For only $200.00 a month, receive an all-inclusive membership at HEALTHY™ and full access to HEALTHY™ level 1. Continue toward premier membership level 2 at $400.00 a month and join the nationwide HEALTHY™ movement
I tossed the pamphlet to Jack. “See? I told you it was a good deal.”
My husband stretched and then settled back into his pillow. “What are you talking about? This not a good deal. The regular gym is cheaper than that.”
“This isn’t some ordinary gym. This is, like, a lifestyle. It’s exercise and nutrition all built into one.” I struggled into my leggings, pulling the high-waist elastic over my belly, and reached for my shoes.
“So that’s what they call it these days?”
“Look. The pamphlet says it isn’t a gym or a diet. It’s different—new. Everyone is talking about it. I’m just getting a tour. Is that so bad?”
Jack pulled the covers up over his head. “Okay, go. But I’m staying in bed.”
It took me longer than expected to find my keys (they were in my jacket pocket) so I grabbed a muffin and stuffed it into my mouth on my way out the door. If Jack didn’t want to come, then whatever. I’d go by myself.
It was a short drive to the massive new building on the north corner of State street. It was five stories high, covered in large gray reflective windows that reminded me of the interrogation room mirrors in police TV shows. A little intimidating.
“Welcome, welcome to HEALTHY™. You must be Julia. I’ve been expecting you.”
“Uh, yeah.” I was taken aback by the beautiful woman with a clipboard accosting me at the door.
“My name is Mary. I’m one of the trainers here.” She immediately reminded me of a mannequin from Sports Authority: tall and lean, with sculpted thin shoulders. Her gray spandex with reflective silver stripes matched her top and even the familiar silver swoosh on her running shoes. “In our specially designed program, members partake of four floors of exercise. Let’s start the tour on the fourth floor, and we’ll work our way down from there, shall we?”
“Sure.” I followed Mary up the winding staircase in the center of the lobby. Guess they didn’t believe in elevators.
“On every floor, there are two rooms—one for each level of membership. They do the same basic exercises in each of the rooms, but each level has a different expectation of intensity. Each day, floor four is where members begin a workout. They work their way down from there.”
“Isn’t there a fifth floor?”
Mary stopped on the stair above me and looked over her shoulder.
“Only the elite members go to the fifth floor. It’s…special.”
“Private, you mean?”
Mary turned and started back up the stairs. “Yes. Private.”
We reached the fourth floor. “Now,” Mary said, “Let’s take a look in the level 1 room.”
Loud music met us as soon as Mary opened one of the doors. My mouth dropped as soon as I saw the synchronized movements. There were at least forty people, all squatting and jumping at the same time. A man in the front of the room squatted up and down on a large wooden block, up where everyone could see. He was the trainer, wearing the same gray clothes as Mary.
The entire massive room was covered in mirrors—even the floor was reflective. You couldn’t not see yourself, even if you tried.
“Don’t forget to breathe!” He yelled.
Mary pointed to a short fat woman in the front. “She’s actually improved since starting, if you can believe it. You’ll see all sorts of body types in level one. Won’t be that way for long, though. Soon everyone can reach their personal potential. We believe that everyone deserves to be HEALTHY™.”
I nodded, embarrassed, even though the fat woman obviously hadn’t heard her.
“We advise everyone to work out on the fourth floor—whether it’s in level 1 or 2— for an hour before embarking down to the third floor. Shall we go check that out?”
I nodded again.
The third floor looked just like the fourth, a long hallway with two doors. This time, Mary took me into the level 2 room.
Fifty or so people ran on the treadmills that lined the large room.
“There’s so many of them!”
“Yes, we’re quite proud of the commitment that our level 2 members show to the program.”
“How long are they supposed to run for? Aren’t they tired after the fourth floor?”
“You’ll find, Julia, that the more you exercise, the more energy you’ll actually have.”
I found myself nodding yet again. The way Mary looked, I’d believe anything she said.
She then took me to the second floor, the “muscle floor,” taking me inside both a level 1 and a level 2 room to show me different levels of intensities. She told me that it was where members finished workouts with “toning.” Trainers walked around the room, correcting form and writing on clipboards.
“All the trainers look, so…”
“Alike?” Mary smiled.
