I used to wear my avoidance of sport as a badge of nerd culture pride. In high school after I quite the field hockey team I was allowed to take an “individualized athletic program” where I could practice the sport of my choosing for 3 hours a week. That amount of time seems like nothing now, but as a teenager it seemed like torture. I came from a place where long legged, blonde haired, soccer and lacrosse playing girls ruled the school. The rest of us just didn’t count quite as much. I wanted nothing to do with this culture. So the activities I chose to complete my sport requirement for high school graduation: horseback riding, modern dance, and roller skating.
I know the classic New Year’s resolution is to “loose weight and exercise.” As you know if you read this blog regularly, last year I lost 20 pounds and became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. I don’t need (or want) to keep loosing, but I want to maintain and find a “new normal” for the level of activity that I do. While I’ve practiced different sports intermittently for a long time: ballet, yoga, biking and swimming, I was never consistent about exercise. I’d do something for awhile and then stop, but I know I need to stay consistent to keep the weight off (I also need to keep tracking food as most of my weight gain or loss came from changing the way I ate).
Activities that I like both have some skill to them, so they get better with practice, but are open to anyone. I also like when they can be practiced independently, but have the potential to be social. The high school nerd in me still hates the idea of sport, so I have to trick myself into doing something that’s fun (ballet! swimming!), or useful (biking! It gets you places!).
Low and behold, in my determination to exercise regularly, I’ve come across a few classes in the New York-area I absolutely love, as well as some helpful resources I want to share in case you too have a resolution to get out there and get in shape.
I had the time of my life in the adult beginner ballet class at Mark Morris‘ studio in downtown Brooklyn, which I took with four other friends. It’s extremely motivating to know you are practicing at a school with some of the best modern dancers, and they also have life music in every class! Now that I am done with grad school I can’t wait to go back.
The class that changed my relationship to fitness was my friend Emily Kramer’s Spirit Boxing workshops. Open to women and trans people, these classes combine boxing conditioning with yoga stretching and centering. I found myself engaged on a physical, emotional, and intellectual level and felt supported, despite how out of shape I was. This class showed me I could do things I never thought possible, like run around Prospect Park and learn how to throw effective punches.
Lately I’ve been hitting up the Punk Rope class at the Greenpoint Y with my bandmate M. There’s classes in different parts of the country, but Tim and Shawna, the punk rope originators, run a high energy class with a new theme, sound track, and special exercises and drills every week. They call it “recess meets bootcamp” and I think that’s accurate! It’s so fun to jump to punk songs I don’t even notice how much I’m sweating. Plus, they got me to do sprinting drills, something I have not done since middle school!
I also want to add that what is so great about Tim and Shawna of Punk Rope and Emily of Spirit Boxing is that they are all activists dedicated to promoting health and fitness for kids who may not learn the value of exercise and healthy eating at school or home for many reasons. Learning from these teachers is inspiring on a deeper level.
Finally, for learning to train on your own (and getting over fear and inertia) I found the site Stumptuous.com to be really helpful. While it’s geared towards women interested in lifting weights it’s got great advice for anyone who wants to pump iron, do it safely, and is dubious of gym culture.
What are your New Years resolutions? What have you found is the exercise for you?
I’ll also leave you with a little extra inspiration:
Me, now. Blouse: Brooklyn Industries, Skirt: bought from Beacon's Closet, Tights: Urban Outfitters, Shoes: Etienne Aigner (vintage, from Mom)
I feel a sense of excitement and trepidation as I write this entry. I thought that something as personal as weight was a subject for me alone to think about and that this blog, which is so personal and yet takes a measured distance from my personal life, would not be the forum to discuss it. But then my wonderfully smart and brave friend Laura wrote about her relationship to food and eating on her blog. And even my favorite fashion blogging star, Garance Dore, wrote about her experience with gaining (and loosing) weight when she moved to NYC in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. If they can do it, I thought, so can I.
