When I was 25 years old, I rented an East Village apartment on the fifth floor. It was great up there: there were no noisy neighbours stomping on my ceiling, I had easy access to the roof (a definite perk of living in the city), and light streamed into my bedroom. It was great. However, in NYC, unless you live in a fancy (or new-ish) building, there is probably no elevator in your building. The only way up? Take the stairs.
This building was old as hell and totally crooked: suitcases would roll across my floor, and the doors never really seemed to seal. All of this I could deal with, and considered par for the course in NYC. But the stairs, oh God, the stairs! They were the bane of my existence.
Now, a fifth floor walk-up was not new to me — I had been living on Carmine Street for the past year, and my apartment was also on the top floor. But it had less stairs, somehow. When you walked into the front door of this building in the East Village, you’d look up at the landing above and wonder if you’d ever make it.
Several times a day, I would huff and puff my way up to my apartment. Sometimes I would have to take a break halfway. On the outside, I looked pretty fit and healthy… But I wasn’t. Other than schlepping around the city in unreasonable shoes, I did no exercise at all. When I wasn’t getting into trouble — which, let’s face it, was a full-time job — I spent my time sitting on my butt, writing.
I had always hated — and passionately resisted — exercise of any kind. I was an asthmatic kid, so the thought of doing anything until my chest ached was completely unpalatable. Not to mention, I was goth and way too cool for any kind of group activity, so generally, anything physical was a hard pass. I had always thought of myself as someone who was not athletic, not fit, not strong… And I never really cared, until climbing stairs was a challenge.
One day I passed a huge storefront that looked like the Haunted Mansion, which turned out to be a gym. They talked me into doing a complimentary training session, and halfway through, I literally had to excuse myself to go and puke. That was when I realised that I had to do something about my level of fitness. I was only 25 and I was puking after a few step-ups?! I knew that if I didn’t act, my health would only get worse.
I started working with a trainer named Donovan, and slowly but surely, I saw everything change. My body began to transform, but so did my entire mindset. In our hourly sessions, I came to realise that I was so much stronger and more capable than I thought… Which translated to every other area of my life too. I started to actually appreciate and like my body, and stopped averting my eyes when I did squats in front of the mirror. I also realised how essential it is to exert yourself physically!
For me, the biggest benefit of working out is how it makes me feel emotionally. If I miss a couple of workouts, I get unbelievably intolerant and bad-tempered — I start to feel like a temperamental teenager again! It has been bizarre — but enlightening — to realise that challenging myself physically moderates my mood better than anything else I’ve tried.
In an average week, I head to the gym for three days of weight-training and two days of Pilates, and it’s a massive — and massively fulfilling — part of my life.
When I posted the photo above on my Instagram and asked what you guys wanted to know about health and fitness, the response was enormous. I’m not a fitness expert but I know a lot of people who are, and I’m so excited to bring you some content around getting (and staying) motivated, ways to make fitness fun, and — perhaps most importantly, haha — cute outfits to wear while you’re getting your sweat on!
For me, being fit and healthy and challenging yourself is an enormous component of radical self-love. I know that a lot of you have a history of disordered eating or negative body image, and I promise that I’ll keep that in mind as we explore this topic. You’re more than welcome to add your thoughts about what you’d like to learn about on this post! I want to make all my content as helpful and useful as possible.
I love you!
Photos by Anthony B. Geathers, with thanks to Garnett Strother, owner of Strother PT, private trainer in Flatiron district, Manhattan.