Why I Hate Diets, Exercise, and
Anyone Skinnier than Me
At the age of thirty-three, I'm almost ready to give up on the fantasy of ever being a Skinny Bitch.
How the whole Skinny Bitch thing works is like this: Any woman who's superskinny is a Skinny Bitch, and we hate her (all of us who are less skinny than she is). But just because we hate her doesn't mean that we wouldn't do just about anything to be skinny like her--and when I say "just about anything," I mean JUST ABOUT ANYTHING (well, besides actually eating a sensible diet and exercising every day, because, hey, we gotta draw the line somewhere). . . .
The most interesting thing to note about the whole Skinny Bitch concept is that it's completely relative. So what constitutes a Skinny Bitch to me is not necessarily what will do it for you. My husband once sweetly pointed out that if one were to be consistent about this approach, then I myself would be seen as a Skinny Bitch by those larger than me. After a moment's pause, I quickly waved off this idea. Because the whole Skinny Bitch philosophy is built on a way of thinking that is completely personal (and most certainly irrational). It's no comfort to me that I happen to be someone else's idea of a Skinny Bitch; I want to be my own idea of a Skinny Bitch. Which was where my husband threw his arms in the air, shook his head, and walked off, muttering under his breath, "Crazy bitch might be more apt."
"I HEARD THAT!" I yelled after him.
But I wasn't really mad. Because in a way he had a point.
I suck in my stomach whenever I get on my scale. Sure, I know it's irrational, but when it comes to women and their relationships with scales, there's no room for logic (I'm convinced that logic adds at least a pound or two). Once I'm on the scale, I immediately close my eyes. You'd think I could close my eyes first and then step on the scale, since it's right in front of me and only two inches off the ground, but once I misstepped and tipped the scale, managing to crash headfirst into my towel rack, which caused a bump that was definitely big enough to add some weight to my grand total, so I wasn't able to get on the scale for, like, a week, which in retrospect wasn't such a bad thing.
SO--once I'm safely on the scale, I take a deep breath, which I rapidly exhale in order to empty my lungs of all the air that my husband assures me doesn't weigh anything (listen, just because he was a physics major at MIT and is now a doctor doesn't necessarily mean he knows everything). It goes without saying that I'm totally buck-naked--no watch, no wedding ring, no hair bands--and, depending on the level of my pre-weigh-in dread, I may have even shaved my legs in preparation (no, my legs are not that hairy, but if a few epithelial cells can be all that stand in the way of getting caught for murder [I'm a big CSI fan], then they can certainly be the difference that'll tip the scale that one pound wherein lies the difference between utter wretchedness and your standard dissatisfaction). Cynical, I know, but you show me a woman who's an optimist when facing the scale, and I'll hold her skinny arms so we can both beat her senseless.
This is about when I open my eyes and stare at my bathroom wall a moment before my eyes make their journey downward and I begin singing a little song in my head that I wrote for just this occasion. It goes something like this: please please please please please please please please please!!! The nice thing about my lyrics is that they'll basically work with any tune.
Most days my weight is exactly what I'd expect it to be, and I have learned simply to accept it as a disappointing fact of life, since it's always been ten pounds over what I swear I'd be happy with; twenty pounds over what I'd sell my soul for; and thirty pounds over what I'd be if I were a celebrity with my own personal trainer, chef, and plastic surgeon. Now, granted, my weight has fluctuated by fifteen pounds throughout my twenties and early thirties, but my desire to lose ten for happiness and twenty for my soul has always remained more or less a constant.
Don't get me wrong--I'm certainly not complaining about the days when my weight is exactly what I expect it to be. Because those days when you get on the scale and are actually a pound or two heavier than what you thought you were are nothing short of a living hell (and, no, it's not water weight, because I don't even get on the scale the week before my period anymore, PMS and scales being a dangerous combination, not unlike PMS and chocolate).
The first thing I do on such days is give my scale a stern talking-to. "Oh, no you don't. Like hell I've gained two pounds." The second thing I do is get off the scale for a second or two and then get back on it (I'm nothing if not fair), and if it still reads the same, then I'm forced to take action.
Mainly this consists of moving my scale to a different part of the bathroom in hopes that the subtle shift in the slope of the floor may change the outcome in my favor--or perhaps my own placement in relation to, you know, the earth's gravitational pull (look, I know this makes no sense, but remember what I said about logic? Out the window and ready for a chalk outline on the sidewalk below, okay?). And don't smirk like that, because once in a while it works.
Next I decide that the scale may actually be extremely dirty, and may have accumulated some added dust weight or something. So out come the paper towels and Windex.
And then, if my last resort of trying to pee again fails, it's time to reach for the big guns. . . .
It's a known fact that most new gym memberships are sold in the first two months of every year.
Backed by New Year's resolutions and buoyed with hopeful determination, thousands of people march into their local gyms, year after year, only to peter out a month or two later, feeding the grim statistics. A chronic short-term gym-goer myself, I've spent the past ten years as such a statistic.
But this year I decided I would defy the system:
Why should I even bother to join a gym on January 2, knowing full well that I'd stop going before spring was even officially declared? No, this year it was time to be strong. And I did hang tough for about two months--no gym!--before I finally caved in. . . .
And now here I sit, grimly signing the bottom of the membership application while avoiding the glittering endorphin eyes of my "Membership Counselor," who is probably biting back her desire to chirp out something very perky about the fact that I still have plenty of time to get ready for "bikini season," which is just (giggle/snort) ten weeks away. But as she seems to be managing to keep herself in check, I give her a smile to show her that I'm a reasonably good sport. I know my place on the roulette wheel of urban gym membership, and I'm smart enough to know that the house always wins.
