here’s how it ends

In a hospital cafeteria last week, an old man stood ahead of me in line for oatmeal. He reminded me of my dad, except he couldn’t use his hands very well. Oatmeal was getting everywhere and he looked embarrassed yet friendly, so I asked if he was at the hospital for physical therapy.

He said no. His daughter had died upstairs that morning of anorexia.

He was alone and so was I, so we ate together. Straightening his sugar packets in a careful pile, he told me about his daughter, who’d been my age – such a happy baby; such a bright girl – but when she was 15 she got funny about food and exercise; her weight; they spent a small fortune on rehab and counselors and some days she seemed better but other days worse.

Days became years. She wore people out.  He finally let her go, to do what she was going to do. He was sad but not surprised. He needed to go back to her apartment and go through her things for Goodwill.

“When she died,” he said, “it was like watching a fish drown in air.”

This is why I use my small sphere to fight what I fight: Because it really could have gone either way for me. You think thigh gap is some new thing the Internet invented? Thigh gap is ancient; thigh gap and bikini bridges and drink this chalky shit instead of food and here is what a woman must do to please The Great Eye are eternal because woman-hating is eternal. Thigh gap is a spot of necrotizing fasciitis in my psychic tissue where the blood supply got cut off in 1987 like it did for this old man’s daughter and the only difference is mine happens to be contained.

I want us to be clear on what the current culture does to women – even if we don’t read the magazines or watch the shows or visit the sites. It’s like secondhand smoke. It clings.

It’s why I don’t play the game, but I watch it every day. It’s a lucrative game for a lot of people, and it comes to us in friendly guises like “health” and “fitspiration” to encourage us to play; to mentally buy in. The game can be hot and compelling – can feel like you’re winning, even – but here’s how it ends: A sad old man eats a bowl of oatmeal in a hospital cafeteria and tells a stranger how he used to carry you on his shoulders in the swimming pool; how you used to laugh so easy.


“Tinier, tinier”: I attended a Pure Barre class so you don’t have to

We went to a Pure Barre class on Saturday because I was curious about its website’s biologically-impossible and fanciful promises, e.g. “You will stretch, to elongate the muscles while they are warm and malleable. This leads to long, lean muscles!”

PB seemed like the foil to CrossFit – rather than loading a bar with weight and using your whole body to hurl it into the air, you grab a ballet barre and do teensy isometric movements designed to help you “defy gravity.” Sign my ass up! Here is $15 for some special non-slip socks.

When we walked into the studio, I realized that I had never seen so many unhappy 37-year-old straight Caucasian females in Lululemon gear in one place in my entire life. And I lived in downtown Toronto for three years.

No one spoke to each other. If you are a diehard Pure Barre-issima whose studio is full of joie de vivre I am glad for you, but these ladies had nothing to say. Of course I can’t get inside anyone else’s head, but the weight of experience told me that they were working within a grim psychogenic framework; possessed by an entrenched belief that parts of their bodies were unacceptable. They were there for a specific, elusive goal: to get smaller; to burn away all fleshly inessential. I noticed a lot of “fire,” “torching,” and “melting” imagery in the instruction. Much emphasis on the fold between butt and thigh (a thing for which the Germans probably have a word*); a distaste for “bulk,” and the aforementioned “long, lean muscles.”

"Long": I don't think it's working, but one time I pushed a car six blocks

“Long”: I don’t think it’s working, but one time I pushed a car six blocks

I am five feet, two inches tall. The only way to achieve long, lean muscles is to be born with them, or to discover a new gene-altering DNA-recombination technique. The belief that we can change the length of our muscles is an unfortunate side effect of scientific illiteracy, slimed along by diet/fitness corporate shit plus patriarchal beauty mandates which have been thoroughly deconstructed but still hang over our heads and we know why.

Anyway, I wasn’t very good at PB. I like moving everything, so it was hard to lie in my stomach and raise my right toes infinitesimally off the floor 58 times as the instructor metronomed “Up an inch/down an inch/up an inch/down an inch.” Maybe it really works after awhile –  you have to do anything for at least a month if you want to see a difference – but at $20 a pop, I’ll never know.

That said, I did like the barre itself. It’s fun to hang onto things real hard and not have them explode free in a shower of cement and drywall flakes, you know? We got into a groove where we’d all do little plies, straighten up, then bend over at once, and when I looked behind me to check the form, I was greeted with an amazing line of buttcracks winking at me through sheer Lululemon leggings. Plies, straighten, bend, asscracks; plies, straighten, bend, asscracks. This sounds like circuit training. It sort of was!

