Authors: Jessi Klein
hen I was a teenager, I was so worried about my flat chest that I didn't think at all about my butt. Of all the mistakes I've made in my life, this may have been the stupidest. In fairness, it was the '80s, and boobs, like cocaine, reigned supreme. How was I to know that one day, coke would be replaced with molly, and boobs would be overshadowed by butts?
I didn't just neglect thinking about my butt; I was completely unaware that butts were on anyone's radar. In my head, God had put our butts in the back for a reason: mainly, because we weren't supposed to worry about them. Little did I know, our butts were in the back so men could talk about them without us knowing, until it was too late and we'd already spent our whole lives eating balls of mozzarella as if they were apples.
Large breasts were the goal, and when I had an unexpected Hail Mary boob growth spurt at the ripe old age of twenty-one, I relaxed; I believed I now had all the equipment I needed to be considered Desirable
. Unfortunately, the same year that I finally grew breasts (pretty good ones, too, if I can own that for a moment),
Out of Sight
was released, and Jennifer Lopez became a superstar. It was the cultural tipping point for butts. Oh, the irony. I suddenly realized that men would be, orâholy fuckâhad been concerned about butts for years. I found myself turning around in front of a three-way mirror, really trying to see my own ass for the first time. It filled all three of the mirrors.
I have a softish, curvy, 1970s Jewish mom body. I'm in my late thirties (the very latest ones), and my butt is kind of a vague trapezoid. I know Gwyneth Paltrow has said her butt is her least favorite body part also, but I think we all know she is impossibly full of shit, even though I have both of her cookbooks and buy every magazine she's on the cover of and think of her all the time and sometimes think of her right before I go to sleep.
Nevertheless, I wasn't terribly concerned, because my boobs still seemed to work a kind of magic on men. Then I met Mike, and although I suppose you could say that overall I worked more magic on him than I've ever worked on anyone, since he actually wanted to marry me, I never felt that any of it was particularly boob-related. I never got the sense he was a boob guy. He just didn't seem as enthused about my breasts as the forty or so or hundred or so other dudes who've seen them. He liked them, but he didn't die over them. I guess it's the way you might figure out your dog doesn't like a certain brand of dog food. He's eating it, but you can tell he'd rather be going to town on something else. So after a few months it occurred to me that Mike must be a butt guy.
And that's when I became officially obsessed with looking at other women's butts. I leer at women's butts so openly on the street that I have essentially become a terribly rude man.
This newfound concern for my butt is how I found myself at a Bar Method studio about a year ago, on the recommendation of a friend who developed an eating disorder before her wedding. It is a class for women, or rather for women's problem areas. Women have problem areas in a way that men don't. We have big hips and muffin tops. Men just have the thing where they create wars and wreak havoc all over the globe.
Walking into Bar Method is not like walking into a normal gym. The lighting is warm and gentle. You immediately lose about three pounds just with the lighting. Cute girls work the front desk surrounded by bottles of SmartWater, which you can charge right on your account!!! Then there are the other women attending the classes. Everyone is in Lululemon. Everyone.
You check in and then you go into the spotless studio room and sit on the edge of the spongy white carpet and watch other girls casually do splits as they stretch. Everyone knows to grab two sets of tiny little weights the size and color of Tic Tacs. Finally, an instructor with a brond ponytail and a headset walks in and clicks on a sound system. Everyone faces the mirror and starts marching in place. It's time to begin.
Bar Method is an hour-long class of teeny-tiny movements where you hold on to a ballet barre and justâ¦moveâ¦yourâ¦legâ¦anâ¦inchâ¦up and downâ¦a thousandâ¦timesâ¦and if you stick with it, over the course of many hours, you will have the perfect ass. A dancer's ass. It sounds ridiculous, but then you look at the butts of the teachers, who are also all in Lululemon, and you start to think maybe this is possible. None of them have a trapezoidal rear. Their butts are like the very best of the produce section. Juicy little fruits that stick out, suspended in midair, slappable, grabbable. Or so I imagine. I imagine what it would be like to be armed with a butt like this and be with a man, to feel the animal-like desire my new perfect butt would generate.
What does the perfect butt look like? Why would I even bother telling you when we all obviously know? Well, I suppose there are a few variations. There's the Lopez, a perfect big bubble. I've seen her in person; it's truly spectacular. Did you know that Julia Stiles also has this butt? I do, because I saw her at a Hampton Chutney Co.
with her boyfriend one Saturday morning and he could not stop touching it.
Then there's the waifier, smaller, perfect butt, which is basically the shape of two tennis balls glued together. This butt is very common in Waspier enclaves and is often attached to a girl named Kim who wears an enormous amount of Tory Burch.
