I absolutely love the fashion and beauty industries. This might surprise some people who have seen me in public. “That woman loves fashion and beauty?” they might ask. “That one? The one out in public dressed as if she’s in the third day of a sinus infection?”
We’re all surprised. I dress like the writer/errand-doer I am — the kind of person who, while at Target for motor oil and cat litter, picks herself out a shirt because it’s on the sale rack and almost fits. But just because I look as if I’m heading to the pharmacy for urgently-needed medicine doesn’t mean I don’t have loud and informed opinions. Speak loudly enough about something on social media and people start sending you things for the cheap pleasure of watching you bloviate. A few months back, I got an email, the subject of which was: “This is bullshit, right?”
Don’t have to ask me twice. I clicked. Here was an article about a physical trainer in Houston who is the go-to guy for fashion models having to get their measurements down. If you live a worthy and thoughtful life and don’t think about the fashion industry, let me commend you. I'll bring you up to speed. Models are hired to wear clothing. At most photo shoots, the clothing comes in one size — the “sample size.” Your hips must be 34 inches around. You can be the prettiest girl on earth but if you’re starting off in the industry and are an inch, even a half-inch, bigger than the clothing, you will not work. This is where this guy comes in.
He is known in the industry as “The Hip Whisperer.”
So, in answer to the subject line of that original email, sure, it’s bullshit. It’s bullshit that a multi-billion dollar industry hews to a standard of beauty nearly impossible to maintain without lucky genetics, constant dietary vigilance and one very busy workout coach in Texas. It’s also bullshit that this story is, apparently, the most read story ever on this magazine’s web page.
And it’s certainly bullshit that I got entirely too excited when I saw hat The Hip Whisperer was coming to Los Angeles. “WE HAVE TO TAKE THAT CLASS!” my brain shouted happily in my skull. To say this was irrational is putting it mildly. I don’t act on camera any more so I’m not required to live under my natural weight. I’m not a half-inch away from the Victoria’s Secret runway job, so that money could be better spent on something more useful and practical, like clothing without food stains.
And yet, taking this class felt stupid in the right way. It would be nothing which benefits anyone but me and nothing I’ve ever done before. Every morning, I take my morning walk the exact same way, at the same place, in the same direction, every time. If I do decide to treat myself by going into the coffee house near where I park my car, the barista has my drink poured before I reach the counter. I refer again to rats in Manhattan: this rat needs to try out some new dumpsters. I signed up to have my hips Whispered at.
Today was my first class. I reached the stairwell of the dance studio at the same time as a teenage girl of glowing health and doll-like proportions. Her perfectly-manicured hands held a Lucite box. Inside the box was a tiara. We walked up the stairs in silence for a few seconds before I couldn’t stand it a second longer.
“I have to ask,” I said, pointing to the box. She looked down at it in some confusion, as if she had forgotten it was there.
“I am Miss Teen North Hollywood,” she said. “I’m competing for Miss Teen California.”
“Oh,” I said brightly and then, assuming it was called for, added, “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” she smiled.
I waited for her to explain why she needed to travel with her tiara but she just met my gaze another moment then, still smiling, continued into the gym. Maybe pageant winners must be constantly prepared to open a Hyundai dealership or visit a burn unit. Police officers are the thin blue line. Perhaps she was part of an even thinner bedazzled line.
I have lived in Los Angeles my entire life. I danced ballet for several years in my early teens. I worked for a casting director who did mostly modeling campaigns. I’m used to being in groups of people who are on the thin side, so please understand there is no hyperbole when I tell you that these twenty or so women were nearly perfect physically and for all intents and purposes completely identical. Tall, slender, hips within striking distance of the magic thirty-four inches; Helen of Troy would have started worrying a cuticle around these girls. Also, they were all about 20 years old. I reminded myself my value to the world is rooted in my decency and my ability to craft a punchline. That when it comes to the Body Wars, I am Switzerland. I also warmed up and listened to two of these girls discuss their workout schedules and eating plans, a conversation that was both ceaseless and duller than I can adequately convey. I’m not saying these girls were stupid. I am saying that fixating on one specific body part will make a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient sound stupid.
I couldn’t have been happier.
The class itself was diverting in a “Dear God, what did I do with my muscle tone?” sort of way. I have injuries older than my classmates and several of these injuries awakened from their slumbers deep within my body and sang at me in terrible joy. It was a kind of circuit training requiring you do so many of these, so many of those, a few dozen third things, then back to the first activity. Clench. Grimace. Repeat. Over and over again. This also required that I count each rep as I worked out. I can do one or the other. If I count while working out I slow down and eventually stop moving, opting instead for staring bleakly into space, creeping out everyone around me. I quickly gave up counting and just followed the girl next to me, as she was freshly transplanted from Houston and had worked with the Whisperer before. She was 17. Once again, a 17-year-old girl was running my life.
An hour or possibly a decade later, the class ended. The Whispered filtered out a little bit more perfect than they'd been 60 minutes earlier. The teenage girl whose counting I borrowed sprung towards the nearest mirror, fluffed her hair a bit, and got a quick selfie in the flattering light that just seems to follow all these girls everywhere they go. I lay on the floor and realized that in order to leave, I would have to move. I contemplated just having my mail forwarded to the dance studio, to this specific yoga mat.
Whatever my hips were whispering doesn’t bear repeating.