“That’s because they’re all HEALTHY™. If you commit to this program, you can look just like them.”
Lastly, Mary showed me around the first floor: the plush mirrored locker rooms, the lobby, and the restaurant.
“We encourage all members to eat here as much as possible. We adhere to a strict eating regimen that makes everyone HEALTHY™.”
“Honestly, I’ll probably just eat at home with my husband.”
Mary simply smiled. “Everything is juiced and prepared right here in the building. This week is kale themed. You don’t want to miss it. And we even have small chapel services next to the kitchen, which makes it very convenient.”
I shook my head, confused. “Convenient? For what?”
“For appreciating the food, of course.”
“Maybe I’ll try it.”
“Does that mean you want to sign up for a membership, then?”
“It’s a year commitment?”
“Well, yes and no. We’d like to think of it as a life commitment.”
“I’ll sign you up for level one,” Mary beamed, “Welcome to HEALTHY™.”
I almost gave up after the first week. I’d never been so exhausted in my entire life. A workout lasted almost two and a half hours and I’d gone every day since the tour. I started on the fourth floor with HIT training, did low intensity aerobic cardio on the third, and anaerobic strength training on the second before finally getting to the restaurant on the first floor for a vegan plant protein smoothie that tasted like a mixture of grass and concrete.
Over the next few days, I could barely walk from my car to my office and, later, from my office back home.
“You’re killing yourself,” Jack told me.
“Mary said that it would be like this at first. She said that’s how I’ll know it’s working.”
“Maybe this isn’t good for you. You focus too much on being skinny.”
“Oh, please. That eating disorder was in high school—years ago. I get that that was unhealthy. But this workout regime is HEALTHY™, remember? It’s the opposite of trying to be skinny.”
When I was fifteen, my parents put me into counseling for borderline anorexia. I’d gotten down to ninety pounds and even I knew that I needed someone to help me. I was obsessed with counting calories and I was even more obsessed with the food I wasn’t eating. It was all I could think about. I spent hours online looking at proana sites, chatting with other girls who glorified collarbones and hipbones. All of those girls looked exactly the same, but that was the point.
But when my period stopped showing up and I spent days in bed, exhausted, I agreed to get support. Counseling helped, like my parents had hoped, but the desire to be skinny never quite left me. It haunted me into adulthood, unwilling to let go of its grasp of my late night thoughts.
But this new HEALTHY™ regimen now seemed like the perfect solution. Being HEALTHY™ really was different than being thin. It was a lifestyle, not a disorder.
So I continued to go to the gray mirrored building into the third week, then the fourth. Mary and all of the trainers were supportive, encouraging me to keep trying despite my fatigue.
“You’ve got this.”
“Remember this isn’t a diet. It isn’t a fad. It’s a lifestyle.”
“Keep going. You’re looking better by the day and we’re sure you’re feeling better too.”
“Look how far you’ve come. You’re becoming HEALTHY™.”
I decided to start going to the evening workouts as well, wanting to reach my personal potential like all the others seemed to be doing. This meant I missed dinners with Jack, but he understood how important this was to me.
Mary met me one night in the restaurant. She smiled, sat beside me, and pointed to my bowl of quinoa. “We worship quinoa here. It isn’t a processed food.”
She laughed and waved her hand. “You know what I mean.”
I smiled and took another bite. “Mmmhmm.”
“You know, we value the dedication you’ve shown. It’s been three months, and you’ve been coming every day. I’ve talked to the others and we think you’re ready for level two.”
“Really?” I set my spoon down. “I thought that didn’t happen until the sixth month mark.”
“You’re special. We think you have the potential to reach elite status. Eventually.” Mary took a pamphlet from her jacket pocket and set it on the table. “This will tell you all you need to know.”
I said goodbye to Mary, finished my quinoa, and went to the locker room to change. I was just putting on my sweatshirt when I heard a soft crying coming from one of the changing stalls.
I knocked on the door. “Everything okay?”
The door opened. The fat woman—the woman Mary had pointed out months before—stood before me, her face puffy with tears.
“I can’t do it.” She said. She pointed to the mirror. “I can’t look HEALTHY™ even if I try my hardest.”
“Do you come twice a day, like they say to do?”