But I digress.
The biggest problem with Bar Method, other than everything about it, is that it's impossibly difficult. My friend Julie told me that a friend of hers once had to walk out in the middle to throw up. I'm impressed that she made it to the middle.
While I, too, feel the need to puke and cannot make it through a single set of inch-high mini squats without stopping, every other woman in this class is breezing through this torture like it's nothing, from the ones in their fifties who are barely breaking a sweat to the majority in their twenties who already have the tennis-ball butt. They are just here for maintenance. This leads me to a devastating realization: Despite having been surrounded by New York's population of beautiful women for most of my life, it had never occurred to me how incredibly FUCKING hard these women are working to look the way they do. No one ever told me. It's not just about going to the gym and doing the elliptical for forty minutes.
It's about taking a class where you are in horrible pain and hate your life and might lose your lunch at any moment.
And as I study these women holding their squats for minutes at a time, it dawns on me that they must have started doing this when they were teenagers. These women, with their flat stomachs and the lines down their quads and the skinny jeans that fit perfectly, have been chiseling, toning, chipping, and whittling since forever. I hadn't known that this is what it takes to have an acceptable body. I feel like I'll never catch up.
There are so many miserable things about Bar Method, it's hard to know where to begin. Well:
First of all, the instructor wears a headset microphone. I'm not exactly sure why this bothers me so much, but on some level it makes me feel like we're all taking this way too seriously. This is not a Madonna concert. The room is not that large. We would definitely hear her without the microphone but she is determined to wear it. It also evokes one of my huge pet peeves, which is when a famous actor directs a short film for the first time and it's very important they have their picture taken with a headset around their neck so we know they are DIRECTING.
Furthermore, all the instructors have an uncanny ability to memorize the name of every woman in the class and will use it to humiliating effect when they correct you over the microphone: “Jessi, tuck your seat.” Everyone looks over to see who this shitty seat tucker is. The first time I ever took the class there was another Jessi there, clearly someone who had earned enough Bar Method hours that she now had the dignity of going by first name only, and so I was the one stuck with “Jessi Klein.” Over and over again, the teacher would curtly say into her fucking headset, “Jessi Klein, lower your shoulders. Jessi Klein, deepen the tuck in your seat.” Just in case anyone wants to be able to track down the muffintoppy girl with terrible form, her full name is Jessi Klein.
Did I mention that in this class your butt is always referred to as “your seat”? Can you imagine anything creepier than this? It's oddly neutered, somewhere in between medical and infantilizing. It's only slightly better than “tushy.”
Then there's the Bar Method music. Like the class itself, it is joyless. Of the one dillion hip-hop, rap, soul, punk, and R&B songs in the world that would be fun to move to, they have opted for none of them. Instead they have selected (and I think created?) a kind of ambient, stripped-down beat, the sort of sound that used to come out of my brother's Casio synthesizer circa 1985. (There were a few buttons you could push that would lay down the foundational bass for “samba,” “tango,” “rock,” and I think also “polka.”)
On top of all this, there is the price. It costs $36 a class. Thirty-six bucks! That means it's $72 for two classes. Bar Method suggests that for optimal results you do the class five times a week.
That's $180 a week you'd be spending on your ASS.
The saddest fact about Bar Method, howeverâthe most heartbreaking, annoying, decimating thing about itâis this: It works. After taking maybe about seven classes, I went to my waxer, Rivka. Rivka has been up in my most personal physical business for a decade now, and when I say she has seen parts of my body that I never have in my entire life, I am not exaggerating. Every three weeks I go to her for what is essentially 80 percent of the way to a colonoscopy. The point is, she knows me. I was lying on the table on my stomach (don't ask, it's all so unspeakably gross) when suddenly Rivka gasped. “Why does your butt look so good?” Rivka is a boundary-less Russian Jew who has more than once demanded to see my tits because she's considering getting a boob job and wants to get some ideas. She's in her late thirties and very pretty, although she occasionally seems shrouded in a kind of mysterious ennui, although I suppose it's really not all that mysterious because, let's face it, waxing other people's pussies can't exactly add years to your life.
Anyway, I tell her it's not possible. My butt looks the same, I'm sure. But she is adamant. “Everything looks tighter,” she insists, and then she gives it a little slap.
Later that night at home, I start telling Mike what Rivka said. He's in bed reading and seems not to be paying attention to what I'm saying about my trip to the waxer (fair enough), but he perks up when I mention her comment, and for the first time puts down his reading.
“It's true,” he says.
