Friday, I had my teeth cleaned and my body fat measured. No cavities; significant weight loss needed, in case you were curious.
I was thinking about how much maintenance is required to be an average American female, middle-aged I guess (hate that term). Why is that? We must hide our grey, sweat regularly in a forced “work-out” that wouldn’t otherwise be part of everyday life, visit doctor and dentist semi-regularly, watch our salt and sugar intake, avoid too much processed food. I’m all about these things (except salt–salt is wonderful and good, especially when included with processed foods like dill pickles and salt and vinegar flavoured Kettle chips and Moroccan olives), but I do occasionally wonder how fun it might be just let it all go. How bad would I look? I’m not really even tempted to find out.
Coincidentally, ABC News recently did a story about Mauritanian views of beauty. Go read it and watch the video: I’ll wait here. Don’t forget to come back!

The thing is, Mauritanian women care as much about beauty as western women; they just go about it differently. (I’ve posted on this topic before: here and here if you are interested) As is evidenced in the video, they go to great lengths–even drinking fat until they vomit–to get those jiggly, fleshy upper arms so seductive to a nomadic man, who knows there’s room on his camel for such a prize. (Not that he’ll really SEE those arms until they’re married, but that’s a different post)
I got a free 7-day trial at 24 Hour Fitness last week at the urging of a friend, and went over to check them out. I like working out; love the adrenaline rush and the hours spent searching the mirror for those infinitesimal signs of progress. I was prepared for the hard sell; my friend had gone the day before, and been subjected to a very rude body-salesman. He asked her what her purpose in coming to the gym was, and when she said fitness, he looked her up and down and said, “You don’t want to lose weight?” This is not only unforgivably rude, but also ridiculous, as she is not at all fat.
So I was prepared. Forewarned is forearmed. I was all ready to riposte, “You must be a lot of fun at parties!” if they implied so bluntly what is true: that I should lose more than a few pounds.
Of course I got a different guy, one that was really nice and not really as pressuring. He did manage to talk me into joining, but only because of this incredible deal blah blah no initiation month to month blah blah etc.
And so a few days later I had my body fat measured, which in so many ways is worse than going to the dr. At least, the dr wears a white coat and everything is conducted in a hushed, professional manner, rather than in an atmosphere with music blaring in the background and thin women with weighty eyelashes sashaying by in the background.
After all my humiliating statistics were recorded and we both agreed by nodding silently how grim they were, I went to work out. And since I have never before actually BELONGED to an American gym, only ever gone for free trial months or the many many free visits when Heather worked for years at the Willamette Athletic Club, I’m enjoying it. But as I climb onto the elliptical machine (is that right? I really have no idea what things are called), or alter the weights down to some more sensible number, I can’t help flashing back to my last experience with exercise–at the Power Gym, in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
In Mauritania, there are women’s hours and men’s hours. Women show up swathed head to toe in colourful veils called mulaffas, and even the Western women are generally well-covered when they arrive at the gym. Stephanie had to post signs explaining that women were not allowed to work out in their street clothes–that the long gauzy cloths could catch on bits of machinery–and she had to reassure and reassure that no man would dare darken even the door during women’s hours. If the male guard had a question for Stephanie, he would send his wife, who also used the gym’s fridge, which sold cold water (scorned by locals, who know that drinking cold water when you’re hot ensures you’ll get a cold yourself) to store her meat for the evening’s meal.
It’s a little different at 24 Hour Fitness, where I can go whenever I like, a fact I appreciate, as women’s hours always seemed to be at inconvenient times. No longer am I startlingly thin in comparison to my fellow sufferers; no longer am I the only one red-faced and puffing on the exercise bikes. I used to work really hard at the gym in Nouakchott and get my heart rate up while jamming out to U2 on my headphones; afterwards, the girl at the front desk told Stephanie that she was worried about me and what if I really hurt myself? Now, no one is worried, as long as I carry my own towel (mine came free in a cereal box) to wipe up my sweat.
24 Hour Fitness is, to put it mildly, bigger and better stocked than Power Gym. You could fit 3 or 4 Power Gyms into it. The temperature is controlled. One entire wall is windows (looking out on a parking lot where other gym members arrive and depart), a change from a place where we had to keep the curtains drawn and windows closed even upstairs, in case passing men caught a glimpse of glories unknown and squashed into a too-small pair of sweatpants. And I like this 24 Hour Fitness where, in addition to young, toned and stylish people, there are plenty who look like me–who are working hard just to maintain.