Celebs take note: THIS is how you give someone a makeover! (Click through to see the video)
Tracy Anderson, celebrity trainer of the “women should never lift more than three pounds” fame, wants to add Lena Dunham to her celeb roster that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez and Madonna. In case you don’t live and breathe pop culture, Dunham is the star of the massively popular show Girls* on HBO where her character has a signature “real woman” shape that defies the standard Hollywood template of what a “star” should look like. Indeed, one of the main controversies the show garnered last season was about whether or not the “dumpy” Dunham could really have bedded a hot guy, as her character did on the show – as if a woman who isn’t Pilates-perfect could actually be desirable to anyone, much less a certified Hottie.
Anyhow, Anderson coming to the rescue, enthused about her love of the show before saying that she knew she could “transform” Dunham, if only she would let her! She adds that she sends her trainers to the set but no luck. Whether it’s because her character requires her to maintain that body type or because she really is happy with herself where she is (and I SO hope it’s the latter), Dunham’s just not interested in being transformed into Anderson’s “teeny tiny” version of perfection.
As I read this “news” story last week, I got all rage-y. Dunham is one of the most successful actresses on TV right now – How dare Anderson try to body shame her? Who says she is in need of a transformation?? Here’s your newsflash: Women without perfectly beautiful bodies can lead wonderfully beautiful lives. Thin does not equal happy. Thin does not equal successful. Thin does not equal worthy of love, smart, strong or kind. And I really wish people would stop trying to sell us that crap. What gives anyone the right to guilt someone into doing their idea of the perfect workout?
But as I ranted, I remembered how I did something similar just the other night. You guys. I totally pulled a Tracy Anderson. I could blame the late hour, the stress from the flooding or even the intoxicating smell of licorice (Red Vines not Twizzlers, a.k.a. ropes of wax). But in truth I was just a jerk:
Him: I just signed up to do XXX! [No, he’s not going into porn, although that might make this story more entertaining. Rather, I don’t want to detail his plan because, as will soon become obvious, I think it’s a bad one and while it would be nice to have all of you weigh in on the subject, the fact is that since it’s his choice, it’s none of my business. He also didn’t sign up for public scrutiny on my blog so as bad as I want to hash it all out, I’ll leave it at a non-porny very-popular-these-days athletic endeavor, XXX.)
Me: Oh, um, wow. [I tried for about 0.68 seconds to hold it in. You should have seen my eye twitch. Clearly he was proud of himself and just wanted the obligatory “way to go, man!” and “you’ll rock it!”. But could I do that? Nope.] Have you seen the injury rate for XXX?
Him: Well, no.
Me: It’s ridiculously high.
Him: I think I’m in pretty good shape. Plus, my buddy wants to do it as a way to lose 100+ pounds and get fit.
Me: First, being in good shape helps but it doesn’t mitigate the inherent riskiness of it. You can’t strong-man your way out of things that are deliberately designed to be dangerous, even if they’re meant to be “fun.” Second, the risk is even worse for your friend. That’s awesome he has a fitness goal and that you want to support him in it but this whole “go big or go home” mentality has got to stop. He can get wonderfully healthy without endangering himself.
Him: Lots of people do XXX. (Gah, I can’t even keep a straight face typing this! YYY? XYZ!)
Me: And lots of them get hurt doing XXX. Besides, with the type of work you do, even a small injury could really hurt you economically as well as physically. Why would you pay to do put yourself in that situation?
Him: Did you get hurt doing it?
Me: No but by the time I was done I felt more lucky than anything else. Several of the people I did it with got really injured. I’d never do it again.
Him: I already signed up.
At which point I shut up because I realized from the steely glint in his eye that I’d basically just cemented his resolve to do it and prove me wrong. I could recognize it because I see it in my kids’ eyes all the time. (“Don’t you dare put rocks in my blender to make rock soup!” “Don’t you copy Spiderman and try to hang from the ceiling!” “I told you not to take that huge bowl of cereal, there’s no way you can eat all that!” Watch. Me.) I’m a professional buzzkill.
Because I spend my life reading research studies, interviewing experts (and, also, “experts”) and generally living and breathing the science and culture of fitness, I tend to get (more than) a little know-it-all-y on the topic. It’s not a bad thing if someone asks for my opinion on, say, whether or not eating skinny people’s poop can really help them lose weight (tune in tomorrow for the surprising science answer to that one!). But when someone is just doing their thing and I jump in, unsolicited? Super annoying. In fact, it’s so annoying I even irritate myself. While I’m speaking. But like the poor bedeviled child in the Red Shoes, I just cannot stop myself. Which is kind of ironic because if I’ve learned one thing from all this it’s how much I don’t know.
Where Tracy did it under the guise of wanting to shape Leah into the perfect Hollywood starlet, I did it under the guise of wanting to save my friend from injury but both of us were offering our one-sided brand of help. And neither of us were asked for it. I’m not saying I’m totally like Anderson – she’s made her career out of body-shaming women into 3 hours of cardio a day while I’ve made my career (such as it is) trying to talk women out of doing stuff like 3 hours of cardio a day. But no matter who you are, hang around health and fitness circles long enough and you’ll eventually hear someone doing something that you think is daft and you’ll reallllly want to call them out on it. It takes a strong woman to bite her tongue. I’m not saying you should never offer advice. But you – and I, especially – should probably wait to be asked for it.
I think both situations left such a bad taste in my mouth because I can’t even count how many times I’ve had fitness gurus tell me that if I only did exactly what they say then they would “transform me” into a goddess overnight whether or not that’s even what I want. Fitness transformations are so popular that they even have their own shows like Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition and Fat. Why can’t we disconnect the idea that fitness has to lead to a certain body type to be worthwhile? This is why we have so many people who think that if they’re not losing weight then their workout isn’t working. (And I say that as a former card-carrying member of that club.) Yet there’s just something so tempting about wanting to play God and wrest people’s control of their bodies away from them. But the few times I’ve tried it, it’s gone very badly. At worst I’ve damaged our friendship, at best I’ve just given them something to rebel against: me. If you’d just listen to me… And yet nothing makes people want to listen to you less.
Has anyone ever tried to give you a fitness makeover? Have you ever tried to give someone else a fitness makeover? What happened?? What would you say to a friend who told you he/she just signed up to do something you thought unsafe – would you keep quiet or try and talk them out of it? And: Red Vines or Twizzlers??
*Speaking of unpopular opinions… I’m just going to say it: I don’t like Girls. I watched a couple of episodes but could barely get through those. Maybe this is just me being An Old but I couldn’t relate to their lives at all. They all seem so whiny and selfish and un-self-aware. I know that’s a stretch coming from me but nothing about that show represents anything I’ve experienced in my life. My 20’s were pretty much the exact opposite of that. And I don’t see any of my friends in the Girls either. I found myself wanting to scream at the TV just GROW UP already!! So instead I put on my wrinkle cream and went to bed early, like the geezer I am. P.S. I had the same problem with Sex and the City. It was popular for a while to take the “which SATC character are you” quizzes and I always wanted to circle NONE OF THE ABOVE, SO HELP ME. Or I’d just sigh and say Charlotte because, you know, we have the same name and we’re both brunettes.