I was in The Class. Yes, The Class, an iconic New York City workout based out of Tribeca.
Oh, the class. Imagine you’re in a beautiful loft-style space, teeming with pale pink crystals, reeking of palo santo incense (at least that’s what I think that chic hippy smell is), with a softly-lit bathroom chock-full of Chanel beauty products. Now imagine that space swarming with girls with delicate tattoos who wear white leggings and leave their waist-length wavy hair DOWN, FREE and LOOSE during aerobic workouts. Now imagine those girls with that hair and those leggings in that space screaming, weeping, sweating, and praying as they burpee their way through a seven-minute Sia remix. Imagine them at the end of the class, with knees that effortlessly kiss the floor as they sit cross-legged, wildly flapping their arms back and forth as they “clear their hearts” and have (multiple) emotional orgasms.
It’s one of those experiences you can only have in New York or LA — it would be too feelings-dense for the cold Europeans and too esoteric for the Americans who live in normal cities that aren’t overflowing with freaks. And by freaks, I mean actors, artists, rich kids who can afford wellness gurus, and media girls who can’t afford wellness gurus but have interviewed them enough times to be fully intoxicated by the woo-woo kool-aide. (I relate to the latter).
I love The Class. I really, truly do. I love the bougie-ness, I love the teachers who all seem to exude sexy lesbian energy even though most of them are straight (my fellow dyke-in-crime, Dayna Troisi and I have Instagram stalked ’em all), I love the crying, I love the screaming. I love the brutal burn of incessant burpees, even if I throw up mid-class from time to time. Whatever. At least I’m vomiting in a bathroom full of Chanel.
But, babe. I fucking struggle with the girls. The thought of wearing white leggings sends me into cardiac arrest. In fact, I’d rather take a bubble bath with Jared and Ivanka Trump than wear white leggings. Also, there is nothing that strikes the fear of God into me more than working out with my brillo-pad hair down. One time my hair elastic snapped in a spin class and it was a traumatic experience for everyone involved.
It’s just that the girls in The Class tend to be so perfect. But not in a barre class basic-bitch way. I can handle basic-bitches, for I have no desire to be one of them and feel superior and smug in their khaki-colored presence. I mean perfect in an “I’m-in-amazing-shape-but-still- -have-really-cool-taste-in-music-and-am-connected-to-my-feelings” kind of way.
Which pisses me off.
You don’t get to be super fit and be interesting. We all know that.
Except some girls do. And they all flock to The Class in stylish, glowy-skinned droves. And I spiral.
One particular day the negative self-talk was especially toxic. I like to call my negative self-talk voice, Tiffany. And Tiffany began to abuse me within the first five minutes of class.
You don’t belong here with all of these beautiful women. She sneered lighting up a cigarette in her Juicy Couture sweatsuit. You’ll never have an ass like that no matter how many squats you do, so why even try, slut?
She exhaled smoke out of her nostrils, a “french exhale” to borrow a term from my teen years in the early aughts. Why are you screaming and crying? We all know you don’t have feelings. You’ve been numb for a decade because of all the antidepressants you’ve popped, bitch. Do you think these girls have ever popped Prozac? I doubt it.
Tiffany stamped her cigarette out with her dusty pink Ugg boot and snickered. I shuddered at the sight of her Uggs. It hit too close to home. No matter how hard I try, I always end up buying pink Uggs. Which is why I’ll always be déclassé. Tristate trash.
We both stared at the girl in front of me. She had a tiny, round ass reminiscent of a ballerina. I always fantasized about being a ballerina as a kid. I royally sucked at it. (My mother has recently confessed that she used to hide in the window and chuckle as she watched me stomp around the room with two left feet. A frizzy, uncoordinated Jewish girl in a sea of graceful blue-eyed WASPs.)
