A ladies-only gym/exercise/lifestyle program had opened in the regional town where I lived. It was autumn and my best friend’s wedding was fast approaching, so it seemed like a good idea to give it a go. What could it hurt? How bad could it be? What if it changed my life?
I want to start by saying that I know for some people such programs (and the communities they kindle) can be life-changing. For me, though, it turned out to be something else. This particular gym was in a reclaimed church. Instead of pews, there was a magic circle of equipment; instead of the stations of the cross, there were workout stations. On the back wall was a corkboard of success stories and, dotted around, posters shouting encouragement: Be the you you want to see in the world!
The two women who ran the show were no-nonsense country broads. They allowed no slack in the measuring tape. They jotted my specs and inquired after my goals. Did I want to get healthy or lose inches – or both? I hesitated. If I was honest, my goals then were no less stupid than the ones I’d had when I was 13, at the supermarket, eyeing the Weight Watchers’ chocolate creams with wild, wild hope. I wanted to not look like I looked. I wanted to shrink myself to an impossible size. Like, say, size 8.
Memory: in Paris, age 19. A short old man, who in my mind’s eye looks like Roman Polanski (it was not him), fell into step beside me. ‘‘Hello, cherie. You are English, yes? You could be a model but you just need to lose some fat. It will be easy. I can show you. I can do this with just massage. Would you like me to show you? Oui? Well, it is easy. It is not difficult. Please, allow me to show you.’’ I laughed about him later, but part of me was thinking, could it be true? Just massage? It was hot in Paris and I drank bottled water for the first time – Volvic with lemon.