At one point, we were supposed to pick up a pair of 1 lb hand weights but I couldn’t do it without feeling ridiculous so I minced balletically over to the weight cubbies (weight cubbies!) and selected a pair of 5s. All the ladies noticed and said “oooOOOOooo.”  How much fun it would be to bring some heavy lifters to a barre class? Like the fitness Tower of Babel!

I’m not sore from the workout. I was hoping to be. I like a little lactic-acid burn along with my joint safety, so maybe we should combine PB and Crossfit. Screams and whispering, interlaced: “Up an inch/down an inch/up an inch – NOW RUN! EIGHT HUNDRED METERS UP AND BACK, 15 PULLUPS, 10 SNATCHES AND A BEAR CRAWL! HIT THE FLOOR! annnnd up an inch/down an inch, RUN! RUN!”

The last 10 minutes of the class (abs) were a fabulously weird finisher, because the instructor got up reeeeal close to me and whispered in my ear, “Tiny movement. Go tinier. Tinier.” Only she was miked, so the soundtrack to my not-cured-but-controlled body-dysmorphic nightmares echoed throughout the room for everyone and their asscrack to hear.

Afterwards, we went to Whole Foods for kale smoothies and then to a UFC boxing class, where we hit the bags for an hour.

We were much happier there.


*A friend just told me that, amongst rock n’roll types,  this fold is known as the “giddy-up.”

*UPDATE: Try this one if you like barre. The lower body workout is a blaster and she only says “burn the fat” like, twice.


smart-things link roundup

While I find the words for some of my own experiences this winter, please enjoy the following roundup of lesbian/feminist/fitness/political brilliance.

Scold’s bridle by glosswitch

“Right now I’m done with the female social code that commands me to express shame at myself, assume good faith in cruel people and deny my own qualities just so that my presence isn’t too disruptive.

This abuse is because I am a woman, not because I am a white woman. I do not believe reverse racism exists, whereas misogyny clearly does. However, this abuse does need to be placed in the context of “white feminism” – after all, it’s a phrase I used in my tweet – because it’s related to the shorthand people use for a particular type of perceived female privilege (as though privilege is not a shifting, intersecting thing that everyone with access to twitter enjoys in different ways, but a line you cross which makes you less credible, less capable of experiencing pain and less capable of acting in good faith).”

Woman-hating by any other name… by Meghan Murphy

“It seems as though we are expected to divulge every single horrific trauma we’ve experienced, every personal moment of oppression or abuse, every single problem/illness/addiction/struggle we might have faced or currently be facing, publicly and via bullhorn, before we are acknowledged as credible or worthy of a voice. Without this outpouring of every-single-horror it is assumed we’ve experienced nothing but diamonds and champagne. Do I need to tattoo “working-class” on my forehead in order to avoid being called “rich” or “classist?” Because I don’t want to. Women shouldn’t have to tell the entire world every gory detail of their stories in order to have a voice. Many women are not in a position to do this, even if they wanted to.”

Check Your Privilege: Rise of the Post New-Left by Steve D’Arcy

“If a handful of time-travelling activists from our own era were somehow transported into a leftist political meeting in 1970, would they even be able to make themselves understood?”

Making Sense of Modern Fitness by Kat Whitfield

“I too enjoy doing tricep extensions with 2lb weights while looking contemplative.”

Found this through my other favorite, Fit and Feminist. Let Kat make you laugh as you navigate the bullshit-infested waters of today’s body-dysmorphic diet-and-fitness zeitgeist. She’s written a free ebook, but if you only have time for one post, make it her takedown of a certain kind of fitspo on Pinterest.

roses– how the purity culture taught me to be abused by Samantha Field (if you have an evangelical/conservative background, or know women who do, or are seeking understanding, Samantha Field’s Defeating the Dragons is the one of the best blogs there is):

“…the modesty/purity/virginity culture, especially in more conservative areas, is one of the main reasons why Christian young women stay in abusive relationships.”

…and An Open Letter to the White Woman Who Felt Bad for Me at Yoga by Maya Rupert (policy director, National Center of Lesbian Rights): is the sharpest and most compassionate of many responses to a bad personal essay on xojane:

“The problem is that at some point you got the impression that you — in all your ‘skinny, white girl’-ness — was the ideal. And that I would, if given the choice, choose to look like you.

And that didn’t happen because your yoga class doesn’t have enough black instructors or even because you seem uncomfortable around black women.

It happened because we live in a society steeped in a system of patriarchy so strong and so insidious that we learned from a young age and have it confirmed daily that you and I can’t both be happy with who we are. Because, if in order for Cinderella to be beautiful her stepsisters had to be ugly, and if in order to compliment Jennifer Lawrence we have to insult Anne Hathaway, then in order for you to be content in your whiteness, I have to despair in my blackness, and in order for you to be at peace in your body, I have to suffocate in mine.”

Back soon.