I began to create a dramatic narration as to what the girl with the perfect ballerina body’s life was like. I envisioned a perfectly organized apartment. Color-coordinated books, all pastel, like they have at The Wing. I imagined her emerging from her apartment with wet hair, something I’ve never been able to do. I reflected on my messy life. My messy apartment. The ratty pieces of clip-in weave strewn on the bathroom floor after a drunken night out.
Right as I was about to spiral down the rabbit hole of acute body shame, the teacher bellowed “DON’T GIVE YOUR POWER AWAY BY LOOKING AT SOMEBODY ELSE.”
Time stood still. Nasty Tiffany skittered away. It was like someone took a broom and wiped away all the dirt and dust scattered across my brain. I felt clean. I had…clarity.
Don’t give your power away by looking at someone else.
I began to think about all the times my self-confidence has been knocked out of the boxing ring. It’s always when I look at someone else. In oh-so-many aspects of my life.
I feel completely unworthy as a writer when I nosedive into a k-hole of social media stalking other writers. Even though I’ve been around the block enough times to intellectually understand that social media is a fucking “highlight reel” — it can still twist its shiny, gorgeously filtered knife right through my heart. I’ll be so weak I won’t be able to think in complete sentences, let alone write one.
When I stare at girls with bodies that perfectly mirror the “media ideal” — I’ll suddenly feel so wildly unsexy, I won’t want to have sex. And I love sex! Like I love writing!
When I look at the girl in front of me in The Class — the girl who’s thighs don’t quiver or jiggle as she happily bounces around in white leggings — I want to disappear. And at my core, I’m a performer. It’s not in my nature to want to hide in the wings, watching another girl sparkle on stage.
But looking at other people dulls down the vibrant girl I am at my core. Comparing myself to someone who isn’t me, strips me of my power. It makes me suddenly question my gifts and doubt the path I’m on in life.
Have you ever been in a dance class and for whatever reason, you start to mimic the movements of the girl in front of you, even though you’ve done the routine a million times? But suddenly you’re flustered and nervous sweating and can’t find the beat? It’s solely because you’re trying to mirror someone else’s movements. Instead of moving in your own way. With your style. With that unique swag that makes you fucking shine, internally and externally. You’ve become self-conscious. You’ll start to feel jealous.
And nothing — nothing — will suck the wind out of your sails like jealousy. And then the post jealousy shame usually kicks in. And shame shackles you. Think about it. It’s the reason why shame is used as an effective (albeit inhumane) tactic in oppressive cultures and religions to keep people from coming out of the closet, to stop people from chasing after their dreams, to silence their voices, and prevent them from living the lives they truly want to live. But the silver lining in this instance is when we choose to compare ourselves to others, we’re only shaming ourselves. Which means we have the power to undo the harm we’ve bestowed upon our souls. Remember: We are the bouncers of the nightclubs that are our minds. So we can tell shame and jealousy that they aren’t sexy enough to come inside our glittery space.
And that road to empowerment starts with shifting the gaze toward ourselves. Staying in our very own custom-designed lanes. Focusing on our dreams, and desires, and styles, and bodies, and voices — in lieu of hers. And I’ve finally figured out that the times in my life when I’ve felt the most authentically happy, is when I’m the most myself.
Assholes might say focusing on yourself is narcissistic, but assholes are like those oppressive people I was talking about earlier. The kind of people who use shame as a tactic to imprison us.
And truthfully? I think that focusing on our own personal journeys in life will only make us better people, better lovers, better employees. (Also, like, let’s stop listening to assholes. You’re not only the bouncer in the nightclub of your mind, but you’re the bouncer of who you let enter your social-circle).
So yeah. This great epiphany happened in The Class right before the world shut down due to a global fucking pandemic. Isn’t it funny that sometimes all it takes to shift your perspective is a single antidote from an energized fitness instructor in a 75-minute workout class in lower-manhattan? Sometimes it takes climbing a goddamn mountain and a decade of therapy to put shit in perspective. Sometimes it doesn’t.
I’m grateful for both paths to epiphany.
(JK I like the easier route).