FLETCHER, N.C. (Citizen-Times) -- A gym owner who posted a video that includes shots of women's rear ends with the comments "Dayum!" and "Hump Day" has sparked outrage in the community.
Blue Ridge CrossFit owner Tom Tomlo Jr. said he made the video and added the comments and emoticons over the shots of the women, who are bending over while exercising and wearing tight workout pants. Tomlo posted the video on the gym's Instagram account Friday, and outrage quickly followed.
A person upset with the video took still shots from it and posted them on Facebook, stating that it was inappropriate. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 850 people had offered reviews of Blue Ridge CrossFit, dropping the gym's rating to 1.5 stars out of five and leaving often blistering comments.
While Tomlo contends the video was shot in a sense of fun and with the women's consent, at least one woman in the video disputes that.
"To me, it’s disgusting," said Arden resident Amanda Turlington, who said she's in the video but did not see it until it was posted to social media on Instagram and a friend alerted her. "Here we have women in a vulnerable position, and what does he do? He takes the opportunity to take video where we're all inverted and you have no idea what we're doing, and he takes that when we can't tell what he's doing, and then posts that inappropriate video and inappropriate hashtags on the image of our bodies on Instagram for everyone to see."
Turlington said she quit Blue Ridge CrossFit on Tuesday afternoon after meeting with Tomlo. She had been a member since December 2016 and made strong improvements, but what she considers the blatant objectification in the video was too much for her to accept.
The controversy erupted over the weekend, in part because of a profanity-laden response Tomlo posted, chastising those who were offended.
"It has been brought to my attention that some people chose to get butt hurt today and make a public post in this group," Tomlo wrote, suggesting that if members are upset they should schedule a meeting with him to discuss the matter or "find a place that is a better fit for you."
"Creating some sort of delusional and ignorant drama is not your option here," Tomlo wrote.
Reaction on Blue Ridge CrossFit's page was swift — and angry.
"The owner is not worthy of having a successful business if he can’t seem to not objectify women and then defend his poor behavior by calling those who reported the video 'butt hurt,'" one woman wrote. "Good grief, the owner belongs in a sandbox with the other little kids rather than in a professional business setting."
Another woman wrote, "I’m embarrassed this is right here in my community."
"The pictures were terrible," she wrote. "It’s so unfair to do that to somebody when they’re trying to get healthy. But it’s not as bad as the response. That response was ridiculous."
On Tuesday afternoon, Tomlo acknowledged the brouhaha has hurt business, even though Blue Ridge CrossFit, which opened in 2009, has also received a lot of support.
"We may be shutting this business now because of a false narrative," Tomlo said.
Blue Ridge CrossFit, known for intense workouts that combine weightlifting and cardiovascular work, has about 150 members.
Tomlo said he's been taken aback by the vitriol directed at him and the gym in the wake of the video.
"Honestly, it’s no different than any of our other posts, in that we have hashtags and jokes," he said. "I guess the only way I can explain it is, it was a fun day. We were just being goofy."
That video and other previous ones have had shots of men's butts in them, and that has caused no problems, Tomlo said. He contends the women in the video knew they were being recorded and saw the video, with the commentary, after it was finished.
Turlington disputes that.
Another woman identifying herself as one of the women in the video commented on Blue Ridge CrossFit's Facebook page, saying the video was done "in a lighthearted moment and never meant to disrespect us." Nor was the video intended to be posted publicly or go viral, she said.
"We’ve all made mistakes," she said. "Can we not balance it with the good (Tomlo) has done for us and the community?"
The Citizen Times could not reach her for verification Tuesday afternoon, so her name is being withheld.
The woman went on to say she is "proud to be part of this gym and the health benefits I have gained. One set of pictures does NOT represent me or the gym."
Turlington said she did sign a release allowing Blue Ridge CrossFit to use images of her working out, but she expected them to be professional and not blatantly sexual in nature, especially not with obviously sexualized comments and inappropriate emoticons on them. She and the other ladies were doing inverted push-ups, she says, which require serious upper body strength, but their upper bodies, and their faces, were largely ignored in the video.
"I'm OK with me doing a video and working out and looking strong ...," Turlington said. "What I'm not OK with is it being misconstrued in a sexual way. That’s what bothers me — I've gotten so much stronger, and I've grown a lot and I'm proud of that, but none of that was showcased in that video. The only thing that was showcased was my body."
Tomlo said he does regret his word choice in his initial reply to Blue Ridge members, but he's adamant that he had no intent to objectify or belittle women in the original video. CrossFit members often talk bluntly about body parts, he said, and the gym has a feeling of being family members who can speak freely.
"I’ve definitely heard girls talk about their butts shaping up, wanting to get it looking good, being proud of how it looks,” Tomlo said. "I mean, that’s what we do — we help people get fit. People, when they start getting more fit, they start being more proud of it. They talk about it, they talk about being proud of the work they’ve put in. It’s not a negative."
Several aspects of the controversy trouble Marie-Line Germain, an associate professor of human resources and leadership at Western Carolina University Department of Human Services. First of all, the women own their bodies, and images of them should not be used without specific, written permission, she said.
"Women have the right to display their bodies as they wish, but it should be their decision to do so," Germain said, adding that she does see objectification of women in the photos and video. Tomlo's response also bothers Germain, as he seems largely unapologetic.
"His lack of a direct apology speaks volumes," she said. "Someone who has made an error and a genuine mistake, he would apologize and feel humble and promise not to do it again. Someone who becomes angry, reveals, in a way, that maybe they were questioning their own reasoning about it."