“What do you mean,” I press.
“It looks tighter. It feels tighter.” He goes back to his reading.
Well, fuck me.
This is both the best news and the worst news.
Do I have to keep going now? I don't want to. I don't want to worry about my ass while I march in place. I want to go forward, and forget all about it.
Â He has never confirmed or denied any of this.
Â If you don't know what Hampton Chutney Co. is that is fine. It is a small restaurant in New York City where they serve chutney.
Â I'd naively always thought that being on the elliptical meant I was exercising. It does not. Women who are in great shape, the women who really work out, consider being on the elliptical something akin to a nap.
ne late night when I was working at
, I wandered out of my office for a break and saw that some random TV in the hallway was tuned to an interview with Angelina Jolie (I think it was with Charlie Rose, who was shamelessly hitting on her, as is his wont when he interviews a pretty lady). I wandered over to watch, as did Emily, one of the senior writers there at the time and an all-around hilarious and fabulous lady. We both stared at Angelina in awe.
“Isn't it amazing,” Emily asked, “that we're the same species she is? It doesn't even feel like we are the same species.”
“I know,” I said. I continued the riff: It's like with dogs. A poodle and a wolf are both technically dogs, but based on appearances, it doesn't make any conceivable sense that they share a common ancestor. We decided that some women are poodles and some women are wolves. And no matter what a wolf does (puts on makeup, or a thong), it will still be a wolf, and no matter what a poodle does (puts on sweatpants), it will always be a poodle.
I am on my way to meet my friend Tracy for breakfast and decide to wear my new dress, which I love, a black dress with white butterflies and pockets
from AgnÃ¨s B., which is a pricey French retail chain that represented the highest echelons of fanciness to me as a kid. I had never gone in, ever. But a couple of months earlier I was drawn in by the butterfly dress, and looking in the mirror I thought I looked really pretty and girlie, like Zooey Deschanel but from EUROPE, and decided to spend an ungodly amount of cash on this poodle feeling I had.
So I enter the subway in my butterfly dress and start to walk slowly to one end of the platform, waiting for men's heads to turn while I practice saying in my head, “Take a picture, it'll last longer,” even though no one is looking. And then this other woman walks in right behind me, and everything changes.
She is clearly a dancer, or a former dancer, but who cares, look at her, she has long perfect legs that are all one tawny color, not a speckled mixture of wintergreens and veiny blues like mine are, and she is wearing short jean shorts and a plain denim shirt, and her hair is sloppily piled on top of her head with a cheap clip. She is stunning. You can feel everyone's energy shift as all men on the platform cycle through their quick glance-up/glance-away thing that they think will keep them from being caught looking.
I then do the secret embarrassing thing of purposely getting on the same subway car as her so I can keep looking at a pretty person. I'm not a lesbian, but looking at her gives me a feeling of pleasure. I study her face. She is wearing red lipstick and looks basically like Mena Suvari at the exact moment in
that Kevin Spacey fantasizes about fucking her on a bed of rose petals.
This woman is a classic poodle. By which I mean, she is effortless. It doesn't matter what she is wearing, as this woman isn't especially stylish. But because she's a poodle she looks good in anything. She will always look like an ocean breeze, short of donning a Nazi uniform on Halloween (and even then, you'd forgive her just that one time because it's Halloween and she's so pretty and that means she's a good person who didn't mean it). When someone is a poodle, you just want to be near her. My own attempt at poodleness suddenly seems like a silly farce, as it is obvious I am just a wolf in poodle's clothing. My butterfly AgnÃ¨s B. dress with pockets may as well be a ziplock bag filled with old shrimp.
Does this all sound too self-deprecating? Because I don't mean it to be. It's just that I am in awe of poodles, these magical lovely women who inherently radiate femininity. They are not necessarily the most beautiful women or even the prettiest; they just seem, without trying at all, to always be in sync with their yin quality (that's the girl one, right?), like an iPhone in constant communication with its cloud.
If you're still confused about what a poodle is, just think about this: “The Girl from Ipanema” was obviously written about a poodle. No one would ever write that song about a wolf.