I never thought I would be someone who would want, or need, to lose weight. I was always thin, and curvy, yes, but thin. Until I wasn’t. Around the time I hit 25 and started spending more time working at a desk things started to change. I gradually noticed I couldn’t fit into pants I had worn in college. My beloved vintage dresses didn’t button any more. Quietly, I gave these things away, figuring they didn’t match my style anymore anyways. Besides, I told myself, I was active. I biked to work several days a week and swam laps regularly, took dance classes, did yoga and pilates and, being a New Yorker, walked far and often. While I was raised not to weigh myself and still don’t own a scale I noticed that even when I was swimming four days a week the scale at the gym was stubbornly stuck at 155. It says I weigh 130 on my drivers license.
Me, February 2011, 156 pounds. Dress: Brooklyn Industries dress and Ellips shoes.
“Oh, well,” I thought, “This is how things are, you get older and that’s it.” I noticed that I had to buy larger sized clothes and kept that fact to myself. I felt powerless. No one around me, not my friends, partner or family, ever said anything about my changing size and shape. I credit them with being supportive of me no matter how I look. However, I felt long from the person I wanted to be, or knew that I could be. I didn’t fully recognize myself in pictures and felt uncomfortable about shoving myself into my jeans that were progressively harder to button.
Me, now, 136 pounds. Dress: American Apparel, tights: Hue, Shoes: Dolce Vita
Last winter I started to reflect on the fact I would be turning 30 in May. I wanted to change many of the things that I was unhappy with in my life and set its course for the direction I wanted it to go as I began my next decade. I decided writing and being happy with my employment were two of my main goals. In the back of my head I also decided I wanted to loose weight. Two of my friends from my old job had gone on Weight Watchers to amazing results. They loved the program and sang its praises. I looked at the website, almost signed up, and decided, no, I could lose weight on my own.
As soon as I decided I wanted to lose weight I started to invent excuses why I couldn’t. Some were fairly logical, such as: I work full time and am in graduate school, do I really need to put the extra pressure of weight loss on top of everything else I need to accomplish? Other excuses were a little more ridiculous: I’m too European to worry about weight (excuse me, Eleanor, for all your airs you were born and raised in the USA), to “I’m too much of a feminist to go on a diet.”
Remember, I grew up with Riot Grrrl and “Riots, Not Diets!” was a popular slogan. And to this day I do believe that the way women are made to feel about their bodies by mainstream society is ridiculous and unhealthy. Everyone should decide what health means to them, and how they want to feel comfortable in their own skin.
One of my favorite songs as a teenager was by a beloved-by-me Scottish Indie pop band Bis. The song was called Monstarr and the lines that stick out to me are “I cannot be normal because I’m not a size 10? Should I be embarrassed, is it such a crime? Funny how your life depends upon your waistline!” The singer, Manda Rin, also wrote about being a feminist and loosing weight in her zine, and how she could feel positive about her body and health decisions while supporting other girls in theirs.
It was going on a lovely holiday to the Caribbean with SMH and seeing pictures of myself in a bathing suit that pushed me beyond the excuses. I looked at those photos, horrified. “That cannot be me,” I told myself. It wasn’t that I looked so overweight, it’s that I didn’t look like myself. Something had to change.
I borrowed French Women Don’t Get Fat from a supportive co-worker (the title of which I know will make many of my French friends laugh) and found it surprisingly well written and full of sensible advice about eating less and enjoying life. I also found it difficult to muster the willpower to follow the advise. In despair I found myself eating a butter croissant almost every morning, and a huge lunch, followed by a snack before class and then a snack and dinner after. I was panicking about being hungry, especially on days I had school until late. I could not leave the house without taking piles of food with me. This was not a recipe for success.
