Globe and Mail
by Leah MacLaren, March 2004

Inspecting the skin-and bone house-the cladding might be dusty, but if the foundation's strong, who cares what your fitness trainer says? The modern medieval torture chamber is staffed by chipper girls in pink sweatshirts, either named Krista or Kim. Your complimentary tour of the facilities seems benign: Krista shows you the free weights, the cardio zone, the steam room and her new diamond-cluster engagement ring. Swiping your credit card, she bitches cheerfully about her daily commute and you find yourself humming along to the Mariah Carey tune being piped in from nowhere.

Then she ushers you into a small, windowless office for your mandatory Microfit Fitness profile. You are informed that for insurance reasons" this is not an optional procedure. In a lame attempt at discretion, I had decided to write this story in the second person, but screw it. As you've no doubt guessed, I recently joined a gym-one of those chintzy, corporate health clubs with a bathtub-sized pool and aquamarine carpets in the changing rooms, the kind of place people join for no other reason than its convenient proximity to the office.

I'm five-foot-seven and weigh 135 pounds. Just over a week ago, during my aforementioned Mandatory Microfit Fitness Profile, a sadistic and visibly pregnant trainer placed electrodes on my ankles and wrists and informed me that, based on my "body fat percentage," it was recommended that I loose 17 pounds. "This puts your target weight at approximately 118 pounds." she said. I pictured 17 foil-wrapped pounds of butter stacked on a butcher's block and slumped against the water cooler, suddenly dizzy. I could afford to shed a few, sure, but 118 pounds? The last time I'd seen those digits on the doctor's scale I was 15, eating nothing but cigarettes. I suggested to Kim that perhaps her computer was on the fritz. How could I be so grossly overweight when I scored well above average in my flexibility, heart rate and blood pressure levels? The trainer displayed a calm, pregnant-lady smile and began babbling about all the "goals" I could achieve with the help of a "certified personal trainer."

I'm not a complete idiot. I recognized this for the vile sales technique it really was, but the words had been spoken. And just like the guy who doubts himself after a spurned lover mocks his performance in bed, so I doubted my poor bod. The "goal" throbbed in my head as if those evil electrodes had jolted it into the rhythm of my blood: 17 pounds, 17 pounds, 17 pounds...Then, over the weekend, I attended the inspection of a brick-front rowhouse, 100 and something years old, in the gut of the city. The inspector was a cool, a nerdish kind of James Bond, and I immediately trusted him. Handicam in hand, he scaled the pitched Victorian roof and videotaped the contents of the eavestroughs. He pointed out cracks in the foundation, looked for drainpipes in the basement floor and knob and tube wiring in the ceiling.

He worked with an utterly disinterested eye. His concerns were not cosmetic, but structural. He put that smug pregnant trainer to shame. At the end of two hours, he typed his findings into a palmtop computer and printed off a rolling pin sized printer. Then he produced a collapsible four-seater picnic table from his back pocket and invited us to sit and confer on the sidewalk. The news was good. The little house had passed the test. At 100-something years of age it was fab, it was fine, it was to use the inspector's word "satisfactory." So the crooked old house was fit, but the 20-something girl was fat? I fretted privately as the inspector packed up his gadgets. "Inspect me!" I wanted to scream as he got into his van and drive away, but it was too late.

Since then, I've started to think of body as though it were a house. (I actually see it as a rambling neo-gothic farm-house with a wraparound porch and a haunted attic, but never mind that.) If we encounter our bodies with the same sense of romance we adopt when looking at a building, the mirror would be a much happier place. Repeat after me: Ooh, look at those original molars, how gorgeous. And that exposed cellulite, that's got to be -what?-45 years old? Those hooded eyelids add so much character. And so on. As for my dreaded 17 pounds, what idiot would tear off a perfectly good addition? Call it Oprah-ish if you like, but it's a technique that works. Krista and Kim can kiss my booty. So long as the foundation is sturdy, I'm feeling perfectly satisfactory.