America is a stressful place for girls. It’s a culture of extremes; everyday you’re bombarded with mixed messages, with Just Salad, Wholefoods and Fresh & Co on one side, and Dunkin Doughnuts, McDonalds and highly-Instagrammable cupcake stores on the other.
The city is deeply confused; New York is bursting with obesity and anorexia, valevictorians and crack addicts, a city of failed child actors, wannabe celebrities and people with their therapists on speed dial. In many ways, it’s a slightly broken, sad city, fuelled by Xanax and sucrose; a place desperate to be comfortable with its own image and grasping a national identity in any way possible. I met someone last night who said to me, when I mentioned the obsession of American tabloid with Kim Kardashian’s belly, that ‘America doesn’t have a culture, we’re not like you Brits, you don’t have a monarchy, so we have celebrities instead’.
At home, people don’t scream, cry and puke at the sight of a celebrity, but America does not hold back in its obsession, its deification of the celebrity ideal. Case in point: my trusty friend Seb and I spotted Jude Law as we were eating lunch in the park. We nodded at him and then got back to our salads whilst passers-by stalked poor old Jude like he was the messiah.
Which is why, in combination with a seemingly endless combination of deep-fried, flash-fried, chocolate-dipped, whipped, creamed and dressing-soaked food stuffs, I feel really sorry for women out here, because everyone’s trying to live up the size zero celebrity they’re never going to be.
In America, you can’t just plod along like in England, hoping no-one will notice the slightly-dough centre you’re rocking under your festive reindeer jumper, because exercise, health and well-being are very much identities in themselves – women bow down to their classes, diets and alternative therapies.
I undertook a rather odd research project for a Suitcase Mag article recently, experimenting with the most unusual exercise trends in New York. This research took me on a clubbing-like spinning class, candle-lit with a DJ and all, an indoor surfing class that made me feel like Michelle Mccanus trying to a celeb sexy beach shot and a class called Brooklyn Bodyburn that made my cheeks burn a lot more than my abs as I failed again and again to understand what the fuck I was meant to be doing with this piece of machinery:
What I learnt through these trials and tribulations, is that exercise in America isn’t an activity: it’s a club. The women in these classes knew each other; they had been to upwards of 30 classes and the teachers were’t remotely interested in helping me. The women in these classes didn’t need to go these classes. The women in these classes didn’t love the class – they loved the identity of being a ‘Soul Cycler’, ‘A Surf Setter’ or a ‘Brooklyn Bodyburner’. I really didn’t want to be one of the women in these classes cos, do you what know, I actually have Soul, Surf and Body.
Women can’t seem to just be in America. They have to be active in their construction, their identity-creation, their salad choices and their tri-state area… And its bloody tiring. There’s a feedback loop unlike any city in the world – as my PR guru friend Jane said to me, she felt ugly when she lived in London because no-one hollas at you in the street in London. Do American ladies really need the approval of every podgy policeman, hoodie-wearing street kid and van-driver to feel beautiful? Has that really happened?
But it’s true. No-one shouts out ‘hey baby, can I roll wichu’ in London (to which I awkwardly replied ‘sure, honey’ and then instantly regretted it’). I know what you want to say, it’s ok to be sexually assessed as we’re going to buy milk, it’s freedom! It’s liberty! It’s the American Dream! But I just don’t believe it. People shouting compliments at each across the street like some of kind of Harry Potter spell is dangerous.
I can picture my grandmother saying now: if they can hurl compliments, they can hurl insults too. And you’re right, virtual granny. Because it’s easy writing as the girl who gets comments about having a pert bottom on the street, but it’s not so easy writing as the girl who didn’t resist Dunkin Doughtnuts, who did cross the street, and who sees the word ‘spinning’ as a personal attack. Because not everyone ends up at Whole Foods, vegan sandwich in one hand, Vita Coco in the other. Some people end up chilling out and having a slice of pecan pie in front of Gossip Girl, instead.
So what’s the solution? Well we can’t make the male population of America’s street youths stop hurling words at women on the street, and we can’t get rid of health foods or cupcakes. So what we all need is some balance, some perspective. We need things like Yoga for the People, the School of Life, the Dove beauty campaigns and Larabars – things that will enrich our minds, as well as our souls, as well as our tummies. We need to all be a bit nicer to each other, America, cos, do you know what, you’re fucking beautiful.
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