Body Health, Essay, Mental Health


In my first-ever gym class of high school, we underwent a fitness diagnostic. Our gym teacher required the students to perform as many chin-ups as they could. If they were not able to do a chin-up, he offered, they could simply hang from the bars.

The oddness of those two choices – to either perform an act or engage in something that arguably proves nothing except the presence of fingers – was further underscored by the vast breadth of physical prowess. If you had hit puberty by then, you could do chin-ups. If you hadn’t, you hung like a limp flag or, more realistically, the trussed and plucked chicken hanging in a meat shop. Since I’m barely hitting puberty at 22, it’s an easy guess to figure out which camp I fell into.

That did not stop me from pathetically attempting a chin-up. I didn’t realize that it’s nearly impossible to do a chin-up from fully-extended arms, so I tucked my knees underneath me and tried to pull myself up from ramrod-straight arms. After several tense, physically agonizing moments, I let myself hang quietly before dropping back down to the floor.

And I remember, in the seconds that I hung from the bar, thinking how completely pointless this exercise was. Gym class proceeded much in the same way; after freshman year, I just opted to do homework with a clutter of the other unathletic boys while the fitter ones fucked around with dodgeball, or whatever. By senior year, I was skipping out of gym entirely – using my senior privilege and status a runner to avoid it. But, to be honest, having a gym class once every six days wasn’t doing me, or anyone, any favors.

So for most of my life, the chin-up, and any desire to do it, eluded me. When I started working out in college, I hopped in and out of the chin-up phase. Once I realized that clinging to the bars and literally leaping up into a chin-up position didn’t technically count, I swapped to the assisted pull-up machine and avoided it whenever I could.

The assisted pull-up machine requires you to put your knees on a pad and subtract weight from your total mass. So if you’re 160 pounds, and you subtracted fifty pounds, you were doing the chin-ups with a body weight of 110 pounds. I was subtracting so much weight that I was actually flinging myself upwards with every pull and reaching an exosphere orbit.

I would eye the people who could do a pull-up or chin-up unassisted with hot glowering envy. It seemed literally impossible, and then I saw people actually adding weights to their own self and doing repetitions with that. That was as unbelievable to me as those stories of mothers lifting up cars to save their loved ones – actually more unbelievable. I began to measure my prowess in terms of how many unassisted repetitions I could do – one was bad, two was better, three was ideal.

But as I worked out more, I began to reacquaint myself with the pull-up machine. As I lost weight and gained muscle, the notches of the weight began to shift lighter and lighter. Eventually, I was doing ten to twenty pounds of assistance, for a weight of roughly 185.

And then, a few weeks ago, I decided to leave the pad entirely. Straining, I pulled myself up – my elbows narrowing into neat acute angles – and down. When I completed sixteen chin-ups, four repetitions in four sets, I fell into a crouch and felt my heart pump blood headily into the aching muscles. But I kept doing it. every day, at the beginning of my workout, I did sixteen chin-ups – always in four sets of four – before moving onto the rest of my workout. I found that the less I focused on what I was about to do, the better I performed. If I hesitated, arms extended upward but feet still on the ground, I could barely get myself into the air.

I began to change it up – I added another set of pull-ups to the routine. Eventually, I switched to sixteen pull-ups (working the back muscles, shoulder muscles and the latissimus dorsi muscles). I tacked on a set of chin-ups, and on arms days, I would do sixteen of each.

I’ve noticed more muscle changes in the few weeks that I’ve started doing unassisted pull-ups. My shoulders are squarer, my collarbones swoop with the graceful lean of ship’s bows, and my biceps are bigger. In the shower, I catch glimpses of back muscles rippling in ways that they didn’t before. I’m obsessed with my shoulder blades, their hookedness like two eagle beaks.

Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I have a complex relationship with my body. And I’ve often leaned on the gym in unhealthy ways, eviscerating myself on days when I had to skip, or punishing myself for days that I didn’t push myself as far as I could’ve. In my most depressed, the gym becomes more of an outlet and a crutch. Before, when I looked my best, it’s often because I was feeling my worst. At a particular low point in college, mental health-wise, I would escape to the gym for hours every day, later pinching the fat on my hips as it melted away. I obsess over my body’s aesthetic, how this looks and how this lays.

I’ve always carried that anxiety when going to the gym; that I could backslide and become obsessive again. I still have lingering habits, a twinge of despair when I weigh myself, or a slight internal battle about how much cardio to do. I take my backslides softly, and slowly, and I’m trying to treat myself gently. It doesn’t always work, maybe not even half of the time, but I try.

Doing these pull-ups aren’t about how they will make my body look. It is a physical challenge, a test of my own strength – something that doesn’t come from aesthetics alone.

But this feels different for me.

When I’m doing pull-ups, I revel in the strength as I lift upwards. I imagine all of the scenarios where I can pull myself up. Action movie scenes, where the ground falls away beneath me and I have to swing myself up from the lip of a cliff. Deep dark holes that I’m trapped in. American Ninja Warrior monkey bars. I revel in getting stronger, and it feels wholly unconnected to aesthetics or attractiveness. In every muscle micro-tear, I steel myself with strength. I feel myself getting stronger, and I nourish it like a seedling. I picture myself as a warrior, each line of muscle meaning that I am more capable, more sturdy, more indomitable.

