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The Workout That Turned Me From A Couch Potato Into A Fitness Believer

Beauty

Boot Camp: Barre3

Over the summer, when we decided NYLON's (not generally super-athletic) digital staff members would test out high-octane cult workout classes for a series called Boot Camp, I didn't intend to participate in my chosen activity for more than a month. I've never been able to incorporate exercise into my busy adult life. I barely have time to sleep enough. But I had recently found myself a few inches squishier than usual thanks to a happy new relationship and the revelation that the impending end of my 20s means cheeseburgers have tangible consequences. As such, I figured a month-long commitment to movement might do me some good. I arbitrarily chose to test out Barre3, knowing literally nothing about it. 

Six months later and I'm still going three to five times a week. But let me start from the beginning. 
 
Barre3, as it turns out, is a combination of yoga, pilates, and ballet, none of which I've ever really done, because why would I do any of those hard, horrible things when I could just... not? Attitude aside, I entered the Barre3 studio in the West Village of Manhattan nervous but with an open mind. I was greeted warmly at the front desk, and after revealing that I was a first-timer, an enthusiastic instructor explained the idea of modifications: Through the class, she'd be offering different ways to do the moves, so that if something felt bad, I could figure out how to make it work for my body. 
 
The small studio itself is mostly windows and mirrors, full of late-afternoon light and gazelle-like attendees in Lululemon. I grabbed one pound weights (I'm not crazy!), a ball, and a stretchy band, and went to the furthest corner where I'd hoped to be invisible. (Actually, it's hard to hide in a room full of mirrors, but.) The hour-long class, I'd eventually learn, is different every time, as the founder of Barre3, Sadie Lincoln, works with physical therapists, a chiropractor, dancers, and yogis to improve it. It begins with some deep breathing and then moves into a warm-up. My first class, the warm-up was "toe taps," which involves squatting, standing, leaning to the side and then extending one leg out, tapping your toe, coming back through center and squatting, and then alternating legs, all to a beat. This—supposedly the easiest part of the class, during which you're just trying to get your heart pumping—was my first challenge. I don't even know what I did. 
 
After a warm-up combination of toe taps, sumo squats, and arm movements, the structure of a Barre3 class takes you through each major part of your body—legs, arms, butt, and core. The idea is to isolate each muscle group through very small motions, followed by large-range motions. The movements themselves aren't too complicated, though through modifications you can layer up to get as complex as you feel up for. Those small motions are where the Barre3 "magic" happens: Squatting while on your toes, arms up in the air, you pulse up and down forever while your whole body shakes and an instructor rhythmically urges, "Down an inch, up an inch. Down an inch, up an inch. Smaller! Tinier! Smaller!" It is incredibly difficult, and very painful, but doesn't last very long, and before you know it, you're doing long-range motions which feel weirdly relieving, and suddenly you're on to the next body part. The ballet barre is there for balance; very few of the moves require it, but it's definitely helpful when you're on your toes, getting low to the ground, throwing your weight in a direction it's never gone before. 
 
It took me about two weeks before I could even get deep enough into the positions to start to work out effectively. But then, a weird thing started to happen: I'd have to focus so hard on what I was doing, in order to do it correctly (and also not fall over—a lot of Barre3 happens while balancing), that 20, 30 minutes would go by and I hadn't looked at the clock, or thought about work, or ruminated about something I said five years before. As an anxious and creative person, I'm used to my mind spiraling in every different direction at once. But as the weeks went by and I got more and more into the workout, it became the only hour of my day during which my thoughts quieted. An ongoing to-do list was replaced by "Down an inch, up an inch." As my muscles shook and burned, I found the first true calm I'd felt in years. 
 
Mind aside, the results on my body were astounding, pretty quickly. An interesting thing about Barre3 is that even when you get the hang of it, it never gets easier: In fact, the stronger I felt, the more I shook. The more confident I felt during class, the more my legs felt like Jell-o as I tried to walk down the single flight of stairs to leave the studio. After a couple of months, if I didn't feel super sore the day after a class, I'd feel guilty, like I didn't give it my all. And while planks stayed hard as hell, I switched my thinking to "I can't fucking do this" to "there's only a minute left," and suddenly was able to get through each set without giving up. Meanwhile, my pants started to fit again. I eventually graduated to two- and then three-pound weights. Arm muscles appeared, the shadow of abs started to form, the backs of my thighs smoothed out, and parts of my body that I hadn't even noticed had thickened—my lower back, for example—turned lean. My butt morphed into a, how do you say, booty. I also became more aware of how what I ate and how much I slept was impacting my body and my mind: There's nothing like trying to do an hour of tiny squats after a night of drinking. 
 
Several months in and I was totally hooked. I tried a few other kinds of ballet barre classes so that I could have something to compare it to, but nothing was as good: No other studio I tried encouraged me to listen to my body or spent as much time on each muscle group. 
 
Eager to get to the bottom of why Barre3 is just so effective, I got Lincoln on the phone. "I think we've been trained to be pain junkies," she says, of the no pain, no gain culture of other cult workout classes. "We've been brainwashed to think pain equals success. What we found is that pain actually sabotages results. When you work your body to that much strain, stress happens, and it's not good. It doesn't help you metabolize fat well, and it prevents you from using your body in an optimal way." Barre3, she explains, is the opposite: Founded because of her own disenchantment with fitness, she and her husband sought to design a workout that was all about balance, not pain.

And, apparently, my initial experience of not even being able to get deep enough into the positions to complete the moves is not unique. "A lot of times people come to Barre3 and won't ever come back because they thought it was easy," Lincoln says. By the third class, if they stick with it, she says, they usually figure it out. And as for the fact that it's never gotten easier, even though I'm getting stronger? Yeah, that's a thing, too: "I think with Barre3, what we've built into this, is truly a practice, similar to yoga, where there are thousands of opportunities to go deep into the body. So much of it is about the mental part of it and being focused. The more focused you become and the more open you become in your body, the more challenged you become."

Lincoln doesn't claim that Barre3 is a be-all, end-all workout. In fact, she refreshingly expresses skepticism that any fitness routine can be. She says, "Exercise is a catalyst, it's a place to practice and learn about yourself, so you do everything else better." And she's right. Things I've done better since becoming addicted to Barre3 include but aren't limited to: sleeping, eating, thinking, relaxing, feeling good about my body, running up and down subway stairs, standing up straight, and—most importantly—feeling like there's an actual connection between my mind and my body that I want to control, nurture, and improve every day. It's a little woo-woo for the results of something that was supposed to be akin to "boot camp," but hey: If just moving up and down an inch for an hour a few times a week is enough to change my entire outlook on life, consider this former fitness skeptic converted. 

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.