“Yes.” She started crying again. “My body has hit the resistance stage.”
I inhaled sharply. Trainers talked about the “resistance stage.” That was when a member couldn’t make it to their personal potential, despite following the regimen. Those members, they said, had to work harder than everyone else.
“Look at that pamphlet.” She pointed to the one Mary gave me.
I opened it and glanced at the “before” and “after” photos. There stood the fat woman in the “before” photo, her naked body on display.
“That’s me. I’m the before photo. They say I can be HEALTHY™, but I don’t know if I’ll ever look like her.” She gestured toward the “after” photo, where Mary stood proudly with her arms spread wide. “I don’t even see my family anymore—that’s how often I’m here.”
I didn’t know what to say to her. Sometimes, you had to make sacrifices to become HEALTHY™.
“They’re basically saying that I’m…bad.”
I shook my head. “Everyone at HEALTHY™ wants what is best for you, that’s all. You’ll feel better about yourself. You’ll be happier. You’ll probably live longer—don’t you want that?”
She wiped at her face with the back of her hand. “Yes.”
“Then don’t give up.” I turned, proud of my encouragement, grabbed my bag and left. She’d see, soon enough, that being HEALTHY™ was worth it.
Jack was asleep when I got home, like he usually was these days, so I sat by the living room lamp to look at the rest of the pamphlet. There were the “before” and “after” photos—promises that, one day, even I could look like Mary. The rest of the pamphlet outlined the price and the rules for level 2. Members at this stage were required to eat all three meals on site, report in each week with a trainer for a progress report, and workout twenty minutes extra on each floor. Each member was now allowed—and required—to post photos on social media in swimwear. “That’s what makes it all worth it!” the pamphlet said in block letters, “Photos are your reward for all your hard work! Encourage others to pursue a HEALTHY™ lifestyle with fit-spiration!”
For the next sixth months, I participated whole heartedly in the level 2 regimen. Each time I had to buy a smaller size of spandex, I knew it was worth it. I was the first to arrive to classes and the last to leave the locker room.
But no matter how hard I tried, I still didn’t look like Mary. She was perfection, with her toned legs and arms, flat stomach, and crafted shoulders. And me? I looked good, sure, but not quite HEALTHY™, at least, not like Mary did in the pamphlet.
“I’ll just keep going,” I told Mary over a spinach smoothie.
I ‘d been attending the morning chapel meetings over the food. For each meal, members were to prostrate themselves before the kitchen and chant:
We honor our bodies.
We know where our food comes from.
We have the right to know about GMOs.
We reject the sinful pesticides that seek to destroy us.
Praise be Whole Foods.
Praise be HEALTHY™.
What we ate was a moral decision.
“I don’t want to stay in the resistance stage, like the fat woman.” I said.
“Oh, we took care of her.”
“We felt that she didn’t represent the HEALTHY™ values that we have here.”
“She was really upset.”
Mary sighed. “She couldn’t accept that fat shaming is an essential part of the HEALTHY™ lifestyle. All the doctors back us up on that. But it’s too bad. She could’ve been an elite one day.”
“Do you think I could become an elite?”
Mary raised an eyebrow. “You think you’re ready for the fifth floor?”
I nodded. “I’ll do whatever it takes. I’m committed—I am. I promise I’ll do what I need to do to finally look HEALTHY™.”
“I’ll discuss it with the other trainers.”
“Elite?” Jack slammed his work bag on the table. “How could you possibly do more than you’re already doing?”
“I’m so close, Jack. I know it’s a lot of money. But I am so close. The trainers say I’m ready for this next stage”
“You’re already healthy. Isn’t that what you wanted? You’ve got it. Why do you have to do more?”
“I just want to be HEALTHY™. Is that so bad?”
“So, you’re going to be gone for how long?”
“You’re going to be stuck on the top floor for weeks with those freaks?”
“Don’t call them that. They’re not freaks. Everyone on the fifth floor are doctors, nutritionists and other fitness trainers. They know what they’re talking about a hell of lot more than you do. We can trust them.”
Jack shook his head. “You’re obsessed.”
“I am not. This is the best I’ve ever been—why can’t you see that? I finally feel good about myself.”
