Sheltering: Marisa Meltzer on Vintage Workout Videos and Learning Peace
The Author of This is Big Talks to Maris Kreizman
On this episode of Sheltering, Marisa Meltzer speaks with Maris Kreizman about her recent book, This is Big, about Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers. Part memoir, part biography, the book chronicles Meltzer’s own journey with weight and acceptance. Meltzer talks to Kreizman about being put on her first diet at age four, watching vintage workout videos in quarantine, and how hard it can be to be gentle with ourselves. Please purchase This is Big online from your favorite local bookstore, or through Bookshop.
From the episode:
Transcription generously provided by Eliza M. Smith
Maris Kreizman: Welcome to Sheltering. I’m Maris Kreizman, and I’m so sad I don’t get to see Marisa Meltzer in person, along with her dog, Joan, but I’m very glad she’s here with me today. Welcome!
Marisa Meltzer: Thank you so much. I’m happy to get as close to you as I can.
Maris: So close and yet so far. How are you doing?
Marisa: I’m okay. I have moments where I’m really happy to live alone because I feel like it would be very hard to be with people, but then I have moments when I’m incredibly freaked out and lonely, and it makes me have even more anxiety about being single. But I think that that’s probably for all of us. We’re all in situations where you kind of can’t win.
Maris: You can’t win. I still have the, “Will I or won’t I have kids?” And I was like, glad I don’t! (laughs)
Marisa: Yeah, it’s just so weird to have everything in your life on hold. I am a person that really thrives on future plans and rewards and vacations, and one by one they’ve all been cancelled, and that has been really hard for me, just that absence of a future to look forward to. I feel in my heart that there will be things to look forward to and I will eventually be able to leave my apartment, but it’s hard, you know?
Maris: It’s hard. And having read your book, there are so many things about quarantine that make food hard. Tell us a little bit about your book.
Maris: You’re so good in the book at talking about how it’s not binary, the idea that you want to diet and you want to have a healthy relationship with food, and you also want to be a good feminist and you want to be accepting of other people. And that can all exist at one time.
Marisa: Yeah, I think that’s something we’ve lost in the past few years as feminism becomes more mainstream, which is wonderful, but these ideas of female empowerment get so watered down, and you get things like Sigourney Weaver at the Oscars being like, “All women are Superwomen,” and you’re like Yeah! Wait, what?
Maris: We all are. Does that mean anything anymore?
Marisa: Right. Similarly, you get these things about loving your body that feel divorced from reality and have no meaning. I’m not going to try to pretend that dieting is a feminist act, but just because you have feminist ideals or you live your life with a certain set of politics doesn’t mean that everything I’m going to do is feminist, and it doesn’t have to be. I don’t live in a vacuum. It took a really long time for me to be able to even admit to myself that I could be someone who supported, say, a wider beauty standard and more inclusive sizing and doctors who are not assholes to people how are fat, and all of those things, but also someone who could admit that yeah, I would like to be thinner, and I don’t think that’s something that I’m going to stop wanting, or even necessarily stop pursuing to a certain extent.
Maris: I, just as any woman in America, we spend a lot of time thinking about our bodies.
Marisa: So much. So much!
Maris: It’s so hard to find the freedom—to not to think about it sounds really amazing and very hard to do.
Marisa: I still don’t know—is it the goal to have the freedom not to think about it, or is that just totally unattainable? That’s also my issue with the idea of being neutral about your body. It’s like, how am I ever going to feel neutrally about something as obsessed upon and central to my life and wellbeing as my body? Even now, living through this quarantine, of course there’s all these issues around food and exercise that we should probably get into, but I’m extremely sensitive to every bit of anxiety. Every time I feel a little bit feverish. This is also allergy season, so I’ll sneeze, and I think, “This is it.” I think we’re all feeling that way. None of us are feeling neutral or anywhere near forgetting about our bodies, and I don’t think that’s something that is possible or even something we should try to aim for. Sometimes the problem is that I don’t know what we should aim for. I think everyone has to really do that sort of calculation for themselves, which is hard. It’s much easier if I was like, “Here are your goals!” So many of us live as if we are models or actresses whose lives depend on the way that we look, and diet and exercise accordingly. Maybe there would be some peace if you let got of a little bit of that. But also, that’s a conclusion I came to, and might not be the conclusion that everyone does.
Maris: I know that Weight Watchers has gone virtual for their meetings during the quarantine. Have you logged in?
