thoughts you have about beauty and aging in the locker room of an UWS gym

hiiiiii everybody!

Happy fall (lol it was 90º this week) to everyone, but most importantly to the inventor of the season itself, Nora Ephron. If you find yourself on the Upper West Side one crisp day these next few months — particularly if the leaves have begun to change and there are pumpkins sitting alongside bodega flowers that you may or may not happen to buy and you are drinking a piping hot coffee (a normal kind, not pumpkin spice caramel apple pie diabetes explosion with a hint of coffee somewhere in there) — a reminder that you are legally required to play “Dreams” by The Cranberries at least once. I’m so sorry, I don’t make the rules and I don’t usually trust cops but I will have no choice but to snitch in this situation!!!

Anyway! Below are some words about growing old and my fleeting youth, which I am honestly never not thinking about but am absolutely thinking about more thanks to the changing season reminding us all about, uh, death. Cool! Enjoy!!!

okay thanks sorry love u bye,


thoughts you have about beauty and aging in the locker room of an UWS gym

The Upper West Side gym I go to on weekends’ clientele swings mostly towards the 60+ age demographic. Maybe sprinkle a few middle aged parents in there — the ones squeezing in their one (1) hour of fitness for the week after they’ve dropped their kids in the babysitting room, the ones who, like me, can afford something a few levels above Planet Fitness with group classes and new equipment but definitely aren’t bougie enough for Equinox —  to lower the median age a little, but more often than not, I am wildly out of place. I kind of like it like this. 

In the locker room after class I doddle, taking my time getting dressed, listening in as the older women chitchat among themselves and wondering how long they’ve been friendly and how many life phases and body changes they have seen each other through. They know the names of each other’s husbands (or, quite often, ex-husbands) and they gossip about their shitty grown children and the not-so-great work their mutual friends have had done and their mutual friends’ shitty grown children (Sharon’s son Lincoln hasn’t brought his girlfriend home once in the two years they’ve been dating and at least three women are convinced that it isn’t just because she can’t get time off work) and what movies they’re going to see later that Saturday (many of them loved Green Book and found “Viggo Morten and Mahalo Ali” to be “just charming”, thank you). They call each other sweetheart and beautiful in gratuitous measure: “Hi, sweetheart!” “How are you beautiful?!” they exclaim when another walks in.

I usually keep quiet; once, last year, the one other 20-something in the room piped into a conversation about the recent Women’s March to say that she believed “men and women are very different, actually. I just don’t understand this obsession with gender equality.” I sat in my towel and watched one of them lecture her about the wage gap, gendered violence, global gender poverty, and more for 10 minutes and silently screamed, in awe of such calm yet savage power. 

I always avert my eyes, though I still can’t help but see glimpses of whisper thin sun-spotted skin, skin that sags and hangs limply on even the thinnest and fittest of them, the kind of skin that can be camouflaged behind beautifully tailored clothing that makes them seem every bit the chic and smart women I know them to be but reveals itself in these intimate spaces. It’s hard not to notice it. I think about how much I pick myself apart now, how I exist in a body I have hated with varying degrees of intensity since I was 14, and feel guilty about my comparative youth and wonder how I will feel about it when I’m their age. Maybe I’ll grow tired of feeling badly about the way I look, the way I think many of them have, the way they unabashedly strip naked in the middle of the room, walk around in their underwear and nothing else, stand in the mirror to blow dry their hair while topless, as I huddle shyly in the corner and wrap a towel around me as I peel off my sports bra. Or maybe I’ll just find more things to loathe about it.

I always thought I couldn’t wait to look as old as I often think myself to be on the inside. I often wonder if, once I get to that age where I have lost my muscle mass, I’ll become all skin and bones, reedlike the way I used to be but without as much effort, and have a body that looks as fragile as I sometimes feel. I long for the day to come when I have a mature, wizened air about me, all hollow cheeks and crows feet and a line beveled into my flesh where I furrow my left eyebrow when I’m focusing, a look that definitively states that I have earned my right to be taken seriously. I keep waiting for all the lives I have not yet lived, and perhaps never will, to etch their way across my face. I always thought maybe I’d be beautiful, or something close to it, when I got older. Older women are always more beautiful. Young women are just cute.