It isn’t about how I look – it’s about how I feel.

And damn, sis, I feel good.

Body Health, Things Happening RN


I feel like I’m constantly shaking things. Shaking a leaky red water bottle wrapped in paper towel like maracas to blend a protein shake (chocolate). Shaking a full carton of orange juice after taking the plastic tab—something that fills me with a nameless childhood anxiety—out of the spout. A plastic tub of unsalted cashews into my palm and popping them in my mouth as I look at myself in the mirror before class.

Side bar—Theory: hipsters couldn’t exist before blenders because the only way to make a green juice sans Magic Bullet is with literal magic. Mull that over with your friends the next time you’re lost for conversation.

Being on a diet seems to carry with it a lot of shaking—possibly purposefully to incur extra exercise. I take stairs two at a time more when I’m actively working out and with each stretch clench my butt. In general, when I’m on a consistent workout plan, I treat my body with more respect. I eat healthier, I drink more water. When I’m not on a consistent plan, I treat my body like the rest of the world treats Anne Hathaway—like, you know she’s important but you kind of enjoy shitting on her for no reason anyway.

In my post from the 16th (a pre-Trump presidency, what a world) “Healthy, Wealthy or Wise”, I mentioned that I was recently on a new workout plan. Now it’s 10 days later, and I’m 10 days more annoying about mentioning my workouts.

This isn’t new information, but treating your body right is hard. It’s not so much the workout-side of it all—I really enjoy (no sarcasm) having a new workout plan. As a scattered person, having something rigid to strive towards is extremely helpful. It stops me from phoning it in at the gym (although my phone-improv has everyone at the gym laughing).

The hard part comes after, when I trying to make food. On one hand, it’s relatively easy—I try not to buy unhealthy things and stick to roasting veggies and chicken. And there’s there’s not even an other hand because my “other hand” is elbow-deep in a bag of tortilla chips. So what I’m saying is that it’s hard for me to always stick to eating healthy. It’s also hard to account for all the “fun eats”—with friends, or by myself at Starbucks—to factor in.

And I know that while my body is getting very strong, my willpower is still relatively weak. So instead of adhering to a “diet” I’m doing more of a “triet” where I try to be cognizant of how many calories I’m consuming and deciding if something’s worth it. So maybe I won’t get sweetener in my coffee. Or maybe I’ll get soup with a friend rather than Panda Express—which saves my wallet, my stomach, and my butthole.

I like saying “calorie-cognizant” for two reasons. One, it reminds people that I know how to properly use the word “cognizant” and reinforces that I might be pretty, but I’m also wicked smart. But two, it doesn’t carry the shackles of “calorie-counting.” It doesn’t make me a calorie-counter. It keeps me, at least in theory, from becoming obsessive with calories. Which, if you’ve ever seen me talk about the Kardashians, you know how easily I can get obsessed. I once binged four seasons of Snooki & JWoww.

For someone with body image issues and an anxiety disorder, monitoring food can easily veer into an ugly place. Sure, I may have thoughts like, “Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to eat so all the hard work you did at the gym wouldn’t be diminished?” (it would be) or praised the time I got a stomach flu and was “so thin” (it was amazing). But I don’t have a full-fledged eating disorder, and I would very much like to keep it that way. So the cognizant part works on two levels: yes, it’s a way for me to make smarter choices. But it’s also for me to realize that I’m going to fuck up at some points, and it’s okay if I sometimes shove fistfuls of tortilla chips into my mouth at 11:43 p.m.

Yesterday I got drinks with a friend of mine at the university pub. The conversation veered in a lot of directions—jobs, family, transportation systems, boyz—but we talked about “glowing up” (is that even the right way to use that?) and us in high school versus us now.

I take a firm stance that I got hot maybe within the last two years. This is by no means me fishing for compliments—if you know me on any level, you know I’m not subtle enough to fish for compliments—but just what I see as a fact. In high school, I was a lanky, acne-ridden twink who obsessed over plucking his eyebrows. I dressed in too-tight chino pants—the buttons of which I had resewn with pink thread—too-small cardigans and crinkly neoprene-y ties. But I thought I was literally so hot. Like, I really did. And so it goes to prove that delusion is a very real factor.

Since those Dark Times™, I’ve started an exercise regimen, and left my eyebrows (for the most part) alone and also stopped buying pants that I can’t sit down in. I’ve become wise. I don’t know why I included this part, but I feel like it connects in my head to eating healthy. Because while I’d rather just burn all pictures of me from high school—along with that horrid leopard-print belt I would wear TO MY ALL-BOYS PREP SCHOOL—I would love to have the blind body confidence of that little freaky gay-boy who, at his core, was just as delusional as a Real Housewife.

I’d like to treat my body like the world treated Anne Hathway just post-Princess Diaries but pre-Princess Diaries 2 and I’d like to have the confidence of a Nene Leakes from Real Housewives of Atlanta. This is now the second post in a row where I’ve discussed Real Housewives.