“Then why do you want to become an elite if you’re already happy?”
“Because, Jack. I want to be HEALTHY™. ”
“Look. Do what you want. I’m sick of trying to talk you out of this bullshit.”
“We need to go over a few things before we go up to the fifth floor,” Mary said, handing me a stack of papers. “We need you to sign a few things.”
“These sixth weeks are going to be very taxing on your body—on your new body. It’s going to take a lot of strength and stamina, but we think you have those things.”
I didn’t look up from the paperwork, barely scanning the words before finding the dotted lines.
“Of course, all of this is highly confidential. You understand this, don’t you?”
“We require all elites to post photos of their HEALTHY™ bodies as fit-spiration, but the fifth floor is never mentioned. Is that clear?”
“And once you’re finished, you’ll be an official trainer here at HEALTHY™.”
“I know. I can’t wait.”
“You won’t need a job anymore. This will be your new home.”
“Some people have a little trouble with the anesthesia, but I can assure you that we leave the administration up to the professionals.
I looked up. “Why do I need anesthesia for a workout?”
“This is no ordinary workout, my dear.”
I nodded despite being unsure of what she meant.
Mary glanced at her watch. “It’s time.”
I followed her up the stairs until we reached the fifth floor, where Mary had to enter a four-digit code on the door before it opened.
The room was completely white—the floors, the walls, the ceiling—and all reflective. Stainless steel tables with tiny pillows lined the walls. It looked like a giant sterile hospital room instead of a gym. I noticed a few members lying on a few of the tables.
“You’re assigned to table number seven,” Mary said, pointing to the one in the corner. I nodded and went to go lie down. This seemed like a weird workout, but I didn’t want to question her. As I laid down on the cool stainless steel, I heard a member on the bed next to mine whimper.
“They did my arms today,” he whispered without turning to face me.
“Intensive toning?” I looked at his bandaged arms.
“You could put it that way. I’m just wondering where they put the old ones.”
“Your old what?”
“My arms.” He began whimpering again.
I felt my chest tighten right as a trainer dressed in a white doctor’s coat approached me.
“And what’s your name?” he asked, shutting the curtain between my bed and the other man’s.
“I’m Julia. But, um, sir, I’m a little confused. I thought this was supposed to be the most intensive workout of all.”
“Why, it is. This is where you will become HEALTHY™ once and for all.”
“Does it entail…?” I could barely get the words out.
“Well, what did you think it entails? By the end of this, you will be HEALTHY™. We’ll start with the legs, obviously, and then move upwards. Buttocks, torso, arms, shoulders.”
“But I thought…I thought…” I scanned the room for Mary, but she’d already left. “I thought…”
The man put his hand on my shoulder. “In levels 1 and 2, members learn maintenance of a HEALTHY™ body. Maintenance is good training for the future: it’s key. But to actually achieve the ideal HEALTHY™ body, you must actually become an elite. All elites require reconstruction.”
He saw my look of confusion and continued, “A HEALTHY™ body looks the same for everyone, don’t you see? If you’re going to truly be HEALTHY™, you must look the part.”
“So I’ll look like Mary?”
“Of course you will. You’ll have the same replicated body parts. You will look exactly like her. She had the reconstruction once too.”
“But what about all the hard work I’ve put into level 1 and 2? Shouldn’t I be able to look HEALTHY™ without reconstruction?”
He shook his head. “By level two, everyone reaches the resistance stage and that’s why reconstruction is so vital. If, of course, the commitment is there. And like I said, it’s all about learning maintenance in those levels. You’ll still have to keep that up once you have your new body.”
“So this is plastic surgery?”
“ Oh no! Don’t think about it that way. Being HEALTHY™ is a positive lifestyle.” He came closer to my table and eased me back onto the pillow. “We’ll put you under the anesthesia here shortly and replace your legs with HEALTHY™ ones.”
My eyes followed another doctor wheeling in a cart of instruments towards us. I couldn’t help but see a large saw sitting on top.
“I’m not sure…I don’t know if I want this.”
“It will all be worth it when you’re HEALTHY™. This is a moral decision, Julia. I hope you want this positive step for yourself.”
“I do. I’m ready.” I took a deep breath. “I want to be HEALTHY™.”