How To Be Strong


Learning to be a beast

There's a point, when working in women's media, when certain words stop meaning anything. "Empowerment," "iconic," "badass," these words have all just become so much noise; they're used so often that they've become little more than verbal filler.

Another one of those words, at least for me, is "strong." This is because I've read it and heard it used over and over again in the context of health and "wellness" (another word that starts to get fuzzy if you think about it too much); often the concept of strength is just coded language, an acceptable way for people to talk about losing weight. This isn't just a problem within media, of course; the use of phrases like "clean eating" and constant chatter about "toxins" has proliferated in recent years, putting a bizarre and troubling caste of morality over the ways in which we nourish and care for our bodies. 

And yet: I found myself this spring wanting to get strong. Not, like, "strong," but actually strong. I wanted to see real muscles develop, I wanted to swing kettlebells with ease, I wanted to be able to do burpees, nonstop, for two minutes in a row. (That might not sound like a lot, but that's a lot!) And so when I was invited to take classes for a month at a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) fitness studio in Brooklyn, Beast, I signed up right away—and then immediately got scared. Why scared? Because prior to going to Beast, I hadn't worked out in a formal setting in over a year—and hadn't really worked out informally in... about as long. I didn't know if I'd be able to do one push-up, or do curls with five-pound weights; I didn't know if I was signing up for a month of torture. 

This feeling isn't uncommon. Beast owner Nik Barricelli confirmed to me that "HIIT can be intimidating to some people at first." And it's easy to see why: The very premise of HIIT revolves around pretty much nonstop action. There's cardio, weights, more cardio, more weights. There's little time to rest until the very end. And you're encouraged to push yourself to your very limit. There's no cheating in this class; you can go at your own pace, but if you're clearly slacking, you'll be encouraged to use heavier weights, go deeper in your lunges, give it your all on the Versa Climber. This encouragement makes all the difference because it not only means you can't slack, but it guarantees you're doing the exercises properly. Barricelli says that this is why a class setting is so great for someone starting to do HIIT: "Remember that you have fitness professionals available to make sure you are executing your exercises properly... If you are in a fun, safe environment with a supportive fitness culture you will get results. So work hard and have fun."

One quick scan of Beast's directory of its trainers (aka Pack Leaders), put me somewhat at ease—there was no doubt I'd be in capable, muscle-supported hands. But it was still easy to feel intimidated, to wonder if I was about to go into a setting wherein everyone would be in competition with one another, and I'd come up very short. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Upon arriving to the spacious studio for my first class, I was greeted with smiles, and the instructor, Miriam, was talking with class members about the relative merits of regular versus vegan chorizo. There was an easy camaraderie, and the class was filled with people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and body types. It felt representative of the Brooklyn streets, which was a refreshing change to fitness classes I had been too which are all filled with a familiar sea of similar looking faces and bodies. I felt instantly comfortable, and reassured.

And then the workout began. It's no coincidence that one of the "I"s in HIIT stands for intensity; other than for the briefest of moments, the class was relentless, but this only made the time fly by faster. I felt not only physically engaged, but mentally engaged as I moved from exercise to exercise, station to station, guided the whole time by Miriam, and helped by videos playing on the studio's walls, in which Beast instructors demonstrated proper form for each exercise. There was never a moment where I found my thoughts wandering, never a time when I felt like I needed to quit. Instead, I was so focused on how all the different parts of my body were moving, and so eager to push myself to another level, that I barely realized when class came to a close, and I got to lay down, drenched with sweat, humming with the kind of endorphin high that reminds you that your body is meant to be used.

The fact that I was able to lose myself so completely in my hour of exercise was Barricelli's intention with the studio. He says, "I always wanted a HIIT class where you could lose yourself in the moment and have fun with something that is very difficult." And that's exactly what happens; the difficult becomes fun, the challenge becomes something you can't wait to tackle. This was what I found over the course of the month I went regularly to Beast. I missed it on days when I was traveling; my body had started to respond to this kind of input and craved it. 