I'm always impressed by the strides in techno-evolution that health clubs make in the nine months or so that my membership lies fallow and then finally lapses. There are always more TVs than I remembered, bigger and flashier machines, and, of course, my favorite proof of the passage of time: an ever more bewildering number of new exercise classes that have sprung up since the previous year.
My first day at the gym is traditionally spent in the stretching area, lying on a mat with a towel sportily wrapped around my neck. It's here that I read through the monthly exercise-class schedule that is always Xeroxed on brightly colored paper (ooh--next month, how about yellow?!). Squinting to read the eight-point type, I mouth to myself these strange and wondrous titles--BalletCore, Urban Rebounding Express, Lo2Go--and then I flip to the other side of the page and read the class descriptions, marveling at the creative use of grammar and diction--all those sassy adjectives! those happy verbs! and those extra-perky exclamation marks!!! I stretch my neck muscles by craning to see whether I can properly ID the classes currently under way in the three different exercise studios on the floor.
Studio 1 at the back corner has twenty-plus women on individual mini-trampolines waving hand weights above their heads: Urban Rebounding Express (the trampolines are a dead giveaway). Studio 2 is trickier; the purple yoga mats make this look simple, but then you recall how, now that yoga is for the masses, there are just so many disciplines to choose from--Hatha, Vinyasa, or Kundalini. This class turns out to be Power Flex Yoga, the pupu platter of yoga classes, allowing one to sample all the types at once, with a fifteen-minute abs-only section, to boot.
Next I work my back muscles by sitting up to check out Studio 3. But what I see makes me recoil and slam back down on my mat so fast that the woman on the lumbar ball next to me pauses, her arms only partly extended, her purple elasto-workout-band vaguely slack.
How could I have not remembered Studio 3? The one thing that never changes . . .
One of my problems with going to the gym--aside from the fact that I hate exercising, hate to sweat, hate how red my face gets while sweating, and hate always feeling like an impostor, even after blowing a month's salary at Niketown--is that I am truly scared of the "Women Who Spin."
Maybe "scared" isn't the right word, but it's something akin to that--some serious physiological reaction left over from the one time in my life when I really felt like I was going to die (this was before the shock paddles up front had become standard equipment)--and not in any graceful kind of a way, but in an exercise room, surrounded by a group of grunting, bike-seat-straddling women with thighs capable of splitting open an oil drum.
I still remember tasting the sweat pouring into my mouth from every single unclogged pore on my face, and my fervid prayers that the whole cliche of your life flashing before your eyes just before death would prove to be untrue--because otherwise my parting view of the world would be the inconceivably tight, fuchsia-thonged ass of the woman in front of me (my friend Jenner had advised me that the only way for a novice to make it through spinning was to position herself behind the best ass in the room--sort of an updated female version of the old horse-and-carrot trick).
Obviously, I didn't die that day, but I'm willing to put money down that it was only because my feet were so tightly strapped in, and because, since the front wheels of spinning bikes are weighted to ensure that you can't stop moving your legs, my poor heart continued to move strictly by the force of the rapid blood circulation.
But it was that class that showed me once and for all that I would never make "Featured Member of the Month" (especially since it was doubtful that a "featured member" would ever be the type to do conspiracy-theorist research on whether the government was putting together some type of elite secret undercover bionic militia of "Women Who Spin" for some random geopolitical reason).
As I open my eyes to dispel the image of that fateful day in my workout history, I lick my upper lip to taste a hint of salt commingling with my toner. I imagine the tiny beads of sweat standing at attention on my upper lip, a salute to the brave women of Studio 3 who at this very moment are "feeling the burn" in their glutes as they conquer some imaginary hill in the virtual countryside. I wonder if they know what I now know: how studies show weight training may be more beneficial than cardio; how, though men may find thongs sexy, the wedgied sight of them sometimes may also cause them to cringe involuntarily.
Lifting my face up off my now crinkled class schedule, I am pleased to note that there is a damp spot in the middle. Genuine sweat. Clear gold. And that means that my first workout of the year is officially over ("Bee wise! Slowly ease yourself into your new health regimen!" it says right on page 2 of "The Buzz on My New Gym" brochure. "Don't Bee unrealistic with your goals!!").
And how long will it be this time, I wonder, before I remember that the only way to beat the house at this place is to stay in the comfort of your very own home? Maybe not so very long. After all, with age comes experience.
Wow--could this be a new record for me in aborted gym attendance? Perhaps I'll even be featured on the "staff only" room's bulletin board: "Sucker Member of the Month." "She paid, but she didn't stay."
And, you know? Ask this stat if she cares!
GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL, MARTHA,
DO NOT PASS GO,
DO NOT COLLECT $200
I am not a good nester. I would be a lousy bird. Somehow I lack the ability to make a house a home.
To be honest, I'm a little embarrassed by this fact and I was more than a little surprised at my inability to do so. I like to think that I have a keen eye for fashion, and some may even say that I have great personal style, but somehow I can't seem to project it onto my current surroundings.
I became aware of my problem in my twenties, after I got my first solo New York apartment. I of course blamed the apartment itself, first because it was long and narrow and shaped like a wine bottle, and second because the doorway was so small it couldn't fit my plush rose-colored couch that I had inherited from my mom after she moved to a smaller house. My theory at the time was that if your apartment couldn't even fit a couch in it, then how could it possibly ever become a real home? I suppose I could have just bought a smaller and more narrow couch, but I was stubborn and refused to give up my strict guidelines of what makes a good couch (I must be able to completely stretch out on it, and it must be cushiony enough to be a place where one could camp out for days at a time, if needed, with room to spare for plenty of books and magazines, a dog, and maybe even another person).
Excerpted from Skinny Bitching by Jenny Lee. Copyright © 2005 by Jenny Lee. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.