Helena Bonham Carter
Jennifer Aniston is actually an interesting example here. I have friends who think she is a poodle and argue that the reason she is a poodle is that she's beautiful. And she is beautiful. BUT BEING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT WHAT MAKES YOU A POODLE OR A WOLF. There are millions of beautiful wolf women out there. It's how much of the beauty feels like work, like maintenance. It's a very French concept, which is probably why we think every actual poodle was born in France and we always imagine them in berets. Aniston is stunning, but I always have the impression that her beauty comes with an enormous price tag. Getting your hair to be the color of a sunbeam passing through a lion's mane don't come cheap. And yes, in Hollywood everyone's beauty is expensive, but there are a few ladies who seem like they're keeping very high tabs permanently open at every groomer in town. And yes, Janiston would be stunningly beautiful even if she did nothing, but it's the fact that she chooses to do EVERYTHING that tells me she's a wolf. If you look at her high school yearbook picture, where she has thick eyebrows and an (ever so slightly) bigger nose, you can see she felt like a wolf. I'm certain she still feels like one. She'd probably feel like a wolf no matter what happened in her lifeâonce a wolf always a wolfâbut nothing will really make you feel like a wolf like your husband leaving you for a poodle.
Natasha Lyonne is a wolf. I'm pretty sure Kristen Bell is a wolf.
SofÃa Vergara is a poodle, duh.
I have always clearly been a wolf. I grew up knowing nothing about manicures or pedicures or embellished bras. When I got my period at age thirteen, my mother gave me that crazy elastic belt thingy that women used in the 1950s with a weird pad that had extra fabric at both ends so you could tie it onto the plastic clips that dangled from the belt. Most of the readers who would know what I'm talking about here are probably dead. Somehow, my momâwho despite having two daughters failed to pay attention to advances in menstrual technologyâcompletely missed the fact that there were other options. So I wore the belt for about a year, until I finally noticed the football-field-length aisle of modern maxi pads at CVS. Then I used exclusively pads until I was twenty-seven because my mother never said anything about tampons. And this only changed because of a trip to the beach with my then-boyfriend, where I had to choose between not going into the ocean and exploring this newfangled tampon technology. I FINALLY bought a box of tampons and looked at the diagram and pushed one in, no problem, no fuss no muss, and felt a flash of anger at my mother that I had wasted more than a decade walking around wearing a mini diaper every time I menstruated.
But when I think back on it, really, it was unavoidable. We were a wolf family.
Poodles are confident.
Poodles are always late.
Poodles laugh a lot!!!
Poodles always wear matching bras and underwear.
Poodles lose their virginity in high school.
I live near a very nice park that runs along the water. There is a cluster of picnic tables where I will occasionally go to write if the weather is nice. The other morning it was brilliantly sunny out and I grabbed my laptop and headed over. I was hunched in front of my screen and enjoying an iced coffee when I noticed a kerfuffle at one of the picnic tables about forty feet away. Seven or so people were setting up a fashion shoot around a female model, but they didn't seem to be
asking anyone to move, so I went back to my writing. About ten minutes later, the photographer, a handsome Frenchman (male poodle?), came over and gently asked if I could move over about two feet because I was in the background of the shot. I looked around and saw that there were a few other bystanders who looked as if they might also be in the background of the shot. But I was the only one who had to move. I understood. I moved and watched them take pictures of the poodle.
YOU CAN'T HAVE A WOLF IN THE SHOT.
Wolves need to eat more than poodles do (both larger amounts and more frequently).
Wolves wear lip balm.
Wolves can't deal with thongs.
Wolves sweat a lot.
Wolves are funny.
Wolves show up ten minutes early to everything and are always the first ones there and then have to fake a conversation on their cell phones so they look like they know other human beings on this earth.
Wolves usually own two bras total, and neither of them matches their tattered old Gap underwear.
Wolves lose their virginity during their junior year of college at the very earliest.
I often wonder, if I could wave a wand and magically transform myself from a wolf to a poodle, would I? Most of me says no. I'm proud of being a wolf. My wolf upbringing is responsible for my personality, for my compassion for the rest of the pack. As a wolf, I'm a diamond in the rough. I crack jokes. My whole life is about trying, about speaking up in order to be seen, about howling with laughter or howling out how I see the world.
But there is another part of me that immediately yells, Yes, I would give anything to feel that poodle confidence, to feel comfortable as a woman, like my body is my perfect home, to be the girl from Ipanema and sway down the street emitting an intoxicating hormone, like a female deer spritzing the air from under my perky white tail. I'd love to be one of those women who sleeps naked, who never has to buy her own drink, who wears makeup only when she feels like it, who took ballet for years and still carries that motion in her bones, dancing down the street, never a bad angle, completely unself-conscious.
Â Seeing pockets on a dress is now the sartorial equivalent of finding out that a guy has a giant dick. When women show up at the Oscars with their hands in their pockets and get interviewed, Giuliana Rancic is like “Oh my Gawwwd, look, POCKETS!” and then Amy Adams is like “I know, I love pockets!”
Â We catch you looking. We always catch you looking.