Hello. My name is Leslie and I’m a health club slut.
All together now: HI, LESLIE!
I have, at one time or another, been a member of every single health club within the Boston city limits, ranging from the grungy basement Nautilus gym that eventually flooded and got shut down by the Health Department to the swanky “urban country club” that I now belong to which costs me $200 a month (not counting the personal training, hair salon, and cocktail bar charges that somehow magically appear on my statement every month), and which I totally can’t afford but go to anyway. In between, I have belonged to the Big Chain Fitness Center, the Downstairs-From-My-Office Fitness Center, the Touchy-Feely Wellness Fitness Center, the Hip and Trendy Private Fitness Center, and, of course, the All-Female Fitness Center, which was what soured me forever on the idea of the women-only health club.
And that is why I was so dismayed to learn that Boston has at last fallen victim to the latest fitness scam sweeping the nation. It’s called Curves, and it’s a chain of strip-mall fitness centers that caters exclusively to women.
This is such a bad idea I don’t even know where to start.
In the first place, I know all about strip mall fitness centers for women. The very first “health club” I ever joined - back when I was still in high school - was the local Gloria Stevens Exercise Salon. Gloria Stevens virtually invented the strip-mall fitness center. I don’t think you ever actually exercised at this place. You’d just show up, and they’d hook you up to a machine with this big black vibrating belt that was supposed to jiggle your fat away. I swear to God, they told us that that was exercising. No wonder I flunked gym senior year.
Plus, I think the whole idea of marketing a fitness center to women exclusively is not only hypocritical and exploitive, but it sends the whole concept of equal rights back to the dark ages.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for encouraging women of all shapes and ages to exercise, and I think it’s particularly good to stress the health benefits of doing so, as opposed to the appearance benefits. But in my opinion, these types of places do more harm than good.
The rationale for the women-only fitness center is supposedly that women need their own space because they are “uncomfortable” working out around men. Supposedly, the men “ogle” the women in the gym, they hog all the equipment, and they don’t provide the nurturing support and acceptance that only women can provide for one another.
Boo fucking Hoo.
The people who are pushing this last bit of drivel have obviously never visited a certain Unnamed Fitness Center in the Back Bay that made a name for itself by marketing exclusively to women.
This was my seventh or eighth health club. I joined because it was all shiny and new, and there’s nothing like a shiny new health club to inspire you to make all kinds of fitness resolutions that are just itching to be broken.
Anyway, I really liked the club itself. The setting was lovely - you could run on the treadmill while watching the sun come up over Copley Square, quite an inspiring way to start one’s day - plus the location was ideal. It was halfway between my apartment and my office, so I found it easy to stop by there and get in a quick workout before heading to work in the mornings.
It would have been perfect, except for one thing.
They swarmed to the club from all corners of the city, bustling into the locker room with their Donna Karan gym bags and privileged air of self-importance. Yeah, yeah, the gang was all there - the Beacon Hill Uber Mommies with their cell phones and yoga mats; the Back Bay Alpha Bitches with the Palm Pilots and DKNY Spinning shorts; and the Waterfront Trophy Wives with the acrylic nails and leopard print thong leotards. All raving about the club, the instructors, and how “wonderful” the friendly and supportive environment was.
“Supportive and friendly” my overexercised ass.
Friendly? From the shrill hysteria of the members clawing at one another to get the locker closest to the shower to the day I got knocked on my ass “accidentally” by someone who had already lambasted me for taking “her” usual spot in step class, there was so much raging estrogen flying around that place it was like having your period every day.
Oh, and supportive? Sure, if you consider speculating on who’s had the latest boob job and sneering at a neighbor’s excess post-baby weight supportive, then, yeah, it was a regular 12-step rally for the cause of the Sisterhood, all right.
My Unnamed Fitness Center for Women caused a sensation in the late 90’s when a man tried to join and they turned him down. He took them to court. All of a sudden, a club that had marketed itself directly to women’s anxiety and self-loathing became a champion of feminist empowerment. Petitions were drawn up, rallies were held, speeches were written. I couldn’t even sign up for an aerobics class without being cornered by yet another perky staff member flapping the latest legislative brief in my face.
The campaign took on an almost surreal level of absurdity when I got to the club one morning and had to fight my way through a tangle of cables and cameramen to get to the front desk. Upon arrival, I was confronted with the following sign:
"Due to the unprecedented interest that our fight to protect your privacy has generated, it has become necessary for us to open our doors to the news media. While we will make every effort to inform you in advance if any male members of the media will be on site, we cannot guarantee this. We hope you will understand."
And, with that, the high-minded ideal of feminine dignity was flung out the double-length windows onto the teeming city street below. Suddenly, women who had heretofore been too shy and dainty to be seen working out in front of men were parading around on camera in the skimpiest of leotards, even helpfully demonstrating to a 20/20 camera crew the very poses they had been too intimidated to perform in front of men in the weight room.
I quit the Unnamed All Female Fitness Center shortly thereafter. When they dragged me into the manager’s office to try to give me the “please stay” pep talk, I laughed at them and told them I couldn’t wait to join a co-ed gym. They let me go without any further struggle, even refunding a portion of my initiation fee. Anything to get me out before I talked to a reporter.
The way I see it is this: we’re not doing the cause of women’s rights any favors by scurrying off and hiding ourselves just because we’re afraid some man is going to look at us. I hope they do look, and I hope they look hard. Because, if they do, they will see that the world does not consist solely of silicone-enhanced supermodels who dress and comport themselves to provide a little tasty eye candy for some middle aged musclehead in gold chains and tank top. But if you yield the floor to the muscleheads and supermodels, you are admitting that you don’t belong there - and making it that much more difficult for those of us who remain.
Sure, if you go to the gym to hook up with someone, you’re going to be judged accordingly. So, hey, if that floats your boat then go for it. Slip into that thong and strut around to your heart’s content. Just don’t come crying to me about what a superficial meat market your health club has become the first time someone looks at you cross eyed.
But honestly? If you’re there to work out seriously, then for Christ’s sake, throw on your baggiest t shirt and shorts, hop on that treadmill, and have at it. No one cares. No one is looking.
I’ve been completely monogamous, health-club wise, for the last two years. And yes, it is co-ed, and, no, I don’t have a problem with that. I do, however, have a bigger problem.
The Unnamed All-Female Fitness Center has filled to capacity and closed its membership list. You know what that means. They’re coming my way.
But this time I’ve got a permanent locker and my very own spot staked out in the aerobics room.
I’m ready for them.