At least, that’s how I feel now, a rough approximation of cute — on my best days — but realistically often erring closer to a strange child playing dress up. Anytime I put on lipstick brighter or darker than a virginal pink, I feel like those poor babies you see in viral videos their parents post on Facebook — those which they cannot yet consent to and will perhaps begrudge years from now — the ones scribbling magic marker across their faces before flashing big gummy smiles and exclaiming “I’m big!” This face — all baby fat cheeks and random errant patches of acne and Kewpie doll eyes — is either my biggest asset or greatest liability, depending who you ask; it’s the thing I resent and revel in at the same time. With this face, I can hold onto my inexplicable desire to be seen as a scrappy wunderkind a little longer, past its expiration date, past the time I have to resign myself to being just an ordinary, subpar grownup and not a gifted teen. With this face, I can get away with stupid, perhaps irresponsible, playful shit like buying a skateboard or Razor scooter (both of which spend more time in my hallway than in use) or throw out slang words and phrases in gratuitous measure or go out and get a little too drunk with friends and laugh a little too loudly on the subway home. Sure. With this face, I can delay real adulthood a little longer, but at what cost? For every moment I feel like the smartest and youngest in the room, there are times I feel like I’m just a teenager whose summer internship has ended, whose head adults no longer feel required to pat and smile at and say “good job,” but rather, the kid they’d just like to go home. 

“When I was in my 20s, I refused to go above 14th Street. Now that I’m an old lady, I refuse to go below 42nd Street,” Lynn, one of the locker room ladies once told me as she reflected on what the city was like when she was my age, beginning the kind of story I don’t think I will ever be able to resist greedily gobbling up like candy. Her voice still held onto a lilt of Southern belle charm, a reminder that despite the many years she has been a New Yorker, she didn’t come from here; she was once a something else. Lynn is thin and bony and birdlike, barely making up the same five feet and two inches as me, with a choppy jet black bob she almost certainly dyes that somehow looks freshly blown out and skin that always sports that post-workout glow pretty women get (I am not one of those women; I look like a drowned 12 year old boy after I exercise) even when she’s just walking in. Later, she called me baby faced and told me that would serve me years from now when I am her age, along with her potent, not-so-secret regimen of “lots of water, exercise, no taking the subway, and a good plastic surgeon.”

I watch Lynn and her friends, whose names I don’t all know although their faces have become warmly familiar, each week with delighted curiosity. The world favors the young, this city especially so; you can’t help but be reminded of it every time you see a hunched, grey-haired woman slowly shuffling her folding shopping cart down the street or a crinkley man cautiously ascending the subway stairs one by one. These women seem happy. They seem sure of themselves. They seem, at least, to be doing the best they can, and okay with that.

It’s then that I feel guilty, suddenly acutely aware of the glaring fact of my young age and all the ways it sets me apart from them on a deeper level than just hollow cheeked looks. I’m suddenly cautious of the way my body still bends and twists itself the way it always has, for the most part, which is to say it’s more effortlessly agile than any of theirs. I have the good fortune, at 28, of not quite yet knowing what it’s like to not have this much stamina. Some days I wonder if the reason why I’m tired is because I haven’t slept enough or had enough water or because I worked out too hard, or if it’s just that I’m getting to the point where tired is my baseline. Most of the time, I have a reason. But still, I wonder if aging is one of those things that happens all at once, that one day you wake up and can no longer touch your toes or run a mile without your lungs straining against your ribcage, or if it’s a gradual sort of thing, so incremental over time that you’ve been adapting to each minute change unknowingly, deceived into thinking you’re fine until one day you’re just not. 

I could ask one of them, but I think I should probably just wait and find out for myself, just like everybody else.

Idk? I’ve been listening to mostly The Hours soundtrack this week because it’s truly the best music to write to (thank u Philip Glass) and Norman Fucking Rockwell! (still) so, uh, maybe smash the reply button and give me some recos for a change. 

The Grand Dames of Succession Are Powerful—And All Over 60 - Samantha Leach
Look, I could go on forever about my deep, aggressive, obsessive love for Succession here, but I’ll save you several hours of me waxing about it. Short story: so many things about this show are perfect and stannable, down to the radical depiction of women — older women! (only 3 percent of women on TV last year were over 60; on Succession they’re like 40 percent of the cast) — in power. Cyd Peach hive…. Rise up. Gerri stans? You know there’s something for you here. And I’m sorry but I have no choice but to believe Succession and Broadcast News exist in the same universe and that Holly Hunter’s scary brilliant Rhea Jarrell is really just the wholesome brilliant Jane Craig after she got over the two bozo men whose careers she had been doing on top of her own and became sufficiently jaded enough by the changing media landscape to go full bad media bitch. Thank you for coming to my deranged Ted Talk.

Look, if you haven’t already, then I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help you. If you have, this is to say please go see it again. I have already watched this two hour long portrait of mid-2000s female antihero strippers told via a non-pervy female gaze so powerful it makes me feel powerful twice and I will absolutely be seeing it again. Alexa, play “Criminal” by Fiona Apple!!!

friendly reminder that if you missed any previous emails, you can read the archive here.

okay that's it that's the end thanks bye