Marisa: I haven’t attended a virtual meeting yet. I think in part because I’ve just been stressed out about food, and even the idea of attending a virtual meeting is hard to even confront, if I’m being honest. I still halfheartedly log what I eat until I eat something that’s like too much to face. I’m trying to think of what. Russ & Daughters just started delivering to my house. They probably deliver to you too; the Brooklyn one has expanded their delivery range. And I was like, should I spent two hundred dollars on appetizing and get just so much lox and horse radish cream cheese and caviar and frozen matzo balls? The answer is obviously yes, but it’s that kind of behavior where I’m like, should I just stock up with all of the bagels? I can’t track all of those, all of those bagels and butter.
Maris: And it’s a weird time too because we’re supposed to be extra gentle with ourselves now, but we’re also staying at home and spending a ton of time in our brains, which always seems to be damaging to me.
Marisa: Yeah, me too! I think of myself as someone who’s in my head, and I also think of myself as a homebody. I work from home. And I’m an only child, and I’m a Cancer. So this should be really easy for me, but I realize how much time I actually don’t spend in my apartment, and the amount of time that I see friends or even just take the train to Midtown to go to therapy or do errands or go to yoga or eat out. It’s a lot.
Maris: It’s a lot. I know that you recently did a piece about workout videos. Tell me a little bit about that and which ones you might suggest.
Marisa: It was the idea of Alexandra Jacobs, who’s one of my editors at the New York Times, who is wonderful and who actually wrote a biography of Elaine Stritch last year that I recommend. She asked me to do it and I had already been looking at them, just out of boredom. I definitely do yoga at home but was like, oh my god there’s no cardio in my life, maybe I should branch out. So that gave me the excuse of spending several days deep diving into vintage workout videos, and thankfully so many of them are online, just on YouTube.
The Cindy Crawford one is actually very beautiful. It looks sort of like a Herb Ritts video. That one I recommend. I did the MTV The Grind workout also weekend. That was actually really fun because it’s a dance routine that you learn.
Maris: And Eric Nies leads it?
Marisa: Of course he does! He also talks a lot about the importance of hydration and checking your blood pressure. He means business. Also, everyone should go Google him because he looks great now. He’s aged so well. He has a big beard but other than that looks amazing. So that workout is fine. The Cher ones I’m very intrigued by. They’re extremely wild, and her whole workout persona is wildly—she just brags a lot in a way that I found sort of off-putting, but people might find kind of fun. I don’t know. It’s a weird world.
Maris: It’s a weird world. Tell me a little bit about what your book tour might have been.
Marisa: So sad!
Maris: I know. And then tell me your local bookstore so we can support them.
Marisa: Well, I was going to do an event at The Strand with Jill Kargman. Instead, I’m going to be doing an event with her at Politics and Prose in their online series on the 14th at 8 p.m., if this comes out by then. I was going to do an event in LA with Busy Philipps, and hopefully she and I will do something on her site or something like that. I was going to do Book Passage in San Francisco with my good friend the artist Wendy Chen, and we’re going to do something on her Instagram. I would just say follow my social media for all the updates, but there will be lots of little things online. It’s sad. I would say go to Bookshop.org and support all your local bookstores.
Maris: We will link to Bookshop in this post. I hope that you’re able to enjoy some of the excitement of having your book come out, even if you’re home alone.
Marisa: It was pretty devastating. I cried a lot, a lot, a lot. Part of it is just getting to see people and getting to mark the end of something that I worked really hard on and shepherd it into the public, to having it belong to an audience rather than to me. I think that can still happen. I’m in therapy, I’m a good coper. I’ve come to terms with my feelings. I think we’re all having things that are pretty devastating and less than ideal to say the least.
Maris: Indeed. One more thing, what have you been watching or reading? Aside from the workout videos.
Marisa: I’ve been reading a lot of Peter Mayle. I think his Provence books are as close to a vacation as you’re going to get right now. They’re so vivid, and it all goes down so easily. There’s so much description of weather and food and beautiful fabrics. So, I’ve just been guzzling his books. I am right now reading an advanced copy, but I think comes out relatively soon, of Jasmine Guillory’s next book, and her universe is also an incredibly cozy one that I constantly wish I lived in, full of dashing, fully employed single men who just love opinionated women and want to eat cake with them. What else? I have a stack of books behind me. I find academic books to be sort of digestible right now. There’s this one called Not Gay that’s about sex between straight white men that a friend of mine teaches at Barnard and that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. It’s actually very lively for an academic book, so I read bits of that between other things.
Maris: Well, thank you so much.
Marisa: Thank you!
Maris: Be well, and hug that dog for me.
Marisa: I will. She’s hydrating right now.