Also: I started to get strong. Muscles that I didn't know I had became visible, and I found myself, just in my regular life, running up the stairs and doing squats, flexing my arms and tightening my thighs. With this strength came a new kind of confidence about myself and what I was capable of doing. This might seem like a small thing, but in a time when it's really easy to feel unstable, when the need for political upheaval and widespread social change feels more necessary than ever before, knowing that you're working to improve the health of your body and mind is invaluable. 

There are infinite ways, probably, of learning how to be strong. And it's just as essential to promote mental strength as it is physical, and yet, for me, going to these classes was a way to rethink what strength meant, to give it a new and real meaning, to associate it with a community of other people, who were also looking for the strength within, and to find it within myself to lay a foundation to move into the future with purpose—and gradually growing muscles.

Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images

Sounds fake, but okay

In a new interview for Australian Vogue, Kendall Jenner makes the claim that being associated with the Kardashian name was a setback in her modeling career. Hmmm, that's funny, because power and influence usually works in their holder's favor.

In the interview, Jenner addresses skeptics who doubted that she would make it as a professional model. "A lot of people assumed that because I came from a 'name' that it was a lot easier for me to get to where I got, but actually it's the completely opposite," she says.

"I've always been the person to prove [critics] wrong, even when I was younger," she says. "I've always been a hard worker: that's in my blood. My parents raised me and my little sister to be that way and the rest of my sisters, too." In the profile, it's revealed that Jenner used to attend castings "simply as 'K' or 'Kendall' to distinguish herself from her famous family."

But keeping her name off her portfolio wasn't going to fool anyone, really. Her face has been on television for years, and it seems unlikely that a casting agent wouldn't know who she was even if Kendall didn't come out and say it. Perhaps Jenner was more closely examined and more readily criticized by people who doubted her, but I'm not sure I believe that she had a harder time gaining a modeling platform or booking big jobs, even if she didn't use her last name.

After all, Jenner was likely able to get into those big casting rooms right away because of her family's connections, and she was able to devote her time to pursuing that career because of the wealth they have. She would've had a much harder time making a name for herself if she didn't come from an influential family. She probably wouldn't get to be so selective about which shows she walks, and she definitely wouldn't be the highest paid model in the world.

Screenshot via Hulu

Introspection is not a bad thing

In Look Back at It, we revisit pop culture gems of the past and see if they're still relevant and worthy of their designated icon status in our now wildly different world.

"It just seems like you agree to have a certain personality or something, for no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it's even you?"

Iconic '90s show My So-Called Life is filled with existential questions and observations like this, with many, if not all of them, voiced by high school sophomore Angela Chase (Claire Danes). They're delivered with a familiarly annoyed tone, as if Angela can't believe things are the way they are, and that they're unlikely to change.

Angela lives with her parents and sister in a comfortable home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spends her time navigating the social scene of Liberty High School. She's undergoing a big change, having switched friend groups and fallen in with a cooler crew, namely Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) and Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz). Thanks to them, Angela dyed her hair from blonde to a "Crimson Glow," and is encouraged to indulge in her obsession with Jordan Catalano (a pre-Gucci Jared Leto), the kind of guy who's constantly applying Visine and has a limited chance of actively graduating.

From the first moment of the first episode, Angela's voice is pure, unadulterated teen angst. The melodrama can, when watching as an adult, feel like it's too much. And then there's other times, like when Angela talks about the agony of Sunday evenings, that it feels unnerving to relate so much to a 15-year-old:

"There's something about Sunday night that really makes you want to kill yourself, especially if you've just been totally made a fool of by the only person you'll ever love, and you have a geometry midterm on Monday, which you still haven't studied for because you can't, because Brian Krakow has your textbook, and you're too embarrassed to even deal with it. And your little sister's completely finished with her homework, which is just, like, so simple and mindless a child could do it. And that creepy 60 Minutes watch that sounds like your whole life ticking away."

Angela is nothing if not an over-thinker, preoccupied with very teenage problems like zits and gossip and who to talk to at parties; her thoughts on the most simple of relationships are extreme, like when she thinks about how she felt before she became friends with Rayanne and Rickie: "it seemed like if I didn't, I would die or something."

Sometimes, her melodrama feels suffocating—particularly when related to Jordan Catalano (it's imperative to say both his names). Angela wonders: "Huge events take place on this earth every day. Earthquakes, hurricanes... even glaciers move. So why couldn't he just look at me?"