Finally, while Corita was mixing our record, I shared my feelings with Marisha, one of my beloved bandmates and a lifetime Weight Watchers member. I tried the “I’m too feminist,” excuse on her and she set me straight right away. “I’m a feminist, I’m a lifetime member, sign up,” she told me. I did, right there in the recording studio. Marisha also told me about Bitch Cakes, a super stylish, feminist, femmey lady who rides a pink bike in high heels and is also a member of WW. Sweet.
I was really nervous about my first Weight Watchers meeting. Who would be there? Would they be nice? Would it be awkward? Would I have to share? I went to a meeting near my work on my lunch break. I weighed in, signed up with the sweet receptionists, and picked up the weekly circular, which is full of good advice and recipes. I looked around. The group was mostly women, for sure, but women of all ages and some men too. Super diverse, a range of ages. Immediately I felt comfortable. This could be fun. This could be possible.
I began to look forward to the weekly meetings. They are so focused on being proactive and taking control of your life and your health, managing your expectations and being kind to yourself, as well as daring you to try new things that they really felt like cheap therapy. I could see that it wasn’t just marketing hype: Weight Watchers teaches healthy habits and takes a holistic approach.
The first time I stepped on the scale and found out I lost weight I was amazed. I never thought I could do it. When I lost my first five pounds Mel, my meeting leader, told me to go to the grocery store and pick up a 5 pound bag of carrots – that’s how much weight I had gotten rid of. Next time I was at the co-op I gave it a try. 5 pounds is a lot to carry around!
Me, now, 136 pounds, in a new pair of pants, size 28! First time ever! Brooklyn Industries blouse, Urban Outfitters slim jeans, Swedish Hasbeens shoes
I’ll admit it, the first month or two was really tough. I felt resentful that things I loved, such as croissants, bagels, cheese and pasta, had to take a back seat in my life. I had to watch how much I drank on the weekends and switched my morning low-fat yogurt to non-fat yogurt. I looked at other women who seemed so much skinnier than me and yet chowed down on sandwiches for lunch and felt resentful. I had momentary freak outs looking at restaurant menus. But I stuck with it. I remembered a piece of advice I read somewhere in the WW materials, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
While I had to adjust my eating habits (and as you know, I love food) I feel lucky I didn’t have to learn how to cook and eat healthily. I was raised eating salads, lean protein and whole grains. I share a kitchen with an amazing and sensitive cook. I was already active and I made a point of sticking to my activities. But WW also pushed me to try things I never would have otherwise. I learned how to run (and like it) from my amazing friend Emily Kramer as part of her Spirit Boxing workshop (I never thought I would ever run for exercise, much less sprint up the hill in Prospect Park with a bunch of other awesome feminists and queers!). I pushed myself to workout when I was traveling for work. And I learned to be satisfied with less food. “Why do I want to eat this?” I would ask myself, “Am I tired, bored, or really hungry? Could I eat a piece of fruit instead?”
It worked. I set my first goal as to loose 10 pounds – from 156 to 146 (which was also the top of my healthy weight range for my height). When I dropped below 150 I couldn’t believe it – the first time in how many years? I reflected on what I looked like and how I felt and thought, let’s try for an even 20 pounds. Then I’d be well within my healthy weight range and also I thought keep enough meat on my bones to look healthy on my broad shouldered/broad hipped frame.
Here’s where I admit to something else: I took my time with the plan. I started at the end of March and now, in the middle of October, I’ve met my goal. But, as they say, slow and steady (and gaining a few weeks and then eating well and exercising with renewed motivation the following weeks) wins the race. My muffin top disappeared. I recently had to buy new pants because my old ones were too baggy. My dresses fit me better than they ever have. I feel lighter, freer, more comfortable with myself. Most importantly, I did this my way with the help of a structure that encourages health and balance and self-knowledge. You read this blog, you know me. I love regional food specialties and a good cocktail or pastry, but I also know to keep it more in proportion. I also know: no more excuses. If I can meet this goal while I work full time and go to university, what else can I accomplish? How about that lifetime goal of being a writer?