It was a call to action, gym owner Scott Campbell said, tinged with lighthearted ribbing.
“Tired of being fat and ugly?” his sign outside Pell City Fitness read in stark white letters. “Just be ugly!”
Campbell expected some reaction, he told The Washington Post on Wednesday, maybe an uptick in customers who laughed at the sign he installed May 15 in the small town east of Birmingham, Ala.
He got those laughs — along with a deluge of comments on social media calling the sign offensive, as city officials scrambled to get the sign down.
Two days after he installed it, he said a Pell City sign enforcement officer told him that the sign was in violation and had to come down within 24 hours or he would be fined. The official did not give a clear reason, he said.
So Campbell posted a video of himself in front of the sign to Facebook to rally support.
“They’ve given me til 5 o’clock tomorrow evening to take it down. So it’s going to stay up til 4:50 tomorrow afternoon,” he says in the video.
Cue the social media backlash.
“The sign should be taken down. Think about it, some [people] are already struggling being bullied & my opinion is that the sign is making it harder on [people] being bullied already,” a commenter wrote Friday. “I’m not fat nor am I ugly,” they added.
Others offered their support.
“Pay the fine and leave it up!!! Great sign,” another commenter said.
On Friday, a day after the video was posted, Campbell said city manager Brian Muenger called to say the issue involved a necessary permit, which Campbell did not have. He filed the paperwork Monday, and said no fine has been issued.
Muenger said in an email message Wednesday that, “the owner is aware of his failure to properly request a permit and has since filed a request,” adding that “the City does not object to the content of the sign.”
The sign is still up, Campbell said, and has sparked some interest from potential clients for the gym, which opened last July. That was the entire point.
Campbell used to be an Alabama state trooper and Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy, he said. He also used to be 300 pounds, and was outmatched by a violent suspect in one incident. He decided then to lose weight.
Other people need a similar epiphany, he said. But they should be prepared for the friendly banter there.
“If you were offended by the sign, you would not fit in at the gym,” he said.