As an adult, it's easy to think that, of course, Jordan should look at her: She's smart, witty, open-hearted, pretty, has good taste in music. But then, there's no way to make sense of how crushes work. As a sophomore in high school, I also pined after guys who I felt were out of my league, and after the only girls who were out... but who were dating each other. My thoughts probably (definitely) sounded a lot like Angela's, and I was similarly dissatisfied with my life.

At the time, that dissatisfaction felt oppressive—and I wouldn't want to relive it entirely. But that introspection was also what saved me. By questioning what was around me and interrogating how I really felt, I was able to reject the trappings of my conservative town, figure out my own politics, and accept my own queerness. My teenage dissatisfaction with the way things actually are made me grow as a person, and it shaped me into who I am. Thinking about Angela now, and how her angst fueled her, reminds me that I should also let myself indulge in some teen angst—even as an adult.

In one of the show's final episodes, Angela pauses to reflect on the value of her overthinking. She's ringing in the New Year with her friends and decides her resolution could be "to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts, because I'm like way too introspective… I think." But she decides against that idea, because "what if not thinking turns me into this really shallow person?" Same, Angela. Same.

Courtesy of HBO

Thanks, I hate it

In an interview today with The Cut, Vanderpump Rules star Stassi Schroeder blessed readers with some of her thoughts on HBO's Game of Thrones, and since we can't get enough GoT talk, we were excited to see what Schroeder had to say.

And, in case you're wondering if Schroeder is a fan of GoT, don't: She's actually such a massive fan that she refers to her fans Khaleesis, and they call her Khaleesi right back. So!

Anyway, after the wide range of responses to Daenerys' fiery mayhem in the show's penultimate episode, The Cut wanted to check in to see how Schroeder was faring, and ask what she thought of it all. While Schroeder's opinion on Dany is mixed (she found the Dragon Queen's "crazy" actions to be relatable, but she didn't think it followed Dany's character arc), it wasn't, like, a bad opinion, just a bit muddled, if not so different than those of the majority of viewers.

Schroeder's real hot take, though—what we feel comfortable calling the worst GoT opinion we've heard—is about another character altogether: Arya Stark. Here's what Schroeder had to say about our favorite blacksmith-banging, Night King-killing, proposal-denying assassin in all the Seven Kingdoms: "Arya, I feel like she probably should have just married whats-his-name [Ed. note: Gendry! His name is Gendry!!]. What's wrong with being a lady and a badass at the same time? You don't have to choose just one."

And, like, sure, you don't have to choose just one, but Arya would never choose to be a lady. That's not her! So, if we're still talking about characters behaving inconsistently, Arya saying yes to a proposal (a rushed one at that) would have been absolutely bonkers. Arya's not about to change her entire personality just because some dude drops down on one knee and proposes, and to want her to do so would be like wanting Dany to act like a sheep, instead of a dragon.

All to say, you know nothing, Stassi Schroeder.

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hoto by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group

Our favorite grouchy girl died today

Today is a sad day, because it is the day Grumpy Cat died. Also known as my personal favorite feline celebrity, Grumpy Cat died from complications following a urinary tract infection. The super relatable cat—real name, Tardar Sauce—was only seven years old.

Grumpy Cat was first introduced to the world in 2011, back when LOLcats were everywhere. Grumpy Cat's downturned face (the result of feline dwarfism, according to her owners) was the subject of a huge amount of memes—she was even the 2013 Meme of the Year at the Webby Awards—and was the subject of her own Lifetime movie, in which she was voiced by the Grumpy Cat of actresses, Aubrey Plaza. But, though we loved her for the memes, we loved her even more because we related to her mood.

Grumpy Cat was so relatable because, like us, she was completely over everyone's bullshit. Unlike us, Grumpy Cat didn't hide her feelings with a smile. And while that was because Grumpy Cat literally couldn't do that, we like to think that she also just didn't want to do the emotional labor. Which is why, in honor of Grumpy Cat, have the courage to roll your eyes at someone today, instead of forcing a fake grin. And just think about how Grumpy Cat's probably frowning at us from some sort of kitty afterlife, utterly annoyed that everyone is mourning her death.

Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes