comprehensive programme.

A seven-day free trial was offered earlier this year, but with more than 1,500 applicants looking to take up the offer, the owners were forced to restrict who could benefit from the offer.

When Canadian social media and food consultant Labiba Laith, 45, had her application rejected via an automated email, she went on the Facebook page of Symmetry Gym and coincidentally found a post that was insulting to people who were battling with weight problems. And when she contacted Mr Siddiqui on Facebook, he delivered a blunt appraisal of her physical condition as well.

Mr Siddiqui posted that being fat was a choice, and when he offered to meet Ms Laith for a coffee to discuss her application, he said he was happy to call her fat to her face.

A furious Ms Laith continued her defence.

“I was rejected from the free trial because they assumed I couldn’t afford to pay their fees,”she said.

“I went to the Facebook page and saw the post from the CEO of the gym. I found it extremely offensive and insulting.

“I was so angry, I posted it on my Instagram to see what others thought of it. A friend who is Emirati and quite big said he suffered from people making fun of him because his gastric band failed,” Ms Laith said.

“I replied to Amir to say his comments were wrong, but he began taunting me, which did not really matter as my self worth is not valued by others.

“Yes I’m big, I’m beautiful and I’m working to be healthier, but him calling me fat does not offend or bother me. Insulting a whole group of people on a commercial Facebook page is unacceptable – that is what really bothered me.”

Mr Siddiqui has been criticised by others who posted on the exchange, for speaking on a public platform as a representative of an industry he is supposed to be promoting, and refusing to back down or retract his comments.

His biography on the gym’s website claims he is a “typical New Yorker who doesn’t mince words”. Instead of hugs and compliments, he offers clients an “unsurpassed passion for developing the human body” as well as his “unique skill for designing fitness systems”. The website states his “rare combination of passion and knowledge are the driving force behind Symmetry Gym”.

“Sadly, we live in a culture where big is not beautiful,” he said in an online reply to Ms Laith.

“A harsh dose of reality is the only thing that ever works, when it comes to getting people like yourself to finally see how it feels to be attractive.”

Mr Siddiqui was not available for comment, but Ms Causton admitted his words might have gone too far.

“Amir’s comments are not a fair reflection of the business,” she said.

“He did not specifically say that Labiba had been rejected because she was fat. Amir is quite controversial and says things controversially.

“We work with lots of overweight people. Labiba has made a ludicrous and out-of-context claim,” Ms Causton said.

“He can be intentionally provocative with people and says things like that to throw people, and help motivate them to change their lifestyle.

“Issues that relate to obesity are complex. A lot of it is psychological, so Amir tries to be provocative to see if people are really up to the task of doing what they say they will do.”

The fitness market is a growing industry in the UAE, and is dominated by international brands such as Fitness First, Fitness 360 and the Fitness Factory.

Kiran Gill, an Indian, said Symmetry Gym had been an enjoyable experience for her.

“Symmetry is hands down the best gym I have ever been to,” she said.

“Trying to get fit and in shape can be incredibly isolating, but with Symmetry that’s not the case. You have a team of well-educated professionals who are at the top of their game.”